What’s the Difference Between a Paddleboard & Surfboard?

At a glance, paddleboards look a lot like surfboards. Almost the same shape, size, and colors. But there is a few key differences that we'll be covering in this article.

Chances are you’ve seen both of them in the water and have asked yourself what on earth the difference is between them. Sure, one may look bigger than the other but let’s face it, it’s not as if all surfboards are the same size and all paddleboards are the same size.

So… what’s the difference between the two or is there even a difference at all? Of course, we’re referring to paddleboard vs surfboard, as it’s easy to interchange the two when you see them out on the water. And while the two types of boards do have a lot of similarities, there are also some key differences too.

📁 Category🛶 Paddleboard🏄 Surfboard
Learning curveTakes a few hours to learnCould take up to a month to learn
SizeLarge and bulky to improve stabilizationSmaller and more narrow
Weight20 to 30 pounds7 to 15 pounds
DesignVery bulky, large and with rounded edgesPointy front and narrow to reduce friction
Price$500 and up$700 and up

The bottom line is each board will be designed to be optimized for its specific sport. That’s the key right there. What’s the main difference between the two types of boards? Surfing requires the use of the rider’s body, while paddleboarding utilizes a paddle to get the job done.

In addition to breaking this down further, we’re also going to answer the question of whether or not you can use a surfboard for paddleboarding and vice versa. Firstly, though, let’s take a closer look at the topic of paddleboard vs surfboard.

The key differences between a paddleboard and a surfboard

woman lying on a paddleboard
Image credits: Sebastian Staines

The answer above seems kind of vague, doesn’t it? Well, the reality is the two boards will be specifically designed for their individual sport. And the sport of surfing is much different than the sport of paddleboarding. When looking at the two, almost everyone is going to say that paddleboarding is the easier of the two.

This is mostly because you’re standing most of the time on a paddleboard and using a paddle to maneuver in the water. Meanwhile, surfing firstly requires you to lay down and paddle with your hands. Additionally, you have to find that perfect moment to ride the waves. That’s not even mentioning the power, balance, and concentration the sport requires.

With paddleboarding, you can get on one and feel extremely comfortable within an hour or two out on the water. Plus, it’ll be much easier for children and teens to pick up.

But this still doesn’t really dissect the differences between the boards themselves. Let’s do that right now, shall we?

The difference in sizes

As mentioned earlier, paddleboards will differ in size from other paddleboards, and the same goes for surfboards. However, one of the main differences between the two boards is that paddleboards are typically longer, heavier, and thicker than surfboards. With that said, you could buy a longboard (which is a type of surfboard) that’s longer than a paddleboard on the shorter side of the spectrum.

Most paddleboards will be longer, though, speaking in generalities. When it comes to buying either-or, the size you go with is one of if not the most important buying consideration to make. Clearly, that’s not the point of this post, but we still want to briefly go over the different sizes of both boards.

Paddleboard sizes

Here are some quick “pointers” when it comes to the sizing of paddleboards.

  • They range from as short as 8 feet to as long as over 14 feet
  • Most, however, will be between 10 and 12 feet in length, as well as 32 to 34 inches in width
  • Speaking of width, narrow boards will offer superior speed, but wider boards will offer improved stability
  • Shorter boards can actually be used for surfing, but more on that later
  • For surfing, thinner boards will be preferred, but thicker ones will be better for touring, racing, and general paddling

Surfboard sizes

Surfboards are generally placed into one of three different categories: shortboards, funboards, and longboards. They differ, mainly, in size.

  • Shortboards – If you’re new to surfing and looking to get into it, avoiding shortboards is ideal. They’re incredibly thin and narrow when compared to other boards, and they’re not beginner-friendly.
  • Funboards – In addition to having a wider outline than a shortboard, a funboard is also going to be anywhere from six to eight feet in length. It’s a great board for a beginner who’s already learned the basics and is ready to progress their skills further.
  • Longboards – Of all the surfboards out there, longboards are the closest that resemble paddleboards due to their length. They will typically run between 9 and 12 feet and are terrific for surfing for longer durations.

