No, this is not a silly question, so let us explain the ins and outs of both...
Now it's a bit of a grey area, some say they start from 8ft, some say 9’6, but imma’ go smack bang in the middle and say longboards start from 8’6ft (in my own personal opinion of course)...
Longboarding is generally a more traditional approach to surfing, riding with the flowing motion of the wave, waiting patiently, stalling the board and swerving into the right place of the wave to lock in your rail to cross step & dance your way to the end of the board.
There are also those out there who prefer the more progressive approach to riding longboards, take Soleil Errico for example, she is able to turn that thing just like a shortboard! These boards tend to be narrower and have less volume and foam compared to traditional longboards which are designed for stability and nose riding, vs the performance longboard which is designed for speed and manoeuvrability.
More buoyancy makes it easier / Faster to paddle out
Catch more waves
More stability / Easier to stand up
Can be harder to control in the water due to their size and weight
If inexperienced, can make the rider feel out of control and ‘In the way’ of other surfers
Can be difficult to paddle out to the backline, especially in challenging conditions
Large fin / heavy board can be dangerous when wiping out
Sam perched with ten toes over the nose / photo Seastates
Generally, anything under 7ft is considered to be a shortboard, designed to be manoeuvrable, allowing the rider to make quick directional changes and to perform progressive manoeuvres or to simply cruise and generate speed from the top to the bottom of the wave with finesse.
People can associate shortboarding with aggression and competitiveness out in the line up and that is true to a degree, but I have also met my fair share of longboarders who most certainly don't stick to the rules and are equally as competitive or take too many waves.
There are so many ways to ride smaller boards, it doesn't have to be about progression and getting ‘Radical’ (as the kids say) - It's just another craft to play with in the ocean!
Easy to manoeuvre
Can make quick directional changes
Able to duck dive through larger / more powerful waves to get to the backline
A long list of manoeuvres to master and to practice, always something to work on
Have less buoyancy, can be harder to paddle
Less stability which can make it harder to pop up if you don't have it down yet
If the waves are too small, the board can feel heavy and sink when riding
Allannah having fun at The Wave in Bristol
If you're not sure which style of board suits you, watch tons of surfing!
Find a role model, by following people that inspire you and who you want to surf like out in the water.
Get a journal and take note of what type of board it is they are riding and break down what it is that makes you want to ride that board - Is it the speed? The way they have ten toes perched over the nose? Or the spray they are throwing doing a manoeuvre?
A fun feel good, all-girls surf film, not serious just for fun. Starring: Stephanie Gilmore, Nikki Van Dijk, Tyler Wright, Macy Callaghan and Dimity Stoyle.
Photo by Ben Hartley
At the end of the day, everyone in the water will always prefer one craft to the other, it's all personal preference and what you want to achieve in the water and where you see yourself.
If you like the look of both styles of surfing, do both! You don't have to be one or the other.
The waves are for everyone and nobody can tell you how to ride them, so get out there!