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Paddle Boarding or Kayaking: Which Burns More Calories?

paddle boarding lake tahoe

Have you ever stood at the edge of a serene lake or a gently flowing river, debating whether to grab a paddleboard or a kayak? It’s not just a choice between sitting down and standing up; it’s about what each of these popular water sports can offer you, especially in terms of calorie burn and overall fitness. So, let’s paddle through the ins and outs of paddle boarding and kayaking to see which one might just be the heavyweight champion of your fitness routine.

The Basics of Paddle Boarding

Imagine standing on a large surfboard, gliding through the water with a paddle in hand. That’s paddle boarding for you. It’s a full-body workout that tests your balance, strength, and endurance. But here’s the catch: because you’re standing up, your body has to work extra hard to maintain balance, engaging your core, legs, and upper body with every stroke.

The Basics of Kayaking

Now, picture yourself seated in a kayak, slicing through the water with a double-bladed paddle. Kayaking focuses more on your upper body and core, requiring less from your legs since they’re not actively used to balance. It’s a fantastic cardiovascular workout that can range from serene to high-intensity, depending on the water conditions.

Calorie Comparison

So, which burns more calories? It depends. On calm water, paddle boarding can burn anywhere from 400 to 500 calories per hour, while kayaking can torch about 300 to 400 calories. However, factor in some waves or a faster pace, and both activities level up in calorie-burning potential.

Factors Affecting Calorie Burn

Your weight, the intensity of the workout, and even the water conditions can all play a significant role in how many calories you burn. The choppier the water, the harder you have to work.

Cardiovascular Health Benefits

Both activities get your heart rate up, improving cardiovascular health. Think of them as the swimming laps of the water sports world—great for your heart but with a view that beats the black line at the bottom of a pool.

Core Strength and Stability

Paddle boarding shines in core engagement. You’re essentially doing a balancing act, which means your core is always on. Kayaking, while less intense on the balance, still requires a solid core for powerful strokes.

Upper Body Workout

Kayaking is an upper body powerhouse, targeting your arms, shoulders, and back. Paddle boarding, while more balanced, still offers a solid arm, shoulder, and back workout.

Lower Body Benefits

While kayaking might seem like an upper-body-only affair, maintaining a correct posture requires leg engagement. Paddle boarding, on the other hand, actively involves the legs in balancing and steering.

Mental Health Benefits

There’s something about being on the water that clears the mind. Both paddle boarding and kayaking offer a meditative quality, reducing stress and improving mental health.

Environmental and Accessibility Considerations

Both sports have low environmental impacts and are accessible to many. They can be done in various water bodies, from oceans to lakes, requiring only the basic equipment of a board or kayak and a paddle.

Equipment and Cost

Starting costs for both sports can be similar, depending on the equipment quality. However, paddle boards can be slightly more expensive. Remember, though, that the investment also buys you an all-over workout and a new way to explore waterways.

Safety Considerations

Safety first! Both sports require understanding water safety, including wearing a life jacket and knowing how to swim. Checking weather and water conditions before heading out is also crucial to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.

How to Get Started

Interested in getting started but not sure how? Look for local clubs or rental shops that offer lessons. They’re a great way to learn the basics in a safe environment, under the guidance of experienced instructors. Plus, it gives you a chance to try out the equipment before making any purchases.


Whether you choose paddle boarding or kayaking, you’re in for a workout that’s as beneficial for your body as it is for your soul. Both activities offer unique advantages and challenges, making them suitable for a wide range of fitness levels and interests. So, why not try both and decide for yourself which one is your calorie-burning champion?


1. Is paddle boarding harder than kayaking?

It depends on what you mean by “harder.” Paddle boarding requires more balance and engages more of the body simultaneously, which some might find more challenging. However, kayaking demands significant upper body strength and endurance, especially over longer distances.

2. Can I paddle board or kayak if I’m not a good swimmer?

Yes, but taking swimming lessons and wearing a life jacket is strongly recommended to ensure your safety. Additionally, starting in calm, shallow waters with a professional instructor can help build confidence.

3. How often should I paddle board or kayak for fitness?

Incorporating either activity into your routine 2-3 times a week can significantly improve your fitness, depending on the intensity of your sessions and other physical activities you engage in.

4. What’s the best time of day to paddle board or kayak?

Early morning or late afternoon are often ideal, as the water is calmer and the weather cooler. However, any time of day can be enjoyable, provided the weather and water conditions are safe.

5. Do I need special clothing for paddle boarding or kayaking?

While specialized clothing isn’t necessary, wearing something comfortable that can get wet and provides sun protection is wise. Additionally, consider the water temperature; if it’s cold, a wetsuit may be needed for warmth.

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About the author: Julian Kidd
I have been an avid stand up paddle boarder since 2009. I retired from a decade of professional kiteboarding to focus on SUP. Green Water Sports grew from this love of all things SUP. As well as being a keen paddle boarder, I'm a football fan, closet petrol head, web tinkerer, husband and father.