With the rise in popularity of SUP boards, there has been lots of confusion about the difference between them and the traditional surfboard. Knowing the difference is paramount for those looking to get started in one or the other. They are much different than you may think; depending on where you plan to spend your time on the water will determine which board is best for you.
In the battle of paddle board vs. surfboard, we break down each of their unique nuances so you can make an informed decision. The faster you read this, the quicker you can get off your phone, get out on the water and start enjoying these amazing activities.
SUP boarders and surfers don’t have much in common. They are both ocean activities, requiring you to stand on them; other than that, they are very different.
Paddling has the unique advantage of not having to be in the ocean. You can paddle board in any water if the waves aren’t too big. Surfing requires a certain amount of cooperation from Mother Nature.
Finding the best places to ride waves is a hotly debated topic. There are great surfing spots all over the world to suit all levels of surfers. When paddling, you rely less on the conditions and can be a little more relaxed.
Surfing paddle boards and surfing are extremely fun, and anyone can do both; you don’t have to choose just one.
Paddle Board Vs. Surfboard: The Key Differences
Paddle boarding vs hitting the surf: we will start to go through the main differences.
Size & Dimensions
Beginner surfers will want a large board with high volume which will make paddling and catching waves easier. Most surfers start with what is called a longboard. They are around nine feet long and are best used in two to four-foot waves. These are the types of surfboards that you see riders walking to the nose or doing handstands on. It provides more stability and is very easy to ride. You can switch to something a little smaller with more maneuverability as you improve.
To the untrained eye, the shape of a paddle board looks very similar to a surfboard, but that depends on what kind of surfboard and what kind of paddle board you’re looking at. A longboard surfboard looks like a paddle board, but there are subtle differences to enhance each rider’s experience. The volume of a paddle board will be much greater than any surfboard, making it easy for the paddler to maintain their balance while standing.
Of course, surfboards come in many different shapes and can be very small compared to a standard paddle board – the smaller surfboards are usually reserved for elite-level surfers.
The purpose of both activities is to have fun. They are both great sources for exercise and will give your entire body an excellent workout.
More specifically, surfing is a little more competitive and intense. If you’re not careful with surfing, you can get seriously injured. The purpose of surfing is to use the waves to propel you forward while you enjoy the ride.
Paddling on your SUP board is a little more leisurely. It’s more accessible to beginners and requires less physical exertion. You’ll also be navigating much calmer waters, so the inherent danger is minimal.
Both boards float, of course, but a paddle board is much sturdier. It has a higher volume than most surfboards to make it easier for the rider to stay on it. Surfboards are made to be nimble. So even though they float, they are also made to be mobile and handled easily.
The higher the volume means it will float much better. If it floats effortlessly, that means it’s more stable and great for those who may not have much experience in the water.
Paddle Boarding Or Surfing: Which One Is For You
If you can do one of these water sports, you can do both. Although most don’t, they are two different cultures and represent two sports.
Paddle boarding overall is less intense, which attracts a more laid-back type of water-lover. SUP boards can also be used in flat water. This opens up a whole range of options for choosing a location to go SUP surfing.
Traditional surfing requires certain conditions for maximum enjoyment to practice basic surfing maneuvers. It attracts people who seek more unpredictability and enjoy a bit more risk in their hobbies!
Surfing also has a lot more room to grow if you enjoy tackling new projects. You will never stop learning about surfing; it is a lifelong endeavor that you can enjoy at your own pace.
- You will love SUP if your goals are to relax and enjoy nature
- You will love surfing if your goals are to add some excitement to your life with a bit more of a challenge
Choosing A Paddle Board
There are several options, and we will go through them to help you choose the right one for you.
Types Of Paddle Board
There are three main options to choose from:
These are top of the line and can be shaped and molded to suit the rider’s preferences; they are great for long sessions and provide maximum stability. This material can be susceptible to dings and scratches and requires a lot of space to transport and store.
As the name suggests, these are easy to store and transport when deflated and rolled up. They are gaining a lot of popularity for this reason and are becoming much more durable and stable. Pumps needed are much more efficient than a few years ago, or you can use an electric pump for maximum convenience.
As the most durable of the three, it’s ironic it would also be called a ‘soft’ top. But that’s because the top layer is made with a sponge-like material that is easy on the feet and knees. This is an excellent product for beginners since you can be rough on it than other paddleboards and not worry about causing damage.
Which Is Best For You
Choosing one is based on your experience and dedication. Those who are skilled and are avid SUP boarders will do well with epoxy construction. If you’re just starting out and not sure if standing up and paddling is for you, then try out the soft top. An inflatable paddle board is the way to go: easy on storage space and can be bought anywhere in the world.
Click here to read the best inflatable paddle boards reviews.
How To Choose A Surfboard
There are a lot more customizable options with a surfboard. Choosing the right volume, tail shape and fin setup are just a few of the decisions you’ll have to make.
