How does a Paddleboard and Surfboard differ?

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Expert: Cameron – I have been active in all water-based adventures since 2014. In my youth I would stay with my uncle in Florida who introduced me to paddleboarding and have enjoyed SUP ever since. While traveling I frequently rent paddleboards to explore coastlines, as well as, surf out of tropical areas such as Hawaii and Guam to include my shoreline at home on the Emerald Coast with my SUP.

Aquatic sports have long held a captivating allure for those who seek to embrace the water’s dynamic embrace.

Among these activities, paddleboarding and surfing have emerged as two of the most popular waterborne pursuits.

This article aims to shed light on the unique qualities that set paddleboards and surfboards apart.

But what is the main difference between paddleboards and surfboards?

Paddleboards tend to be thicket, wider and longer compared to their surfboard counterpart. Paddleboards thickness is due to a foam or air layer inside the board creating a surface area that glides on top of the water rather than cut through like a surfboard. This gives less maneuverability when attempting to make sudden turns like when surfing.

By exploring the distinctions between these two iconic watercraft, we can gain a deeper appreciation for their individual merits and the experiences they offer.

Paddleboards vs. Surfboards

Paddleboards and surfboards are the quintessential companions of water enthusiasts, each serving distinct purposes in various aquatic settings.

A paddleboard is a versatile platform that allows individuals to stand, paddle, and explore calm waters.

Conversely, surfboards are finely tuned instruments designed for riding waves with precision and style.

By understanding the primary functions of these watercraft, we can better grasp the contrasts that distinguish them.

This is not to say that you cannot surf with a paddleboard, but when pursuing this activity singularly it is not as suited as a surfboard would be.

Related: What is Paddleboarding?

Design and Shape

Woman on Inflatable Paddleboard

The design and shape of paddleboards underscore their commitment to stability and versatility.

With an emphasis on providing a stable platform for various activities, paddleboards feature wider decks and larger dimensions.

This design allows enthusiasts to engage in activities ranging from yoga and fitness to leisurely paddling across serene waters.

On the other hand, surfboards are meticulously crafted to optimize maneuverability and wave performance.

Their varied lengths and shapes cater to different surfing styles, ensuring a responsive ride that translates wave energy into exhilarating turns.

In a broader sense, paddleboards are typically classified by only size and therefore are suitable to many activities including fishing.

While surfboards are built for surfing and their classifications are designed around the type of surfing you would like to do.

Volume and Buoyancy

The volume and buoyancy characteristics of paddleboards contribute to their remarkable stability.

Greater volume is deliberately incorporated into paddleboards, offering stability that is ideal for leisurely activities such as exploring lakes, rivers, and calm coastal waters.

This additional buoyancy facilitates a relaxed paddling experience and accommodates various riders, regardless of their skill level.

I have had my 4 year old be able to ride paddleboard on her own, with plenty of safety equipment mind you.

In contrast, surfboards are designed with balanced volume to match specific wave conditions.

This allows surfers to efficiently paddle into waves and execute swift turns, maintaining control in the dynamic ocean environment.

You can liken these differences by comparing it to the turning radius of a small car vs an 18-wheeler with a fun truck load.

It is an extreme comparison but still the same concept.

Riding Waves

Surfer Riding Wave

Paddleboarding and surfing offer contrasting approaches to wave riding.

Paddleboarding predominantly focuses on flatwater activities such as cruising and fitness routines.

While paddleboards can catch smaller waves, their primary emphasis lies in navigating calm waters.

Surfing, on the other hand, centers on the exhilarating experience of riding waves and executing intricate maneuvers.

Surfboards are finely tuned to carve through the face of waves, offering a unique connection with the ocean’s energy.

I have personally not had the opportunity to delve into surfing as much as I wish to, but I have surfed with an SUP many times.

You can easily tell how much maneuverability the surfers have compared to myself on my paddleboard.

Paddling Techniques and Maneuvering

Woman Surfing with Paddleboard

Paddling techniques on paddleboards involve the use of longer paddles for efficient propulsion.

