Can You Surf with a Paddleboard?

Do you have an old paddleboard lying at home and want to try out surfing? How cool would it be if you could just use the paddleboard? Here's what you need to know.

A paddleboard was made for paddling and a surfboard was made for surfing, right? Well, as it turns out, the world likes to tailor things to their needs, so the two types of boards often get interchanged for each other, so to speak.

Now, we’ve already covered the idea of paddleboarding on a surfboard. As you’ll learn if you check out that previous post, it’s not exactly ideal or optimal to stand-up paddleboard (SUP) on a surfboard. However, what about the opposite?

Can you surf with a paddleboard? That’s what we want to talk about, in-depth, today, and let’s just break the ice with the following. It’s much more feasible than the former.

With the right paddleboard, in fact, SUP surfing can have its own advantages such as being able to enjoy an elevated vantage point to see incoming waves, the paddle that can help you get into an ideal position to catch waves, and the fact that you’re already in a standing position when you go to hit the waves.

Surfing with a SUP board can even be a little easier on the body and a more approachable way of getting into the activity for newer surfers. Of course, as we’ll detail later, there are still clear advantages that a traditional surfboard will have.

However, before we get into that, we want to detail the important factors you should keep in mind if you intend to buy a SUP board for the purposes of surfing. Remember, not all SUPs are created equally, so buying the right one is vital.

Is an inflatable paddleboard or a solid paddleboard best for surfing?

lots of surfboards on the beach
Image credits: Joey Pilgrim

Can you surf with a paddleboard? Perhaps the better question would be “can you surf with a hardboard or with an inflatable paddleboard?” Just for portability and convenience alone, it’s not surprising to understand why so many people love inflatable paddleboards. The ability to inflate and deflate them when you need to is invaluable (though the time it can take to do so can become somewhat of a nuisance).

But the reality of the situation is for surfing, the two types of paddleboards will offer different experiences. If what you’re looking for is the purest surfing feel out of your SUP board, then you’ll want to buy a hardboard SUP. It comes down to the performance advantages that this type has over an inflatable model, which include:

  • Superior speed on the wave
  • More sculpted rails, which deliver better surfing maneuvers
  • Enhanced control overall and especially when turning and making adjustments

Now, in spite of those performance benefits, inflatable SUPs for surfing can also have their own advantages over hardboards, such as:

  • Much easier for traveling and storing (though that’s the obvious)
  • Falling on the board and wiping out are much less painful
  • The softer surface will be ideal for your knees when you’re first learning to surf

Truthfully, choosing between the two comes down to whether you want the performance boosts or not. If you could care less, go with an inflatable SUP board for superior convenience.

The shape and size of the SUP board can vastly influence surfing performance

wooden paddleboard on beach
Image credits: Dendy Satyazi

As we alluded to earlier, buying the right size SUP board is very important when answering the question of can you surf with a paddleboard. There’s also another question that’s significant to ask yourself, though.

Do you want to exclusively surf with the SUP board you buy or are you looking to enjoy both activities with the same SUP board whenever you please? We feel that for most buyers, it’s going to be the latter. After all, if all you care about is surfing, it’s probably going to be best to just buy a surfboard.

No matter, we will assess the question from both ways. You can buy a SUP board that’s more or less specially designed to surf. With that said, remember that a SUP board is going to allow you to SUP regardless. Yet, if you buy one that’s geared to surf, it’s going to be a little harder to paddle on it.

The primary reason for this is just due to the simple differences between a paddleboard and a surfboard. If you’re looking for a SUP board that can optimally surf, you’re going to have to buy one with the following qualities:

  • Short length – typically less than nine feet
  • Lower volume – lower than the average board
  • Thinner than average – four inches is about what you’re looking at
  • A narrower tail – this can make the board more responsive when turning

Essentially, buying a board with the above qualities is going to enhance its performance and technical ability when riding waves. Contrarily, this is going to make such a SUP board less suitable if what you need are more length and increased volume. It’s the tradeoff for superior surfing, basically.

What if you could have it the best of both ways, though? Can you surf with a paddleboard that does really well for both activities? It’s definitely possible, though advanced and dedicated surfers may vehemently disagree.

