The real question isn't shortboard or longboard though, it's actually How do you want to surf?
You see, you'll hear a lot of people talk about why you should wait until you're ready and learn this way first, or "Oh this way's easier, you should start like this!" but the truth is none of it matters.
Right now you're a blank slate and a sponge. You're going to learn as rapidly as possible based solely on the type of situation you put yourself in. If you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you want to be able to surf in a way where you can cause the lip of a clean face to explode every time you stand up, why would you start off on a longboard? If you know this is something you're excited for but ultimately you're just looking to get the longest ride possible with relative ease and style, why would you shortboard?
Clear on how you want to surf? Good! Stop reading this, buy your board, and paddle out already!
Still, undecided, unsure, or relatively clueless about how you really want to surf? Keep reading for some basic info on both shortboards and longboards that should help sway you on how to start!
"Common Sense" in the world of surfing is that you'll want to start with the best longboard surfboard because it's easier.
For starters, longboards do live up to their name. They're typically at least 8 - 9 ft long with a rounded nose. Traditionally a longboard will have just a single fin, but three fin set-ups have become more common place. They are also much wider and thicker than your run-of-the-mill shortboard. This gives these boards much more stability, making it easier to paddle and catch waves. If you choose to longboard, once you figure out the basics, you will eventually be the person in the lineup that continuously picks off and rides set waves.
Standing up and actually riding waves with a longboard is much more forgiving and a little bit easier compared to shortboards. You don't have to be as quick to getting on your feet and because longboards tend to have much less rocker (the overall curve / shape of the board from nose to tail) the board can easily glide and provide fun rides even in mushy, small conditions.
Longboards are best suited for longer and slower breaking waves. As a longboarder, your surfing will tend to be focused more on the style you ride with and the length of your rides. Longboarding style is usually a combination of how smooth you can ride plus your ability to maneuver yourself on top of the board. Once you're comfortable being able to walk up and down the deck of the board, you can learn how to ride standing or crouching with your toes hanging off the nose of the board (Hang Ten!). Being able to paddle faster, stand up easier, and having so much board underneath your feet that you'll be able to connect weaker and mushier sections effortlessly in order to ensure the longest ride possible!
So what are the cons to all of this? Well for everything you catch a break with longboarding, you pay the price for its counterpart.
Being longer, wider, and thicker means a much heavier board that lacks in maneuverability and responsiveness. While you'll be able to paddle faster, you'll also have a lot more board to drag out to the line up with you while making it through the waves. Check out this video for some of the more common techniques to making it out to the lineup with a longboard
Aside from a heavier paddle out, you'll also be riding a board that struggles to make quick adjustments if needed. If you get just slightly behind on a section you might not be able to turn the board the way you need to in time to keep going. This also applies to any error you make while dropping in. While it's easier to stand up due to the extra stability longboards provide, if you stumble or struggle to stand up for too long, by the time you've dropped in you're going to be stuck riding straight towards the shore and missing the line of the wave.
Finally, while it's not uncommon to see longboarders in bigger surf it becomes increasingly difficult especially in steeper waves. The low rocker found on longboards that enables you to crusie gracefully through small to medium sized surf ends up causing the nose to dive through the face of the wave when attempting to stand up on steeper waves. Again this has to do with the overall curve of the board. Longboards are not as equipped to fit the steeper, curling faces some waves provide.
Overall there is a fair amount of truth in assuming longboarding is easier, but only in relation to how you want to surf. If you're looking for graceful and effortlessly long rides on small to medium peeling waves, a longboard is the right board for you!
Have you been watching youtube clips of guys blasting 6ft out of the water, throwing buckets of water at the top of each lip, and getting so deep in the barrel you can't even see them? Without a doubt they're riding shortboards. Shortboards have been aptly compared to the formula 1 equivalent of our sport. Every year surfers push the bar of what's possible higher and higher up with these boards.
Shortboards typically range anywhere from 5ft to 7ft in length, have a pointed nose, a standard 3 fin set up, and much more rocker (curve) and much thinner than longboards. Variations on this are rampant though, so don't think you need to adhere to this in order to be riding a shortboard.
Thinner boards enable higher speeds, faster maneuverability and sharper responsiveness. You'll see shortboarders ripping up, down, and around the face of the wave in ways that longboards simply aren't capable of. The added rocker also allows surfers to charge steeper waves and find themselves getting barreled without too much effort.
This is of course, assuming you can stand up in time. Shortboards do not offer anywhere near the amount of stability as longboards and you've got to be on your feet and ready to ride in the blink of an eye. Catching your rail once you're up and riding at any point will almost certainly send you flying off your board as well. And while the rocker of your board is more adequate to handle steep faces, this will not save you from being pitched over the lip if you're too slow to stand up.
If you haven't guessed by now, you're going to paddle a lot slower on a shortboard so be prepared to gain a whole new level of cardio with how much energy you're going to exert on paddle outs. The saving grace to this is that once you learn how to duck dive, you'll be able to make it through the impact zone easier than you would with a longboard. Check out this video on how to do the perfect duck dive.
In contrast to Longboarding's focus on grace and the way you maneuver your body on top of the board, shortboarding is all about how you maneuver the board underneath your feet and across the wave. Are you going to crack the lip or slash your way through a roundhouse carve? Are you going to gain enough speed and momentum to fly through the air or are you trying to get as deep as possible inside the wave? The length of your ride and the style you perform these maneuvers with are par the course as well, but it'll take a lot more leg work and body positioning.
It'll also take a lot more time for the average surfer to learn all of this as well. Shortboarding is significantly more difficult than longboarding when it comes to the advanced maneuvers you're watching the local pros pull off every morning.
That being said, if you know you want to ride as fast and as sharp as possible get yourself on a shortboard. Just be prepared to put your time in and earn it!
The Final Verdict
Get clear on how you want to surf.
Once you know how you want to surf you'll know where to start. Don't waste your time learning to longboard because it might be easier if you know you want to shortboard. Stop trying to learn how to do airs because you think it'll make you look cool if you know you'd rather glide effortlessly in style. There's no wrong way to surf! If you want to learn how to do both, go for it! If you stick with it long enough you'll end up sampling all facets of the sport anyway, but when it comes to your first paddle out, make sure you're holding the board that best suits your dream of surfing the way you want to surf.