The wider stance employed by paddleboarders contributes to stability, enabling riders to engage in activities such as yoga and fishing.

Surfboards, designed for wave riding, require a different approach.

Surfers use their arms to paddle while lying down on the board, conserving energy for the dynamic act of riding waves.

Shifting body weight and skillful maneuvering enable surfers to carve turns and navigate the ever-changing wave landscape.

I have often thought that a surfer would have an easier time getting to the wave with a paddle.

Haha, but I have been given stern talking’s to from seasoned surfers why this does not hold true.

Surfing Skills and Mastery

Paddleboarding and surfing demand distinct skill sets for mastery.

Paddleboarding requires individuals to build core strength and balance for stability, which is particularly important for activities like yoga performed on the water.

Paddleboarders also develop efficient paddle strokes to cover longer distances with ease.

Surfing, however, entails mastering the pop-up technique for swiftly transitioning from lying down to standing on the board.

Perfecting wave-catching timing and positioning is crucial to ensure a thrilling ride atop the ocean’s moving canvases.

You are able to hop onto a paddleboard the first day and travel around.

The only skills truly required for you to build is endurance which you can obtain through many other activities like running or swimming in general.

For more information regarding building your stamina and endurance for your SUP trips, give this article a look over.

I promise you, that if you plan on taking any paddleboard trip that is longer than 30 minutes, and you do not usually exercise, you will be physically exhausted.

Paddleboard-Surfboard Hybrids

A fascinating development in water sports is the emergence of paddleboard-surfboard hybrids.

These innovative designs blend attributes from both watercraft, creating versatile options for enthusiasts.

Paddleboard-surfboard hybrids provide stability for leisurely paddling and wave-catching potential for those eager to explore both realms.

By striking a balance between stability and performance, these hybrids offer a dynamic experience that caters to diverse interests.

This honestly may be the perfect fit for some SUP enjoyers or surfers since you won’t have to bring two boards to the beach.

Perhaps you forget to check the wave forecast and you get to the beach with calm waters; you are still able to enjoy the water with your hybris board.

Related: Is a Paddleboard Good for Learning How to Surf?

Choosing the Right Board for You

Woman Walking Towards Waves in Ocean with Surfboard

Selecting the appropriate watercraft is pivotal to enhancing your aquatic experiences.

Beginners seeking paddleboards should consider factors such as size, stability, and the specific activities they intend to pursue.

Tailoring the choice to skill levels and preferences ensures a fulfilling journey.

Aspiring surfers, on the other hand, should match surfboard dimensions to their individual needs.

Seeking guidance from experienced surfboard shapers helps ensure the selection of a board that harmonizes with their surfing aspirations.

As you embark on your aquatic journey, armed with the knowledge of the distinctions between paddleboards and surfboards, remember that both of these watercraft offer unique and thrilling opportunities to connect with the water and the waves.

Whether you’re drawn to the tranquility of paddleboarding or the exhilaration of surfing, each activity promises a distinct relationship with the ocean’s timeless embrace.

Or just get a hybrid like me!

Personally, before purchasing either, I would rent both over a 2-3 month period to really understand what I wanted with any board; these boards are definitely not cheap!


The design and shape of paddleboards give the SUPs less maneuverability when it comes to sudden turns in the water.

This makes the paddleboard more ideal for leisure like activities instead of high speed sporting with the surfboard.

There are hybrid boards that allow for both surfing as well ass leisure time, however you will not gain all advantages of both boards at the end of the day.

Being able to perform other activities while paddleboarding like fishing or yoga is what makes these boards so unique.

Understanding this and comparing it to the surfboard will prove that there is a specific tool for each job.

If you decide that your main activity is going to be slicing through waves on your days off, then head out with a surfboard unless you intend on doing some aquatic exploring.

[Sources and References]

Yetman, Daniel. “Endurance vs. Stamina: Differences and Tips to Improve Both.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 12 June 2020,

[Image Attribution and Licensing]

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