When it comes to riding waves the kind of surfboard you use can make a massive difference.
From gently cruising along knee-high waves to driving through overhead barrels, longboarding vs shortboarding can seem like completely different watersports.
Let’s take a closer look at the difference between longboards and shortboards, the pros and cons of both and why one might be a better fit for your surfing adventures.
Longboarding vs shortboarding, what’s the difference?
Straight from the get-go, there are some visible differences that make these surfboard shapes completely different.
The shape of your board
Longboards are wide and long with rounded noses alongside thick chunky rails.
They tend to be fairly flat with a slight rise at the nose and tail, this would be considered a very gentle rocker and helps with sliding along on soft, mellow waves.
Traditional high-performance shortboards have pointed noses and a pulled-in tail.
Shortboards have a noticeably more aggressive nose rocker that helps the board fit into the steeper curve of larger, more powerful waves.
You’ll also find that most shortboards will have a tail pad (for where your back foot goes) glued onto the board, while longboarders will typically use just surf wax for traction when they’re riding waves.
The length of your board
One of the main differences between these two surfboard shapes is their length.
Longboards (originally known as Malibu boards) are normally 9ft+, much smaller and they fall into the realms of a mini mal (a compact longboard that’s easier to carry and more manoeuvrable).
Shortboards are defined by the exact opposite with most coming in under 7ft, anything larger and you start getting into the realms of gun boards designed for big wave surfing.
The volume of a longboard will often be double or more than that of a shortboard purely due to its length.
The surfboard fin system
Longboards will use a large single fin at the centre of the board with the optional addition of trailer fins (much smaller fins that go to the left and right of the centre fin).
Shortboards give you a bit more freedom to try different fin set ups.
From your standard three-fin thruster to the more speed-focused quad fin you can really change the feel of a board just by swapping out your set of fins.
What are the pros and cons of longboarding vs shortboarding
Now we understand these two very different styles of surfboard, let’s take a closer look at what’s to love (and not to love) about each design.
Longboarding is without a doubt a better choice for beginners. Thanks to the board’s extra float and stability you’ll be up and riding waves quicker which means faster progression and ultimately, more fun.
Smaller surfboards come along with their own set of special challenges.
When you’re just starting out balancing issues are common with smaller boards providing a much less stable platform when you’re up and riding the wave.
This alongside the rigours of paddling, duck diving and catching waves means that it’ll be at least a year before you start doing what you would consider radical turns.
Good shortboarding requires years of practice to master the highly technical surfing manoeuvres like rotations and airs you see being performed by professional surfers.
*Pro tip – While it’s a great goal to progress onto shortboards, they can actually hold back a lot of surfers’ early progression due to their lack of buoyancy.
When it comes to how much of your hard-earned cash you’re going to need, a smaller size means a smaller price.
There are just way more material costs in lengthy surfboards and that drives the price up considerably.
Other deviations from traditional PU polyurethane boards can drive the price up as well, like opting for an epoxy surfboard or even a balsa wood board.
Range of manoeuvres
The smaller more refined styles of boards are shaped with one key thing in mind, performance. From getting your fins loose above the lip of the wave to chucking buckets of spray on your mates as you lean into a carve.
Professional longboarding can see riders successfully complete snaps, floaters, carves and tube rides but they just can’t match the speed and power of their shortboard counterparts.
This translates to surf competitions as well with the WSL Championship Tour being arguably much more exciting than any longboarding events (sorry Longboard World Tour).
Height of waves
The extra float and volume provided by longboards mean that you’ll be able to catch even the smallest summer ripple that would be virtually unsurfable on tiny performance boards.
But as the swell starts to get bigger you’ll quickly find it’s not manoeuvrable enough and paddling out becomes close to impossible unless there’s a channel to paddle through.
This is where smaller boards come into their element, allowing you to duck-dive deeper and deal with fast-breaking, critical sections on the wave.
Type of waves
Unless you’re a very good longboarder, you’re slightly limited in the type of waves you can take on. You’ll be looking for smooth rides on smaller waves that allow you to glide down the line for as long as possible.
Less length on your board opens you up to a whole host of dangerous waves and surf spots if you’re willing to give it a go.
Breaks like slabs and fast barreling reefs rely on the lightning-fast responsiveness you only get from muscle memory and highly refined fibreglass blades.
The sheer foam volume of longer boards leads to great stability when you’re paddling letting you take deeper strokes and move more efficiently through the ocean.
Chucking your boards in the back of your hatchback is easy with something in the 6ft range but lugging around a longboard can be a pain.
You’ll likely need to strap it to the top of your car unless you’re lucky enough to have a van.
This also translates to your walk down to the beach, a heavy longboard can really start to weigh you down, especially if the surf break is a long way from the parking spot.
What’s best for you?
With two very different approaches to riding a wave which one is the right fit for you?
Good longboarding is defined by style as much as it is power so if you tend to be on the more relaxed side then riding longboards could be a perfect option.
Shortboarding has a slightly more competitive feel when you’re in the lineup and can even translate to aggression in very rare cases.
Your fitness level
If you’re looking for easier paddling, then you can’t go wrong with a quality log over 9ft.
High-performance boards require high levels of fitness just to catch waves and if you haven’t got the stamina you’ll end up missing waves.
Your local waves
Your home break will play a large part in your longboarding vs shortboarding decision.
If you’re blessed with a pumping reef break, barreling sections and powerful walls of water then a shortboard is going to be a near necessity.
For those of us less fortunate (myself included), the extra foam can be ideal when you want to make the most of tiny summer swells.
Still not sure? Head over to our guide on riding shortboards for more insight into these amazing surfboards.
Now you’re all up to date on the differences between shortboards and longboards, what do you think is the right fit for you?
Don’t miss our other handy surfing guides below with helpful tips on all aspects of surfing.