Difference between Surfing and Stand Up Paddleboarding


Surfing and stand up paddleboarding are two of the planet’s iconic water sports. Both hailing from Hawaii, these two have since exploded in popularity around the world. Both offer amazing experiences for their enthusiasts. But what makes these two cousin sports distinct from one another? In this article, we set out to answer this very question. Ready? Read on.

What are SUP and Surfing?

At first glance, these two board sports from Hawaii look similar. But there are key differences that make these distinct from each other.

Surfing is an ancient Hawaiian sport practised in the islands even before Europeans came. Surfers use long flat boards traditionally made of wood to ride waves. The wave’s motion helps propel the surfer forward. Surfers are able to do complex maneuvers and stances while keeping themselves on the board.

Stand Up Paddle Boarding, on the other hand, is similar to surfing in many ways. It started out as an offshoot of surfing in the late 20th century. SUPers⁠, like regular surfers, ride atop long boards to navigate over the water. SUPers use paddles with long shafts to propel themselves across the water.

Differences in equipment

One of the biggest differences between the two water sports is their equipment. From the boards used to the small accessories. These significant differences not only make them visually distinct but ultimately different in how they are enjoyed.

Board sizes

First up is the shape of the boards used. Regular surfboards are typically shorter and smaller. This makes them lightweight and easy to maneuver when riding waves. This is important as surfers need to quickly course correct to successfully ride. Paddleboards on the other hand are generally longer and a bit wider. This added size makes them stable on the water.

Board shape

Surfboards and SUPs are generally shaped the same. Although, SUPs are generally longer, wider, and thicker than the regular shortboards. This lest they lift the board and the rider out of the water. Surfboards typically can’t support a rider standing up when not riding waves.

Board types

While surfboards are restricted to rigid materials like wood (traditionally), fiberglass, and plastic, paddle boards have much more variety. Nowadays, paddleboards are sometimes made from inflatable rubber composite materials. This makes the board easy to store and transport. Other materials also include fiberglass and epoxy for those wanting something rigid.

Nose shape

Typical shortboards and some surf paddleboards sport a pointed nose. This helps the board cut through water easily. This makes it easy for the boards to stay above water. Round noses are paddleboard and longboard mainstays. The shape gives an additional lift for the boards. Touring and racing paddleboards, on the other hand, sport sharp and narrow noses to minimise drag.


The paddle is perhaps the most defining feature that separates SUP from surfing. Outside of waves, surfers paddle with their arms in the prone position to move around. This is good for short distances but not possible long term. SUPers have the upper hand with paddles. This lets them efficiently and easily travel across the water without tiring quickly.

Where can you surf and paddle?

The use of paddles opens up a bigger selection of locations that are previously inaccessible to surfing alone. Traditionally, surfers are confined to the ocean and most recently surfable wave parks. Lakes and lagoons with sizable standing waves are also possible but they are few and far between.

Aside from surfing waves⁠—which was the original reason for its development⁠—SUPing is now mainly done in flat and calm waters. This opened up to activities that were previously not possible. One of these is SUP yoga and touring. The former need flat water so yogis can perform the positions easily. The latter is perfect for exploring inland bodies of water like lakes and rivers.

What other variations do they have?

SUP is a more flexible sport that has branched off into multiple sub-disciplines. The oldest is SUP surfing. This combines the thrill of riding waves with the ease of paddling without much effort. Next up is flatwater SUP. This is perfect for inland waters like lakes and rivers previously only accessible to canoes and kayaks.

Meanwhile, surfing has stayed practically unchanged throughout the years. Though, there have been innovations recently. Development in board technology and safety equipment allowed for Big Wave surfing to happen. Wave Pool surfing also became a thing in recent years making the sport accessible to landlocked surfers.


Surfing on a surfboard and on a paddleboard uses totally different techniques. On a surfboard, a surfer needs to paddle out towards the waves in a prone position. When they want to ride a wave, they need to quickly pop up quickly and efficiently. The prone position gives a few advantages, most importantly doing duck-dives.

Surfing on a paddleboard is an entirely different beast. Since you are already upright, you won’t need to pop up. The higher vantage point also means you can spot out the incoming waves much easier. Though made easier by the paddles, the paddle can be tricky, especially in choppy water since you can’t duck-dive. Surfing is also tricky as you need to be balancing with a paddle on your hands.

Despite these differences, the overall surfing experience remains similar. The skills from surfing like balance, body shifting, and control are all transferable between the two.

Surfboards are better because…

You should consider getting a surfboard if all you mainly do is surfing. If you spend most of your time in the ocean or wave parks. Because of their popularity, surfboards and other surfing needs are pretty much everywhere. There are also many established surf spots to choose from with good infrastructure.

SUPs are better because…

Stand up paddleboards are great if you want to try something other than surfing. Their mobility makes them perfect for exploring lakes, rivers, or even your local lagoon. Touring with a SUP is also a popular option especially if you love long and relaxing expeditions. SUPing is also perfect if you love a laid back paddle on a calm day.



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