To the casual eye, stand up paddle boarding and surfing do not seem a whole lot different from one another. The distinctions between these two water sports can be a bit challenging to pick out.
The foremost difference between SUP and surfing is how riders maneuver themselves in the water. SUP riders use a long, bladed paddle from a standing position to navigate through the water. Surfers, on the other hand, use their arms while lying in a prone position to propel themselves on the water.
Although this is probably the most noticeable difference between stand up paddle boarding and surfing, it is not the only difference. Several of the most prominent differences between these two water activities are discussed further in the subsequent sections of the article. Keep reading to uncover the subtle nuances that distinguish these popular water sports.
Differences Between Stand Up Paddle Boarding & Surfing
Contrasting Board Dimensions
One major discrepancy between SUP and surfing is the average size of the boards.
Contrary to popular opinion, a paddle board is not the same thing as a surfboard. Paddle boards are wider, thicker, and lengthier than the average surfboard. This is because paddle boards are primarily structured for the purpose of support.
For the benefit of comparison, I provided a table of the typical dimensions of a stand up paddle board versus a surfboard. Keep in mind that these are the average dimensions of each type of board. There are certainly outliers that are produced with far bigger or smaller dimensions than the measurements listed below.
|Stand Up Paddle Board||Surfboard|
|Length||10-11 ft or 3-3.4 m||7-8 ft or 2.1-2.4 m|
|Width||32-34 in or 81-86 cm||20-22 in or 51-56 cm|
|Weight||20-30 lbs or 9-13.5 kg||5.5-6.5 lbs or 2.5-3kg|
|Thickness||5-6 in or 13-15 cm||2.5-3.5 in or 6.5-9cm|
Paddle boarders are predominantly operating from a standing position the majority of the time that they are out on the water. Standing on top of a board on open water requires a much more stable board than simply lying prone on top of a board.
It makes sense that paddle board manufacturers would bolster the board foundation to accommodate for the extra stability needed to support an upright rider.
In contrast, surfboards are exclusively designed for riding waves. It is not meant for maneuverability on calm water, like that of the stand up paddle board. The lightweight framework of the surfboard complements the ability of surfers to slash through waves, as we will investigate next.
Ease of Mobility While Riding Waves
Although this excess material eases the burden of balancing on the board from the standing position, it comes it the cost of mobility.
The short, narrow, and slim design of the surfboard is specialized for maximal mobility while riding waves. Surfers are able to slice through waves with masterful precision in large part because the surfboard is built exclusively for this type of change in direction.
The heftier SUP board can definitely be used to ride waves. However, it takes a bit of extra effort and skill to change direction with these behemoth boards.
The paddle certainly helps to counteract this diminishment of mobility. It can be utilized to force the paddle board to turn at a quicker pace. Nonetheless, the maneuverability of the paddle board on waves does not quite compare to the rapid adaptability of the surfboard.
Possible Water Conditions Where These Activities Can Be Performed
Another area of distinction between SUP and surfing is the possible water conditions where these sports can be conducted.
Stand up paddle boarding is much more flexible in terms of where this activity can be performed. Essentially, all that an individual needs to participate in SUP is a body of water and adequate space to paddle.
It does not matter whether the water conditions are flat and calm or aggressive and choppy. Individuals can partake in SUP in practically any aquatic environment.
Examples of places where SUP has been known to take place is on oceans, lakes, rivers, and even swimming pools. Certain water recreation sites have elected to hold their SUP training sessions in swimming pools to make the water conditions more conducive to first time participants.
Conversely, the sport of surfing is not so adaptable in this respect.
Surfing absolutely requires the presence of waves. For this reason, the prospect of surfing is limited in terms of what aquatic conditions are realistically able to cater to this sport.
Commonly, surfers take to the ocean since it routinely provides waves that are favorable for riding. In addition, there are also artificial wave machines that has made the activity of surfing possible in locations that are miles away from the nearest coastline. This has done wonders to bring the sport inland, but it has still not totally resolved the fundamental problem of surfing accessibility.
Overall Versatility of Use
Another differentiating factor between SUP and surfing is the versatility of use.
As aforementioned, the surfboard is exclusively designed for the use of easily riding and maneuvering waves. Other than that, there are no other viable activities that can be done with the surfboard.
In contrast, the pursuit of stand up paddle boarding encompasses a variety of unconventional activities that individuals could theoretically participate in other than riding waves.
For example, the dependable support of the paddle board allows for individuals to partake in fishing. Individuals can store all the supplies needed for a fishing trip on its roomy deck and still have space to conveniently paddle through the water.
In addition, stand up paddle boarders also have the capacity to perform yoga from the comfort of the paddle board. Again, this is due in large part to the extra space on the deck of the board.
The first time I heard about this trend, I did not quite believe it myself. I was so curious that I had to conduct some research of my own. Surprisingly, I found that this is very much a possibility with paddle boards.
In summary, individuals can do a whole lot more with a stand up paddle board relative to a surfboard. Riding waves, transporting camping gear, fishing, and yoga are all within the realm of possibility in the sport of stand up paddle boarding. Surfing excels at the level of riding waves.
The Presence of a Paddle
As aforementioned at the top of the article, the presence of the paddle is most appreciable way to separate these two sports.
Stand up paddle boarding is distinguished for the use of a paddle to navigate the water. The paddle is rather lengthy, typically anywhere from 9 to 10 inches more than the height of the rider. Furthermore, the paddle also has an angled blade.
There is actually an intended purpose behind the angled design of the paddle blade. It is meant for easier water entry and more efficient stroke power.
This accessory allows riders to conveniently move forward or change direction while maintaining an upright position. Paddle strokes can be performed from a kneeling position as well.