The key is to find the happy medium and the sweet spot when it comes to the thickness, width, and length of the SUP board you go with. Pumped Up SUP provided a nice reference point for riders looking for the best of both worlds (as is detailed in the chart below):

⚖️ Rider weight📐 Thickness📏 Length
Less than 160 lb.5 in.9 ft. 6 in.
Less than 180 lb.5 in.9 ft. 6 in. – 10 ft. 8 in.
Over 180 lb.5 – 6 in.Longer than 10 ft.

Look for a paddleboard with traction

Given the nature of surfing, traction and feel are very important for surfers. The same goes for paddleboarding, quite frankly, but surfing is just a different beast. Generally speaking, when learning to surf on a paddleboard, it’s going to be easier to stick with a longer and thicker deck pad that’ll cover more board surface.

Remember that when you surf, you’ll be switching into a surfer stance where you place one foot in front of the other. Due to this, it can also be beneficial to look for a SUP board with a contoured tail pad area with a rear edge that is raised. In addition to providing better leverage when you’ll be applying pressure with your foot, this can also help keep your back foot on the board.

What also can be beneficial to make the answer to the question of can you surf with a paddleboard even easier to figure out is if you buy a SUP board with a raised arch bar. It’s not necessarily a popular feature on such boards, but it can offer a few benefits:

  • It will allow you to dig your rear foot in for better control
  • It is used to trim the board which can assist in tilting the rail
  • It allows you to feel where your back foot is without having to physically look down

What are some benefits that a surfboard has?

woman lying on a paddleboard
Image credits: Sebastian Staines

Even though the right SUP board can make a pretty darn good surfboard, for someone looking for the peak surfing experience, a surfboard is still going to be the best choice. We just wanted to detail a few of the main reasons why this is the case:

  • More maneuverable. Even a small SUP board that will work well for surfing is still not going to be as maneuverable, reactive, and nimble as the best surfboards on the market. With enough power in the wave, additionally, surfboards will oftentimes be much faster on the water.
  • Ability to duck dive waves. Being able to pass underneath oncoming waves and white water and duck dive allows the process of getting back out to be much more efficient. Overall, piloting out through the foam is much easier than with a SUP board (especially one that’s pretty big).
  • Better on a windy day. If the day brings with it a lot of wind, remaining lower down to the surface of the water can make surfing easier as a whole. With a lot of wind, standing on a SUP board can be a lot of hard work to position and maintain yourself. On a surfboard, it’s easier thanks to your legs dangling in the water. Then again, surfing on a surfboard on a breezy day can still be a tricky endeavor.

Final thoughts

Can you surf with a paddleboard? You most certainly can with an appropriate SUP board, and you can have a blast doing it. Not only that but at the same time, you can switch from surfing to paddleboarding if you want a more leisure activity. Just remember that the more optimized the SUP board you buy is for surfing, the less optimized it will be for paddleboarding.

Going with a hardboard SUP with a shorter length, lower volume, lower thickness, and narrower tail than the average board will yield should allow you to have a really good surfing experience. However, an inflatable model with happy medium specifications can deliver a SUP board that can be used happily for both activities.

The accessibility and versatility of an all-around SUP board are going to be very enticing for many. Hardcore surfers will definitely still want to tag along with their trusty surfboard as the performance and technical ability will still not be matched by a SUP board.

Let’s just say there’s much more possibility of using a paddleboard for surfing than using a surfboard for paddleboarding. And, again, if you want to check out that post we have the link at the top of the page.

Speaking of previous posts, did you know that there’s actually a correct way to carry your paddleboard? Yeah, we know, it seems kind of absurd that there’s a wrong way to do so. We recommend checking that post out, though, as it can save paddleboarders a lot of potential frustration.

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Tyler Jones

Tyler is much like a swiss knife. Even though he has a degree in Computer Science, he knows almost everything there is to know about camping. He has been writing for HeadlessNomad since 2021 and has contributed with over 100 articles. If you have an outdoor-related question, then Tyler much likely knows the answer.