Paddle Board vs Surfboard

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Paddle board vs surfboard? A board is a board isn’t it?

Well no not quite. Both surfboards and paddle boards have had years of innovation with millions of dollars poured into the designs of each. And as time has gone on, paddle boards have taken some very different routes from what they were first intended to be used for. 

In this article, we will distinguish the differences between a paddle board and a surfboard to help you make a decision on what may be best for you going forward. 

If you are interested in surfing a paddle board, check out our article on How to SUP Surf

Differences Between Paddle Boards and Surfboards

Below we will talk about some key differences between each and what each board is used for.

Paddle Board Vs Surfboard Uses

Paddle Boards and surfboards are used for very different things. While paddle boarding was revived and tweaked to be a type of hybrid to surfboards. Paddle Boarding has grown way beyond that use

Nixy Venice

Paddle Boards are used for:

  • Recreational Paddling
  • Touring/ Expeditions
  • Camping
  • Surfing
  • Racing
  • Fishing
  • Yoga
  • White Water Surf

So if you are looking for something that is versatile a paddle board is your best bet. We have a list of our favorite paddle boards here

Surfboards are used for specific surfing purposes. But if you were wanting to deep dive into surfing as a hobby I would start off with a surfboard and build your skill level. Below we take a deep dive into the different types of Hulls available for each.

Hull Dimensions and Types

Hulls for paddle boards can range anywhere from 7’ for surfing/ white water paddle boards to 14’ and up for racing/ touring boards. Width can range anywhere from 28” all the way to 36” inches or even more if you have a multi-person board. 

Paddle Boards come in the following common dimensions:

SUP TypeLength RangesWidth RangesExamples
All Around 10’ – 12’6”30” – 36”Nixy Newport G4
Fishing10’6” – 12’6”32” – 36”Sea Eagle Fish SUP 126
Surfing7’8” – 11’6”26” – 32”Naish Mad Dog
Yoga10’ – 11’6”31” – 36”Nixy Venice
Touring11’ – 14’28” – 34”Gili Meno Touring Board
Racing11’6” – 14’22” – 30”Starboard All Star
White Water7’ – 11’30” – 36”Hala Atcha 86

As you can see the sizes of these boards come in a wide variety of lengths and widths. But the main focus for many of these is stability. As you can see the widths on paddle boards are oftentimes significantly wider than the categorized surfboards below. 

Surfboard TypeLength RangesWidth RangesExamples
Shortboard6’2” – 7’4”18” – 22”Thing V2
Fish5’ – 8’18” – 25”The Cod Father Fish
Funboard6’8” – 8’8”20” – 23”7’2 Poacher
Longboard8 ‘- 12’22” – 28”Pickup Stick
Gun6’ – 10”18” – 26”Ultimate Longboard

Surfboards rarely go over 10’ while 10 feet for a paddle board is often the minimum standard for recreational paddling. If you are wondering what each of the classifications for surfboards are..

  • Shortboard: Good board for acrobatic stunts. Has good turning ability
  • Fish: More stable than the shortboard and easier to ride waves
  • Longboard: The most stable board and easiest board to catch waves. Turning ability is compromised
  • Funboard: A hybrid between a shortboard and a longboard. This is a great board to use for a beginner learning to transition from longboard to short. 
  • Gun: These are super narrow boards that are used by advanced and expert surfers. 

Hull Materials

There are some materials that paddle boards and surfboards share such as fiberglass/ epoxy finish boards, soft tops, and wooded boards. But they are constructed differently. 

Paddle Board Hull Materials:

  • Fiberglass/ Epoxy Finish with EPS core
  • Soft Top
  • Wood
  • Plastic
  • Inflatable Made of PVC

One of the first things you may ask yourself is “why don’t you see many inflatable surfboards?” 

This is because for a board to be sufficient at cutting through waves you need sharp and pronounced rail designs which are hard to design for PVC/ drop-stitch materials. 

You will see lots of Amazon-style paddle boards say that it’s a good surfboard but this would be false. As long as a paddle board has thicker rails it will not be in the same league as any surfboard. 

Surfboard Hull Materials:

  • Soft Top
  • Wooden
  • Polyurethane
  • Fiberglass/ Epoxy finish

As you can see surfboards prefer harder materials that can be shaped into more customizable designs. 

Another thing that Surfboard possesses less of is volume and a smaller EPS core. This gives the surfboard less buoyancy and allows it to sit more in the water as opposed to on top of the water. 

