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Paddleboard vs Kayak: Which One Is the Best Bang for Your Buck?

It’s hard to go to a lake these days and not see paddleboards and kayaks in nearly equal numbers. 

These human-powered leisure crafts might look the same to the uninitiated. But to folks who have a preference, those are fighting words.

Today, we’re exploring which offers the most value and variety. Put on your life vest because the water’s about to get rough. 

Let’s get paddling!

A man in a kayak and a woman standing on a paddleboard in the water.
Will you do better with a paddleboard or a kayak?

What Are the Differences Between Paddleboards and Kayaks?

Water rats all over know the main differences between these two. Both have a storied history among Indigenous peoples on the west coast of the United States. 

Paddleboards, or Stand-Up Paddleboards (SUP), are standing craft with one long, single-bladed oar. They’re similar to surfboards because they don’t have a seat or raised sides. Riders stand on top and require balance and stability to glide across the surface successfully.

Pacific islanders used them to travel from island to island. Canoes were ocean-going vessels, and boards were more for casual transportation. 

In the mid-20th century, they gained popularity with the surfing boom. 

According to SUP World Magazine, famous surfers Duke Kahanamoku and Leroy and Bobby AhChoy used them to scout the best waves in Hawaii. Surfers and lifeguards worldwide love the functionality and stability they offer, from Israel to the UK.

Kayaks are small boats you sit in or on and propel with a two-headed paddle. You’ll see open or closed cockpits holding one or two people. These small boats offer passengers a safe and mostly secure vessel for longer distances and rougher waters. 

The Inuit people in what is now Alaska used them for hunting and fishing. Because they’re a stable platform to fish from, modern anglers love them too.

The Advantages of Paddleboards and Kayaks

You can’t go wrong with either option if you’re looking for a new way to get around the lake. Depending on your needs, you’ll want to consider what each offers over the other.

Paddleboard Advantages

Because SUPs require significant core strength to move efficiently, fitness enthusiasts love them. Most carry only one passenger. And you can easily transport them with a standard vehicle. 

Paddleboard construction utilizes light materials like fiberglass and resin over a hollow core. They have a “planing hull” that’s flat and made to skim the surface. Manufacturers produce several widths for different uses. 

Wider models are great for stability and don’t sink if you capsize. Some yoga instructors hold SUP classes to get your downward dog perfectly in tune with the waves. 

Manufacturers also make narrow options designed for speed, though not against a strong headwind.

Kayak Advantages

Since passengers are seated in kayaks, different muscle groups move the craft forward. The advantage is that it’s more about arms, shoulders, and the torso than a full-body workout. And, with hulls designed to slice through the water’s surface, they’re easier to keep on a straight course. 

Entry-level models made from fiberglass or rotomolded plastic are best for calm waters. Craftspeople also produce wooden vessels that are heavier but more sturdy as a result.

For longer treks, adventurers prefer them because they offer more protection from the elements. Additionally, they have space for storage in open-cockpit models. Gear stowed in the hull stays dry and safe from inclement weather.

We found 5 Best Kid Kayaks For Summer Camping

The Disadvantages of Paddleboards and Kayaks

Alongside the advantages are drawbacks in each category. Depending on your use for the craft, you’ll find one better suited.

Disadvantages of Paddleboards

As we noted, paddleboards require a certain level of fitness that not all of us possess. And while they’re excellent for building strength, that might not be your goal. 

Shoppers at big box stores will also discover they’re more expensive than kayaks sold side-by-side. This has more to do with the quality of the watercraft, but sticker shock is a real issue. At specialty retailers, prices are more balanced. 

But Paddling Magazine says that most SUPs come from big box stores. As a result, people falsely assume they’re more expensive.

There’s a steeper learning curve for new paddleboarders than for kayaks. Balance, stability, and learning to steer the board keeps some folks away.

Disadvantages of Kayaks

In reality, good kayaks are much more expensive than paddleboards. Granted, most hardware stores and outdoor retailers carry cheap versions. These are decidedly entry-level and aren’t suitable for anything other than casual use. 

When one tips over, whether open or closed cockpit, they’re prone to sinking. There’s a learned skill that most regular seafaring folks learn of flipping back around, but it’s challenging. The fear of capsizing keeps some out of the water altogether. That said, sitting is much more stable than standing. 

Transporting these crafts is also more of a challenge than their counterpart. Trailers or rooftop racks are necessary to get your boat to the water; some folks don’t have that luxury.

Maybe you’d rather go with a lighter kayak? Lightweight Kayaks Ranked: Best to Worst.

A man and a black labrador dog sitting on a paddleboard
Your dog probably doesn’t care if it’s a kayak or a paddleboard as long as they’re with you

Are Inflatable Paddleboards and Kayaks a Good Choice?

When it comes to inflatable kayaks and paddleboards, toss out the image of a beach ball. These are sturdy and functional and last just as long as their traditional cousins. 

Technological advances made inflatable watercraft reliable, if not always affordable. Modern materials provide nearly indestructible hulls that won’t ding or crack. Additionally, they’re relatively easy to pack and inflate onsite if you’ve got the right tools. 

RVers love them because they’re easily deflated and packed away between uses. For the most part, they’re just as reliable and take up less space. 

We wouldn’t recommend taking the inflatable versions out onto rough waters or on windy days. In many conditions, though, they’re a viable alternative. And for RVers strapped for space in your “toad,” these might be the best option. 

Good luck getting your rigid board on the plane when heading to the islands. Sure, you can check large items, but you never know if they’ll be in one piece when you arrive. Inflatable options provide peace of mind that your investment is ready to go when you reach your destination.

This is one of the most popular inflatable paddleboards: SereneLife Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board.

Which Is the Best Bang for Your Buck, Paddleboard or Kayak?

There’s nothing quite like getting out on the water under your own power. And for that, paddleboards and kayaks are equally enjoyable. 

Fitness enthusiasts flock to SUP because it provides a robust workout and is easy to transport by one person. Kayak lovers appreciate the stable platform and ability to travel long distances in their craft. 

In the end, the real winners are those out on the water. Whichever you choose, you’ll enjoy the peace and quiet you can only find in the lapping sound of waves around you.

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