The differences in the construction of the boards

inflatable paddleboard besides a normal paddleboard
Image credits: Marco Verch

Not talking about the specifics that make each board ideal for its own sport, the materials used for constructing both paddleboards and surfboards can be very similar. As with the size, not all surfboards are made with the same materials, and the same goes for paddleboards. With that said, manufacturers tend to choose similar resources to make the boards. Some of the most common you’ll see will be epoxy, wood, and foam.

The construction of paddleboards

Let’s break this down further (as that’s kind of what we do) by first looking at paddleboards.

  • Epoxy paddleboards – If you’re looking to buy a hard paddleboard, it’s more than likely going to be made out of epoxy. Epoxy boards will typically be constructed with multiple layers of fiberglass and EPS foam. Additionally, they will also typically include epoxy resin to help prevent dings and cosmetic damage. These types of boards are great for anyone looking to gain excellent agility in the water and, overall, provide a great combination of flexibility and maneuverability in the water. Just a great construction for riders looking for long-distance adventures.
  • Soft top paddleboards – Don’t go thinking that soft top boards aren’t rigid or strong because that’s far from the case. Such boards will sport front decks made with spongy and soft foam material. However, the core of these boards is designed out of sturdy and strong materials. Featuring an EPS high-density foam blank, soft top boards remain rigid. You can even find some soft tops with an additional layer of fiberglass and epoxy resin, though not too many companies do that sort of thing.
  • Inflatable paddleboards – Much different than the others, inflatable paddleboards are what you’d expect them to be, boards that can be inflated and deflated for easier storage and transportation. Outside of those benefits, inflatable models can be as rigid as epoxy boards thanks to their high-density layers of PVC material and drop stitch technology.

Okay, so now let’s look at the main types of surfboards that you’ll see based on the construction materials.

  • Soft top surfboards – Much like their paddleboard counterpart, soft top surfboards will feature soft foam. Not a whole lot of maintenance is going to be required for such boards, but they also might not last as long as more high-quality boards. Foam boards are great for beginners as they’re stable and buoyant, and wipeouts don’t hurt quite as much. Performance-wise, however, there are superior choices.
  • Wooden surfboards – As you’d expect, wooden boards are quite heavy, but they can also last a lifetime if you take care of them properly. When it comes to performance, wooden boards can carry a lot of momentum and do a good job of handling choppy conditions. They may end up costing you a pretty penny, however, so take note of that.
  • Polyurethane surfboards – Beginners may struggle a bit with polyurethane boards due to the additional weight. When compared to epoxy, they’re more flexible but are a bit heavier. And while they’re fairly easy to repair, the tradeoff is they’re easier to damage too.
  • Epoxy surfboards – The durability of epoxy boards is one of their greatest features, and the fact that they’re not the heaviest option allows them to catch smaller waves. They can get pretty costly, though, and aren’t the most stable on choppy water.

The verdict

Would it be too boring and easy to say that you should just use each board for the specific activity? There’s really no need to pick a winner here as each board is ideal for its own activity. However, hold on for just a second. What about this?

Can you use a paddleboard for surfing, and can you use a surfboard for paddleboarding? Addressing the first part of the question, you can technically surf on almost any paddleboard out there. As expected, though, some will perform better than others. The ones more optimized for surfing will be what you want.

As for the second part of that question, that one can be a little trickier. For paddleboarding, most people will want and prefer the higher flotation, volume, and stability that a paddleboard will provide. With a large enough surfboard (more than likely a longboard) and strong enough balancing skills (and an ideal weight), though, you could probably stand-up paddle on a surfboard.

If what you primarily want to do is stand-up paddleboard, however, don’t buy a surfboard. If you’d like to do both, though, there are paddleboards that can be optimized for surfing.

Final thoughts

At the end of the day, surfboards and paddleboards do have a lot of similarities. From the materials used to construct them to how large some can be, it’s easy to see why some people get the two mixed up. Yet, while you can pull off both activities with both, if you want the best experience possible for the specific activity, you’re after, you should buy a board specifically optimized for it. Hence, that’s where the tagline of paddleboard vs surfboard most comes into play, quite honestly.

One more thing before you hit the road. All this talk about paddleboards got us thinking of a previous post we published that can also serve a lot of importance if you’re possibly looking to buy one for yourself. Determining how much weight a specific paddleboard can hold will go a long way in the buying process. So, do yourself (and us) a favor by checking that post out!

Default image
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.