At first glance, a surfboard and a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) do not seem to have many differences.
Yes, SUP’s tend to be larger than surfboards but not always. This could make you assume that you could use your surfboard for stand-up paddling. However, this is, in most cases, not true.
Surfboards do not make good stand-up paddleboards for a few reasons, but the biggest is their size, volume (which plays a role in buoyancy), the fins used, and the board’s agility mechanisms.
Throughout this article, we will take a look at the differences between SUP boards and surfboards and why it does not work well to replace one with the other.
Table of Contents
5 Reasons Why Surfboard Can’t Be Used as a Paddleboard
To say that a surfboard can’t be used as a stand-up paddleboard is not entirely accurate. It is possible to use larger boards as a SUP, especially if you are on the shorter side of the scale or if a kid is using it.
That being said, even if the size ratios of the rider and the board are correct, surfboards will still not be the best replacements for a SUP because of the following reasons.
1. SUPs Are Larger Than Surfboards
The most obvious difference between paddleboards and surfboards is their sizes.
In almost all cases, stand-up paddleboards are wider, longer, thicker, and heavier than surfboards.
This is important for both buoyancy and stability as the rider will remain standing most of the time.
SUP boards are often as wide as 3 feet and as long as 14 feet, which is bigger than most surfboards on the market.
Of course, the dimensions of a SUP will change depending on use. For example, a SUP that is used for riding waves may be narrower and have a pointy nose, while a board designed for cruising over a lake could be wider, heavier, and have a rounded nose and tail.
Surfboards, on the other hand, range from 5 feet in length to 12 feet. Surfboards also tend to be thinner (therefore smaller volumes) and narrower, which helps with control.
Because surfboards are so much smaller than SUPs, they do not float well when you stand on them while not riding a wave.
2. Stand Up Paddleboards Are More Buoyant Than Surfboards
Buoyancy is everything when it comes to a well-designed paddleboard. Because riders tend to stand on them (or kneel) at all times, they need to be able to float, even when standing still.
Buoyancy is described by the force that a liquid exerts on an object that is wholly or partially submerged within it. This idea was first observed by Archimedes and is now known as Archimedes’ principle.
This means that the wider the object, the more area the water has to push on, and therefore, the buoyancy of the object is higher.
It is because of this that SUPs tend to be wider, longer, and have higher volumes.
This is different from a surfboard that will often sink when standing still but raise itself out of the water while you paddle or ride along with a wave.
3. SUPs Are More Stable Than Surfboards
Once again, mainly attributed to their size, stand-up paddleboards are more stable than a surfboard.
The reason for this is partly because SUP riders remain standing the entire time, both when riding waves as well as when trying to get past the waves and into the backline.
The other reason for this is the different stance that is used when a paddle boarder is paddling.
Unlike while riding a wave with one foot forward and the other back (toes facing the rail of the board), when SUP boarders paddle, their body is square with the board (toes facing the nose).
This position makes standing on a narrow board harder, and therefore the board needs to have increased stability.
Because surfboards are designed for agility, they tend to be narrower than SUPs. This is even true for longboards. A 12-foot longboard will usually still be narrower than the shortest SUP on the market.
This makes standing and paddling on a surfboard anywhere from impossible to a grueling challenge.
4. Stand Up Paddle Boards Are Constructed Differently
Because surfboards and SUPs are made for different purposes (although similar), they are naturally constructed differently. Some of these differences include the following:
The rocker of a board is simply the curve that the bottom of the board has. Different rockers serve different purposes. For example, a long flat rocker works well for gliding along the surface of a water body, while a curved rocker works best to cut through waves.
Rockers allow a board to fit the shape of a wave.
Paddleboards are made with long flat rockers, which allow them to glide better along the water.
This makes paddleboards easier to paddle with and takes less effort to keep them straight.
On the other hand, Surfboards have more curvature (more rocker), which allows them to easily dive into waves.
This means that using a surfboard as a paddleboard will require extra effort to maintain a straight line and more energy to propel the board forward.
