Both kayaking and stand up paddle boarding are are super fun paddle sports that are similar in several ways. Each is a fun way to keep fit, and get out onto the water to experience the great outdoors.
But which is faster; a kayak or a paddle board?
If you’re looking to cover a significant distance, either in a paddling race or touring trip, you’ll want to use the vessel with better speed.
Generally, kayaks glide faster than stand up paddleboards. This is the simple answer but it’s not always the case.
Let’s get into the details so you can understand what I mean.
Why Are Kayaks Generally Faster Than Paddle Boards?
Several factors go into determining the speed of a paddle board and a kayak. I’ll talk about them further below.
But with all the factors constant, a kayak is more likely to win the race.
Kayaks Have Better Stability
One of the best things about kayaks is how stable they are–it’s extremely hard to tip or fall off a yak. They are designed for stability.
Besides, when kayaking, you will be seated and your center of gravity will be much lower than if you were standing.
On a platform as stable as this, you’re free to paddle as fast and as vigorously as the situation calls for. You don’t have to put a lot of effort into staying balanced, so you can focus on paddling faster.
I can’t say the same for a stand up paddle board. Paddle boarding requires a certain level of balancing skills and no small amount of effort to stand up, keep straight, and stay on board! That’s not to say that paddle boarding is incredibly difficult – but rather it is not as easy as sitting down in a kayak.
Your center of gravity while standing on a SUP is higher and falling off is easier. So with a SUP board, you have to focus on maintaining balance just as much as your paddle strokes.
The Double-Bladed Kayak Paddle
Kayak paddles have double-blades while paddle boards have single-bladed paddles.
You can make more paddle strokes with a dual-bladed paddle than with a single-bladed paddle in the same amount of time.
There’s also the issue of tracking, that is, the ability of the vessel to travel in a straight line. Paddling on both sides of the vessels facilitates tracking. A stand up paddleboard has a single paddle blade so you’re forced to change sides often to keep the SUP going straight.
Every time you have to switch sides, the paddle board slows down slightly and you waste precious time before it gains momentum again.
Lastly, the sitting position of kayakers keeps them close to the water. They face less resistance and this makes it easier to paddle faster.
When standing on a paddle board, paddle boarders face more windage which could slow them down. This is especially true when it’s windy.
Factors That Affect the Speed of a Kayak and Stand Up Paddle Board
As I stated above, saying that kayaks are faster than stand up paddle boards is a general statement. Some factors can change that.
Take a look.
1. The Shape and Type of SUP or Kayak
The shape and type of a kayak and paddle board will affect their speed.
Some SUP boards are designed for speed while others are designed for casual paddling. Recreational paddle boards are usually wide and shorter with a rounded nose. Racing SUPs are long and narrow, with a pointed nose.
The same goes for kayaks. Recreational kayaks are shorter and wider–most of them are sit-on-top kayaks too. Racing kayaks are very long and narrow with a pointed bow. Most of them are sit-in kayaks.
As you can see, there are kayaks and paddle boards designed specifically for speed.
So if two people race, one with a racing SUP and another one with a racing kayak, the kayaker is more likely to win the race.
However, if it’s a racing SUP against a recreational kayak, the paddle boarder will win. (Again, assuming all other factors are constant).
2. Fitness Level of The Paddler
An athletic stand up paddle boarder will easily crash a kayaker who’s out of shape.
Paddling intensely, even over a short distance can be quite taxing. It requires strength and endurance.
Paddle boarding uses almost all muscles groups, so your whole body is engaged. Kayaking is also not a walk in the park, even though it mostly engages your upper body.
The point is, paddling both vessels requires strength and effort. So while a kayak is generally faster, fitness matters too.
Kayaking and paddle boarding also require skills. A paddle boarder with the right paddling technique can paddle more efficiently and faster than a kayaker using the wrong technique.
3. The Water and Weather Conditions
Lastly, the water and weather conditions will affect the speed of your kayak or paddle board.
A person paddling on a calm lake can paddle faster than one who has to deal with strong winds and currents.
You face a lot of resistance when paddling against a strong wind and you have to paddle harder to move forward. Add waves to that and you’ll be struggling. Even with a kayak, you’ll be slower than a paddle boarder on a calm lake.
When paddling flat water on a peaceful day, and with the right paddling technique, your strokes will be more efficient.
So, are kayaks faster than paddle boards? Generally, yes.
The sitting position of a kayaker means a lower center of gravity and, consequently, more stability. You don’t have to worry about losing balance and you can paddle faster with more intensity.
Unlike a SUP paddle, a kayak paddle is double-bladed. You can make more strokes in a minute, making the kayak go faster. You also paddle both sides without switching paddling sides. This promotes tracking and you won’t have to worry about losing momentum every time you switch.
A paddler standing on a stand up paddle board has more windage than a kayaker. This can slow them down a little.
There are factors, however, that affect the speed of a kayak and SUP board. They include the fitness of the paddler, shape and type of kayak or SUP, and the weather and water conditions.