When you’re getting into surfing, there’s one big question to answer before you buy a board. Is it better to start with a longboard or shortboard?
Longboarding is primarily for people who like to relax and ride very small to medium sized waves. A longboard is very flexible and will ensure that you are able to surf at almost any spot, on almost any day. Shortboarding is for people who want to ride medium to large waves, perform quick turns, learn tricks and pull into tight barrels.
Now let’s get into some of the details of why you might want to choose one or the other. There are quite a few things to consider besides the size of waves you want to ride.
What’s the Difference Between a Longboard and a Shortboard?
Yeah, one board is short and the other is long…duh.
But beyond that, it primarily comes down to maneuverability.
Riding a longboard is like cruising on a big yacht. The ride will be slow and comfortable, regardless of the ocean conditions. This comes at a cost however, and it won’t be very nimble.
A shortboard is more like driving a small speed boat. You will be able to go fast and turn quickly. The downside is that you won’t be able to go out in all ocean conditions.
That’s the short story.
Let’s take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of each…
Advantages of Longboarding
The biggest advantage of longboarding is that you can catch almost any wave.
Since longboards have more surface area and buoyancy, they are the perfect choice for beginners. That’s why most surf schools use foam top longboards.
Another big advantage of longboarding is the type of people that it attracts.
Longboarders are generally really chill and prioritize having fun over catching the most waves or doing the most radical maneuvers.
If that’s your vibe, then longboarding is perfect for you.
Soft top boards are a good option if you don’t want to pay a lot for a longboard, or if you just want to try longboarding.
The quality of these boards has improved greatly over the years and they are now a very viable option if you want a low-cost way to get into longboarding.
I got a Wavestorm and I’m very happy with it. I’ll get a fiberglass or epoxy longboard at some point.
But this is a fun board if you just want to mess around in some shorebreak or try out new moves.
Finally, longboards are generally more durable than shortboards.
Since shortboards are more about being lightweight and maneuverable, they usually have less fiberglass on them.
Weight isn’t as much of a concern with longboards, so shapers usually put a thicker layer of fiberglass on the board. This means that longboards are harder to ding.
Disadvantages of Longboarding
Longboards make it easy to catch waves, but once you are standing up, there’s a limited number of things that you can do on a longboard.
The may not be a disadvantage to you. But it is for some surfers.
Here’s a great longboarding video that shows you the extent of what you can do on a longboard.
But this can be a lot of fun in itself. Again, it’s just a matter of what makes you happy.
Since you will primarily be riding small waves, you don’t have a whole lot of options anyway.
However, if you want to learn to do sharp turns and maybe the occasional aerial, then a longboard isn’t for you.
After you get out of the water there’s the issue of storing and transporting your board.
Most longboards are between 8 and 10 feet (2.4m to 3m) long.
So if you have limited storage space at home, or a small car, a longboard might not be the best option for you. Of course, you can always get roof racks.
But if you have a convertible, then you might be out of luck. However, I have seen some people in Los Angeles put their 9 foot longboard in the front seat of a convertible Porsche. It’s really sketchy on the freeway, so I wouldn’t advise it.
Now let’s examine the cost. A brand new longboard, from a reputable shaper, will run you anywhere from $800 to $1,200+, at the time this post was written.
You could go for a used board, but they will still cost considerably more than a used shortboard.
The gear for a longboard is more expensive too. Everything from board bags to leashes will usually cost more than their shortboard counterparts.
Getting to the lineup on a longboard can be trickier in bigger waves.
You’ll have to do a turtle roll to get through the bigger sets. It’s certainly doable, but a little more challenging when you are dragging a big board.
Finally a longboard is heavier, so it can be harder to load into your car and carry in/out of the water.
Something to consider after a long session. Also think about your favorite surf spot and the distance between where you park and the water.
Advantages of Shortboarding
One of the biggest advantages of shortboarding is the size and portability of the board.
Most shortboards will fit in the front seat of a car.
This makes them easy to take on road trips and you can bring a few different boards with you to your next surf session. Most cars will fit a couple of friends and all of your boards, so you don’t have to take separate cars.
A shortboard can also be stored in a closet or under a bed.
If you want to get fancy and mount them on a wall to save space and have cool wall art, then we show you how to do that in this post.
But that’s after you get out of the water.
In the water, shortboards are much more maneuverable, and allow you to paddle into the right position faster.
They also allow you to fit into tight barrels and pull off bigger turns. If you want to get more advanced, a shortboard will allow you to do floaters and aerials.
Shortboards also generally cost less than longboards.
Less material, less cost.
You can get a new high-performance shortboard for between $500 and $800. If you go used, it can cost you as little as $200 to $300 to get a great board.
The accessories for shortboards are also more affordable.
You could get a soft top shortboard to save even more money. But I’ve found that it’s better to go for a used fiberglass or epoxy shortboard instead of a new soft top. The hard boards will last longer and are more enjoyable.
Finally you can catch small waves on a shortboard too. A popular design is called a “fish” because of its tail design.
These boards are wider and thicker than most shortboards, so they are better at catching small waves. However, they aren’t nearly as good at catching really small waves, when compared to a longboard.
So a fish is an option if you don’t want to lug around a big longboard, but you still want to catch small waves.
Disadvantages of Shortboarding
Learning to surf on a shortboard is probably the hardest way to start out.
Paddling is difficult because you have to figure out the side-to-side balance of the board. That can actually be quite tricky.
Since the board has less volume, it’s also harder to paddle long distances. Your arms will get tired quickly.
Standing up on a shortboard is also challenging. Finding the right balance point will take a lot of practice. There’s a fine line between being too far back on the board and burying the nose.
Then there’s the sharp tip on a shortboard. That can be a little dangerous.
There are 2 options if this makes you nervous.
- Use a Nose Guard
- Buy a board with a rounded or square nose
Lastly, shortboards get damaged more easily. As I mentioned above, they usually have a thinner coat of fiberglass, so it takes less of an impact to get them dinged.
Luckily it’s pretty easy to repair minor dings. A little Solarrz will get you back in the water in just a few minutes.
Is Shortboarding Harder Than Longboarding?
It’s harder to learn to surf on a shortboard. That’s why we recommend starting with a longboard because it will reduce your learning time.
However, once you master a board, one isn’t easier than the other.
They both have their advantages and disadvantages. It’s just a matter of personal preference and the type of waves you have available to you.
Final Thoughts on Longboarding vs Shortboarding
If you are still on the fence about which type of board to start with, a longboard is usually the best choice. Find a mellow spot with plenty of space and have some fun.
Once you gain some confidence and skills catching small waves, then you can get a shorter board.
You might just stick with the longboard.
But if you have your heart set on learning to shortboard, then start with that. You’ll have a greater sense of satisfaction when you figure it out.
Then again, you don’t have to choose…just do both.