As mentioned before, the stance you use on a paddleboard is different from that of a surfboard.
On the most part, stand-up paddlers will stand square-on in the center of their board, which allows for the most control and balance.
Because of this constant pressure, SUPs are reinforced in this area to prevent caving in.
Surfboards, however, do not have the same reinforcement as it is not necessary.
Using a surfboard as a SUP will eventually leave your board with large pressure dings.
As surfing and stand-up paddleboarding have similar dynamics, the fin setup is similar, although not entirely the same.
Because SUPs are larger, they tend to use bigger fins. Larger fins allow for more stability as they dig deeper into the water.
This makes them easier to control as they do not slide as much as shorter fins.
If you are using a surfboard as a paddleboard, you will find that your board changes directions drastically each time you paddle.
5. Intention for the Board Is Different
Although SUPs and longboards are used in similar conditions, the intention of using a shortboard is significantly different.
Shortboards are designed with the intention of surfing steep, hollow, fast waves, which is the opposite of stand-up paddleboards.
A SUP is best for long rolling waves that are often caught long before they have broken.
A shortboard and a SUP are designed to work best for their intended use, and as they are so different, they do not replace each other well.
The Skill of the Rider and Their Size Is Everything
Your size and weight are directly proportionate to how much volume your surfboard or paddleboard needs to have.
For example, a child weighs far less than an adult and will therefore need less foam volume in the board to remain buoyant.
In this case, it is possible for them to use a surfboard as a paddleboard, although a SUP will still be easier to control and give a stabilization bonus.
Smaller and lighter adults may also be able to stay buoyant on a longboard while standing up but will need to have strong balancing skills to counteract the narrow board.
One key factor of buoyancy is speed. More skilled riders may be able to paddle fast enough on a surfboard to keep the board from sinking.
Skilled paddleboarders may be able to use larger surfboards as their balance is better and they understand the dynamics of the sport; however, even the best paddleboarders are likely to choose a shorter paddle board over a surfboard.
Can You Use a Longboard as a Paddleboard?
Using a longboard as a paddleboard is possible because their volume and dimensions are bigger; however, even though a longboard is significantly bigger than a shortboard, they are still thinner and therefore less buoyant.
To use a longboard as a surfboard, you will need to either be on the smaller end of the height spectrum or be close to the expert level in the sport.
Longboards are often hard to make sharp turns on, and because they are narrower, they are less stable.
Longboards are not ideal for replacing a SUP, but surfers do choose this option in some cases.
Can You Use a Paddle Board as a Longboard?
Although this is not the best replacement, a paddleboard can be used as a longboard and will not result in the best surfing experience.
Because SUPs are so buoyant, you will not be able to duck dive, and even turtle rolling will seem like a challenge because of their wide designs.
SUPs are also difficult to control when paddling because they are so wide and buoyant it is difficult to put enough pressure on the fins when paddling on your stomach.
The rocker of the SUP further contributes to the paddling control problem as they are designed for tracking and gliding and not for agility.
Lastly, paddleboards are difficult to paddle with using your arms. Because the boards are wide, you will find it difficult to get enough of your arms into the water, and therefore you will experience a reduced speed.
This reduced speed can make paddling into waves a challenge.
Do Paddle Boarding and Surfing Skills Transfer?
If you are a paddle boarder that tends to spend their time in flat water bodies such as lakes and rivers, then there are not many skills that will transfer to surfing.
This is because your stance is different, and therefore the balancing technique you learned differs.
That being said, learning to paddleboard in the ocean with waves does have some transferable skills to surfing.
Understanding the ocean, timing of waves, reading currents, and the stance you use while riding a wave are all similar to surfing.
Because of this, a surfer may find using a paddleboard in the ocean easier and vice versa.
Stand-up paddleboards and surfboards do not do well to replace each other. Mostly coming down to their size and volume differences, surfboards tend to not be buoyant enough to support a rider who is on their feet while not moving.
Paddleboards, on the other hand, tend to be too large and too buoyant to properly paddle while on your stomach, as well as too large to easily turn and maneuver without a paddle.