If you’re a beginner, then look for something with more volume. This will make it easier to paddle and help you to catch waves easier. Longer boards offer more control when compared to shortboards.
As you improve, you can switch to something that will match your preferences and is suited for bigger waves.
Matching the board to the conditions is more important with surfing than with SUP boards.
Using Your Board
Now for the best part! Using your board for what it was made for is ideal. But can you use it for other things?
Can You Use A Surfboard As An SUP?
This is a very tall order. Standing stationary on a surfboard is not what it’s designed for. It has a very low volume compared to its SUP counterpart, which provides much more buoyancy.
This will significantly affect stability and make it hard to stay on the surfboard. Paddling will be challenging, and your strokes will be inefficient.
…And Can You Use An SUP As A Surfboard?
In the battle between SUP boarding vs. surfing, an SUP board may have a slight advantage here. Due to its high volume and buoyant foam core, you can use a paddle board like a surfboard. It will work best in smaller, long-lasting waves since it won’t have hard rails like a surfboard.
You may have trouble turning and getting out past the break, but yes, you can use any paddle board as a surfboard, including inflatable boards.
Other Key Information
Some final considerations for choosing the right kind of board for you!
Costs of these boards can vary greatly between the two boards. Inflatable paddle boards are the most versatile and are reasonably priced compared to their epoxy counterparts. Their convenience also makes them very attractive.
Surfboards can be more costly due to the added attention to detail. Your surfboard will be carefully crafted with concaves, convexes, smooth rails, an optimized fin setup and a perfectly curved nose. These are works of art and take years of experience to learn how to build. In most cases, they are worth the cost.
The most versatile boards will be the larger ones. They will suit many levels of skill and can handle a wide range of waves. This goes for both SUP boards and surfboards. As people improve and start to build habits and preferences, they can select a board that more comfortably suits their specific skill set.
If you’re part of the paddle board crew, you will need a paddle. Most boards come with one, but you can choose your own set of customizable options, with the main one being length. You want the paddle to suit you based on your height.
Also, we created for you the best paddle board accessories list.
For surfboards, your only accessory will be the leash. This is the “rope” that connects you to the board via an ankle strap. These are very necessary because you will inevitably fall off your surfboard, and the wave will separate you from it easily. With a leash, you can keep your surfboard close at all times.
Taking Care Of Your Board
Always keep your board in a case when not using it. These can be found at any surf store and will ensure your board is protected from scratches and dings. This goes for both styles of boards.
Always keep a fresh coat of wax on your surfboard as well. Doing this keeps you safer as your feet won’t slip as much. Waxing is easy if you have the correct technique. Take your surfboard to your nearest shop for assistance with this on your first time. After a couple of tries, you’ll be able to do it yourself, no problem.
Safety On The Water
Staying safe is always the number one concern. Yes, we want to have fun, and the ocean can be a magical place to spend your afternoons, but there are some inherent dangers to be aware of.
It’s highly recommended to wear a personal floatation device when you’re touring SUPs, especially if you are new. You never know what can happen out there, so it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
It’s much harder to wear a PFD when you’re surfing. In this case, make sure you are familiar with the local surroundings. Is the water deep or shallow? Are there rocks under or nearby? What is the weather forecast for the day? These are all preparations you can make to keep you safe and enjoy this wonderful sport.
Frequently Asked Questions
No, you cannot use a surfboard as a paddle board. Surfboards are low volume and don’t have enough volume to stabilize the rider while in calmer waters. It’s hard to maintain balance, and any wave could knock you off. Therefore this is not advisable and definitely not worth the risk or payoff!
Yes, paddle boarding is easier than surfing for beginners. You will typically be surfing an SUP board in calmer waters and will likely only catch a small wave or two. Therefore this makes it very easy to learn and start enjoying it immediately. Surfing requires more agility, stamina and bravery.
Yes, in general, paddle boards are bigger than surfboards. They definitely have more volume as they are meant to be stood on while not moving very fast. Also, the extra size helps when you are paddling. As you shift your weight from one side to the other, you can easily maintain your balance.
No, you don’t need a life jacket on a paddle board, but it doesn’t hurt to use one if you feel the need. If you are new, then a life jacket is highly recommended until you get used to the action of paddling. You may also want to wear one when you’re in new waters and unsure of the current or wave direction.
Inflatable paddleboards are very good. They have made great strides over the past few years and use a much stronger material. They have also improved their stitching to provide superior stability. Once inflated to its fullest, you will be shocked at how much they feel the same as a traditional SUP board.
Stand up paddle boards vs. surfboards come from two different worlds. They attract different people, but both have the same goal in mind: to provide fun! In this regard, they both hit the nail on the head. You can surely do both if you love the water that much. Some days you may feel like a leisurely paddle out on open water and other days, you may feel like carving a few waves on a surfboard. Any way you slice it, a day at the beach is better than a day at work.