Surfers do not have this luxury. In the absence of the momentum of a wave, surfers have to resort to utilizing their arms to move through the water while lying down on the board.
Surfers are not equipped with a paddle because they never really kneel or stand on the surfboard. This is because of the difficulty associated with retaining these positions on the lightweight frame of the board.
Plus, mobility is not an issue while riding waves on a surfboard because of its lightweight design. For this reason, a paddle would be more of a hindrance rather than an advantage while surfing the waves.
Similarities Between Stand Up Paddle Boarding & Surfing
Generic Use of a Board on the Water
The generic use of a board on the water is one of the central points of harmony between these two well-known aquatic pursuits.
SUP and surfing are based on the principle of balancing on top of a board and enjoying the prospect of venturing out on the open water. The board is a foundational cornerstone of these water sports.
Although the board dimensions may slightly differ, it is hard to identify these disparities from afar. All that an offhand observer knows for certain is that an individual is riding on a board in the water.
Structural differences aside, the main functional premise remains the same. Without the presence of a resilient board to ride, the sports of stand up paddle boarding and surfing simply cannot be performed.
Capacity to Ride Waves
In addition, both stand up paddle boarders and surfers possess the capacity to ride waves.
The technique of approaching the wave is a bit different between the two sports. Yet, once paddle boarders and surfers start to ride a wave in unison, it can be difficult to tell them apart.
Go to any local beach and try differentiating surfers versus paddle boarders for yourself. There is a great deal of stand up paddle boarders and surfers that ride the waves day in and day out. It can be rather tough to judge the subtle markers that separate these two sports, especially to the untrained eye.
In both instances, individuals maintain an upright posture and try to stay as long as they can on the wave prior to tailing off. The fundamentals of riding a wave are universal, spanning the domains of both SUP and surfing. With these two sports, it is an art that is just tweaked in a slightly different light.
I summarized these similarities and differences into the Venn diagram below. This is an exceptionally helpful guide for anyone who is looking to definitely characterize SUP versus surfing.
Primary Reason Why People Confuse SUP & Surfing
The underlying reason that people confuse SUP and surfing is because SUP was originally revitalized as an offshoot of surfing in Hawaii at the onset of the 2000’s.
Two renowned figures in the water sport community were seen maneuvering through the water on their longboards with paddles. These Hawaiian water sport professionals, Dave Kalama and Laird Hamilton, sparked a trend that soon established itself into what we now know as stand up paddle boarding.
Although the actual roots of SUP may have dated back centuries ago to the time of ancient fishermen, it is these two individuals that brought this water pursuit into the spotlight.
Since this initially was observed as an unconventional outgrowth of surfing, the general public continued to confuse the two sports as one and the same.
Nowadays, the differences between surfing and SUP have become more and more refined over time. As of late, SUP has really come into its own and emerged as a real player in the water sport industry. The water sport community is beginning to recognize the divergence of SUP from surfing with each passing day, which has helped to clear up the misconceptions surrounding this form of water recreation.
Why Does this Distinction Matter?
This distinction between SUP and surfing matters for a couple of reasons. The most significant of which are listed below.
Helps People Narrow Down Which Water Activity Best Fits Their Needs
For one, the definitive classification of these two water sports aids people in choosing what form of water recreation would be the most conducive for them.
There is a diverse amount of activities that SUP can offer. For this reason, almost anyone can partake in SUP. Whether it be a leisurely stroll through calm waters or an unorthodox form of yoga, SUP is able to cater to a variety of wants and needs.
For this reason, people young and old can partake in SUP because of the lack of strain on the paddle boarder.
Surfing is best suited toward the practice of riding waves. This activity is much more strenuous, demanding a great deal of strength and coordination on the part of the rider. It is a great form of exercise, but it may be just a bit too much to ask of particular individuals that lie on the younger side or the older side.
The bottom line is the separation of SUP and surfing aids the general public in identifying which sport best suits their desires. If a person has their sights set exclusively on riding waves, surfing is the best option. On the other hand, a person that simply wants to bask in the joy of being out on the open water should explore the prospect of taking an SUP tour.
With the lines between these sports blurred, it makes for a much more troublesome experience for people to choose which water activity to do.
Surfing Community versus Stand Up Paddle Boarding Community
In addition, locals take great pride in identifying with the surfing community versus the stand up paddle boarding community.
Although it seems a tad odd from an outside perspective, there is a bit of a rivalry between these two water endeavors in some parts of the world. In fact, some surfers cannot stand paddle boarders… and some paddle boarders cannot stand surfers.
For example, one surfer that was asked about his thoughts about stand up paddle boarders stated the following:
Of course, not every beach has tensions running high between surfers and paddle boarders. The majority of surfers and paddle boarders are just glad to share a passion for the water.
However, this is certainly something to keep in the back of your mind. There are some members of the surfing community and the SUP community that simply do not want anything to do with the other water sport communities.
Which Water Sport is Better?
There are pros and cons to both surfing and stand up paddle boarding. At the end of the day, the true answer to this question lies with your specific needs and desires. What you want to get out of your experience on the water may be completely different from what somebody else wants.
However, I suppose I can provide a little insight if you sincerely want my personal opinion. I have always been drawn to the more tranquil side of water sports, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.
If you find yourself gravitating toward the wild side of the water, I would recommend edging toward the surfing route. Although paddle boards are certainly capable of catching waves, the riding maneuverability pales in comparison to the surfboard.
Other than coasting on waves, SUP is superior to surfing in practically every other regard. Individuals can practice yoga, fish, transport gear, and take relaxing tours with SUP in addition to cruising atop waves. The sheer versatility of this water endeavor is what tips the balance over to SUP in my mind.