Rocker and Rail Differences

When comparing rail sizes (thickness) between paddle boards and surfboards you will see that surfboards have thinner and more carved rails. As stated above, this helps the board carve into the wave which allows the board to be better controlled in the water.  

surfboards are much thinner and have an uplifted rocker

Surfboards have rails that are between 2 and 4 inches. While paddle boards have rails that are between 3 to 6 inches. Hard paddle boards have rails that range between 3 to 5 inches while inflatable paddle boards mostly have 6-inch rails with a few special exceptions. 

The rocker refers to how up-lifted the board is from the nose as well as the tail. Both paddle boards and surfboards feature rockers but they are used for very different things

Paddle boards have rockers so that they when paddling the nose does not plant into the water and drag. As a result, their noses tend to be uplifted and wider to ride over waves. 

The exception to this is paddle boards with displacement hulls that are run by touring and race boards. In this case, the nose has little to no rocker but instead has a needle nose that allows the board to cut through the water cleaner to allow faster glide and better tracking.

While with surfboards there is usually more thought and design that goes into their rocker as tiny differences in rocker height can make a big difference to the board’s performance when it’s surfing on a wave. 

On fish, shortboards, and some fun boards both the nose and tail rocker will be uplifted to allow more maneuverability. Longboards meanwhile have little to no tail rocker similar to a paddle board to allow the board to gain better tracking and speed in a wave. 

Flotation Differences

The goal of a paddle board is for you to be uplifted from the water while the goal of a surfboard is for you to be more in the water. As a result, the amounts of flotation put in each of the boards are different. 

For hard paddle boards typically you will see around 100 liters of foam (or EPS) in the boards core to allow it to be more buoyant. With inflatable paddle boards the thing is essentially one giant air bladder with drop stitching and PVC coats inside and outside of the board. 

Shorter surfboards like shortboards or fish boards will typically have between 23 and 25 liters of foam inside which makes the board less buoyant. As you get a longer surfboard like a longboard for example. You can find the board having up to 85 liters of foam in the core.

If surfboards were to have the same buoyancy as paddle boards they would only be able to glide along with the wave (if you got enough momentum). When the board sits on top of the wave there is very little you can do in the way of maneuvering and making quick turns like you can with a shortboard

Paddle Board vs Surfboard Pricing

As a whole, the pricing between the two on average is really not that much different. 

Paddle boards can range from anywhere between $200 for a cheaper inflatable or plastic boards to $2000 and sometimes above for custom touring/ racing SUPs.

Surfboards can range from about $250 second hand/ used all the way to about $1500 for newer more specially designed models

Of course, these are not limits for both. Surfboards or paddle boards that are highly personalized or made by hand can both be above the $2000 range. 

FAQ’s

Below are some common FAQs when it comes to surfboards vs paddle boards. 

Will Paddling on a SUP Make You a Better Surfer?

While paddle boarding can help you to a degree in terms of learning to balance on the water. The motions are much different and the learning curve is much steeper when it comes to surfing

The main thing you have to worry about when paddle boarding is staying standing while paddling on flat water. When surfing you have to learn to not only catch the wave but get up quickly and follow the momentum of the waves. There are also the breakwater and surfing considerations you must be aware of before going out. 

Can You Use a Surfboard as a Paddle Board?

Unless you have a bigger volume, more buoyant longboard it will be tougher to maintain stability while standing on still water

A lot of this answer is also dependent on the weight of the rider. If you are a bigger guy or gal with so-so stability you probably won’t be going far. smaller / younger or more experienced surfers may be able to do this more successfully. 

Even if you are able to stand on one, the paddling will not be as efficient due to the boards shape, rails and rocker. The smaller the board you are paddling on the more maneuverable it will be which means that you will be doing more paddling from one side to the other which kills any momentum to actually go anywhere efficently. 

Can You Use a Paddleboard as a Surfboard?

Unless you have a Surfing paddle board, it is generally not advised to try surfing bigger waves on a SUP. You can however try your hand at smaller waves. Just don’t expect any miracles when it comes to being able to carve through waves. 

The slower turning radius on a paddle board also requires your timing to be more precise when it comes to riding a wave. 

So What are the Differences Between Paddle Boards and Surfboards?

Some of the main differences between paddle boards and surfboards is that paddle boards are more versatile and can be used for more different types of on-water activities like fishing, yoga, touring, and racing. 

Surfboards are uniquely tuned for surfing which makes the designs much more specialized for catching and carving through waves. They range from shorter styles made for maneuverability like shortboards, fish to hybrid to longer boards made for speed like longboards. 

As a result, the construction, shapes and materials that both are made of differ.

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Author:
Hey, My name is Derek Lenze and I'm the owner of Inflatable SUP Authority. I've had over 20 years experience with watersports and over 10 years of various paddle boarding experience. My new-found passion is bringing my stand up paddle boaring knowledge in an explainable and actionable way all the while giving you my unbiased takes.

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