Kayak or Stand Up Paddleboard?

Kayak or Stand Up Paddleboard?

Which One Should You Choose?

If you are brand new to paddling and are conflicted about which paddling discipline to learn, I am here to help. As founder of Manhattan Kayak + SUP, I have a lot to share on this topic.

First, for fitness: In both kayaking and SUP, learn to use your whole body and lots of torso rotation (we offer Kayak and SUP 1-2-3 where beginners can learn this). You get an excellent core workout and it’s a lot of fun. Burn ~500 calories in a normal tour and ~1,000 calories in a race training session. If you don’t learn technique, you’ll likely overuse your arms, the fitness benefits will be elusive and you’ll be moving too slowly to enjoy the ride.

In debating kayak and SUP, I see my dad, Dieter Stiller, a pioneer in bringing kayaks to the US via the Klepper Kayak Company. From his perspective, the kayak is superior in races and expeditions. It offered a stable center of gravity and the efficiency of a double-bladed paddle. The closed sleek deck, low windage and rudder made the kayak into an athlete’s boat. As a 12 year old kayaker in the Adirondacks, I did circles around canoes.

Freestyle Kayaking

D-jacksonMy perspective started to shift after meeting EJ Jackson, a pioneer in freestyle kayaking. His flat bottomed 6-foot kayak can do nearly anything an Olympic gymnast can do, and in 10-foot waves. I’ve been honored to learn modern freestyle kayaking from him.

One of the tenets of freestyle kayaking is using your paddle vertically, as a combination of a keel and underwater sail. Pressure variances of the paddle blade and river current will steer the kayak from point to point, instead of trying to overpower a force that cannot be overpowered.

One of EJ’s drills in “Strokes and Concepts” involved paddling 180 degrees around a static kayaker in three strokes, coming out with more speed and with no side-slip. I became intimate with using a kayak paddle in a vertical plane, using one blade in the water to make the majority of the turn.


The Advent of SUP

lhamiltonIn the mid to late 1990’s, Laird Hamilton and friends including David Kalama, used longboards with outrigger canoe paddles and SUP began. The secret surfer living inside me said, “Wow, I can use a paddle with a surfboard!” and I bought my first three C4 Waterman boards under guidance of C4 co-founder Todd Bradley. Manhattan Kayak was officially riding the SUP wave. Soon enough, surfer turns were all the rage in our Hudson River embayment.

SUP PrivatesIt did not take long before our kayak instructors started loving SUP. Within a year, we were doing boot camps, SUP yoga and circumnavigating Manhattan by SUP. The boards proved to be versatile and easy to pull from the rack, cradle under one arm and launch. Also, customers with back and shoulder injuries tell me that they don’t feel pain during or after being on a SUP (same goes for my injuries!). People with knee injuries can have a harder time at the beginning of their learning curve, because they will need to kneel on their board before they know how to stand up.

The more we practiced, the more we could do and soon we were going on tours with kayakers, though we fell behind kayakers when against strong headwinds. We even learned to surf the wind versus tidal current waves. Life on the water is good!

Atlantic SuperGirls: From NYC to Miami

Six years after the first SUP landed on our Manhattan doorstep, two of our top guides, Julieta Gismondi and LouAnne Harris paddled two 12’6″ BIC Wing SUP’S 1500 miles, self-supported from our Pier 84 boathouse to Miami. The epic story was recounted in SUP The Mag, The Mullet and W42ST among others. It was a grand journey by any measure. And, as the world keeps turning, a few months after her return, Julieta got in our new Epic V7 Surfski and had a big grin on her face. It was the sensation of paddling really fast again.

Love for All Paddling Craft And What Each Type Can Do!

SUP helps me and my staff more fully understand and appreciate the great world of paddling. It made us more dynamic with single- and double-bladed paddles and the vast world of craft designs.

So, Which One DO You Choose?

My recommendation is to find your local paddling school and take lessons to learn good technique. If a certain type of craft is easier to find, that’s a cue on which type may be best for your area.

For Kayaks – there’s also great post over at Floating Authority on called the The Ultimate Kayak Buying Guide which offers Kayak Buying Guide Questions and wide guide of Kayak types, Strengths Weaknesses.

Remember these few definites:

  • If you are in an area where it is consistently cold and windy: go with a touring or sea kayak.
  • If you are near class 3 – 5 whitewater and that intrigues you: go with a whitewater kayak. (Learn how to  paddle very well first!)
  • If you live near calm waters with sea life: go with a SUP.
  • If you are a surfer and reading this far: go with a SUP.
  • Finally, you may want to travel with your vessel to great waters far and wide. If it’s a long expedition in many conditions with a heavy load, then I am a great fan of Long Haul Folding Kayaks. They are a great folding boat built by master craftsman Mark Eckhart in Colorado. They can hold a nice sail, which comes in handy. Also, I recommend Inflatable Stand Up Paddleboards (i-SUPs). Red Paddle Co has a great variety and they’re the best quality I’ve seen. They specialize in i-SUPs and there is a lot to be said about that kind of commitment!



Eric Stiller, Founder
Manhattan Kayak + SUP

10 Responses to Kayak or Stand Up Paddleboard?

  1. hello,

    i am interested in reserving either a kayak or sup, i was wondering if you have a kayak that holds two people ( my son and myself) he is 7 years old

    • Hi Melinda, We have SUPs and kayaks that can did your son. We have kid-size SUP where he can go alone or adult SUP where you put him on the front with you. For kayaks, we have doubles where you sit in the back and he sits in the front. Call us to reserve any of these: 212-924-1788. Thank you! Eric

  2. A very helpful article.
    I just want to commend you for this article. I think you got it right.

    While kayaking is more practical for longer trips, SUPing is simpler, and a better overall workout.

  3. Hi Eric, I enjoyed reading your take on this hotly debated topic. I’d love to hear your thoughts on inflatable kayaks, as that’s something you didn’t mention in the article.

    Happy paddling.

    • Hi Jason,

      Sorry for super late response. We are very keen on the RED line of inflatables. We have many racers here who used them quite effectively in the 25 mile annual Sea Paddle around Manhattan. The 13’2 Explorer model does well in our water also. Finally the 4 person Dragon has been excellent fun! ..

  4. Hi Eric, Thank your articles.
    I’d love to hear your thoughts on Stand-up Pedal Board. I think Pedal SUP boards just use feet in a stair step type motion to propel the board forward.

  5. Hi thank you for sharing with us this great post, I really like all the information that you provide , i think kayaking is the best because you can take with you your family or your dog

  6. Hey!
    Amazing post!
    When i read this post, i truly liked it.So, thanks for sharing this post and yes keep sharing.

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