Want to Longboard? Here's How

Alejandro Medellin

undefinedFrom left to right: Landyachtz Battle Ax 35-inch and the Landyachtz Dinghy 28-inch. Photo credit: Alejandro Medellin

When most people talk about the outdoors, longboarding is never the first sport that comes to mind. Usually, people think of hiking, camping, cycling or running as something that they can do outdoors. All these activities are awesome, but longboarding provides that same level of satisfaction, but in a much cooler way, and in most cases, less expensive too.

Unlike cycling, which has a steep introductory price, longboarding won’t cost you more than a couple of hundred dollars if you’re just getting started. Skateboarding may be the originator, but it is for tricks and skateparks, whereas longboarding is for cruising, exploring your neighborhood and feeling the air rushing through your shirt. For some, it is seen as a dangerous sport, but if you wear a helmet and watch where you are going, you will be fine—cycling and running can be dangerous too but exercise caution, and you will be fine.

To get started longboarding you will need a few things first, one of those being a longboard, obviously, but we will go over the rest. The question is, should you buy one pre-built, or make it yourself? I would say if you are a beginner then buy it pre-made, known as a complete, from a reputable brand like Sector 9, Original Skateboards, Arbor, Bustin, or Landyachtz—my personal favorite. The price for beginner boards varies by the brand and what it comes with but expect it to cost $100 to $250. But please, don’t buy a board from Walmart or Target; they may be $50, but they're so badly built they border on danger—ride one at your own peril.

undefinedI bought the Battle Axe as a complete but I replaced the wheels with Shark Wheels. Photo Credit: Sabrina Abdul Ghani

Before you buy, you will need to know what you plan on doing with the board because there are many longboarding disciplines. Planning ahead is not necessary, but you don’t want to buy a brand-new board just three months after buying your first one. Decide if you want it for cruising, going downhill, dancing, sliding, freestyle, or commuting.

We’re about to get granular with longboarding, and I will discuss the various parts that are required to build your own board, or what to look for when buying a complete. It is a lot of information, but it’s knowledge I have accumulated from personal experience and tons of reading on the sport. When it is done, I won’t have covered everything, but I will have covered the basics to get you started and shredding.

Board Shape/Size/Grip

Board Shapes

undefinedA 46-inch pintail board from Original Skateboards. Image via Original Skateboards

There are a few board shapes you should be concerned about like the pintail, drop through, and cruiser. The pintail has a classic look and is usually on the longer end, 40 inches or more, and is used mostly for cruising and dancing. The pintail look starts off with a round shape and tapers off to a sharp point at the end, hence the name. Then there are cruiser boards, which are usually in the mid 30-inch range and tend to have rounded ends with a symmetrical look, not unlike a skateboard, but with only one kicker instead of two.

The drop-through gets its name because the trucks go through the board, whereas in most other boards the trucks are top-mounted. Drop-through boards range from the mid 30 to lower 40-inch range and have a symmetrical shape—they are usually concave in the middle for better sliding and carving. Commuting with a drop-through board is an excellent choice, and if it’s small enough, it’s not a bad cruiser either, but mostly people like bombing hills in these.

undefinedAt 28 inches, the Dinghy was designed to be a tiny cruiser and it's a hell of a lot of fun. I bought this one for $110 and it is a solid board. Photo Credit: Alejandro Medellin

Size

Size is important when picking a board because it will dictate what you do. I had a 40-inch Landyachtz board at one point and used to commute to college, but the thing was so big and heavy that it just became a burden. I switched to a shorter 34-inch drop-through board and never looked back. The size and weight of the rider are also important, so consider that when picking a board—choosing something too big or too small can be detrimental to your riding experience.

Grip Tape

Grip tape is not a major concern, but it’s worth thinking about. I have a board with that see-through type grip tape, and it looks badass, but it’s not great. Aesthetics are important but don’t sacrifice it over functionality. Luckily, I use the board for occasional cruising around the neighborhood, so it’s no big deal, but if I wanted to, I could replace it with something sturdier.

Wheels/Bearings

undefinedThese Hawgz wheels came with the Landyachtz Dinghy as well as a set of Bear Trucks and a set of Bear Spaceball bearings, which are quite good. Photo Credit: Alejandro Medellin

Wheel Size

This is probably one of my favorite things to write about because wheels, more than any other component, determine how your board rides and what it can do. When shopping for wheels, there are a few things you should keep in mind like wheel size and hardness, which are measured in millimeters and durometer, respectively. The shape and core of the wheel are also worth thinking about, but for beginners, it’s not essential— stick to a square edge, center-set core for now at least. For more on cores, here is a pretty good guide.

Wheel size is imperative for many reasons. Small wheels accelerate faster but don’t hold speed and are susceptible to debris like gravel and rocks. Big wheels take longer to speed up, but they can go faster and hold that speed for a longer time, and do better with rocks and gravel. You may be tempted to get giant wheels, but if your board has no wheel cutouts your wheel will make contact with the board and you will fall on your face—it will happen, and it’s called wheel bite. Be conservative and pick a wheel between 60mm to 75mm depending on the size of your board.

Durometer

The durometer measures the hardness of the polyurethane your wheel is made of, which is typically 75a to 100a—fun fact, when you slide and leave marks, those are called thane lines. Choosing the durometer of your wheel is tricky business. You want to keep in mind what types of surfaces you will longboarding on; rougher surfaces like patchy roads require a softer wheel whereas harder wheels are for slick surfaces like smooth pavement and skate parks. The weight of a rider should also be taken into account, a wheel that is too soft will slow down with a heavy rider and won’t be as fun to use—trust me on this one, yours truly, a heavy rider. Also, soft wheels have more grip and, conversely, harder wheels have less grip, therefore, it is easier to slide with them. Again, be conservative and stick to 75a to 80a for cruising and general goofing around—later on you will know which hardness fits your style. 

Bearings

Wheels may transport you from home to school, but it’s only because the bearings make it possible. Bearings have tons of applications from industrial machinery to fidget spinners and choosing the right one makes a world of difference in speed. Personally, and I think a lot of people will agree with me, Bones Reds Bearings are the best and most affordable bearings in the industry. A set of eight—two per wheel—is around $10 to $15 depending on where you buy them, and if you don’t ride through water or leave your board outside they should last a long time—rusting is the enemy. If you buy a complete board immediately check the quality of the bearings by spinning the wheels—the longer they spin, the better they are. If the wheels spin for only a short time, then you may have bad bearings, and you will want to replace them with Bones Reds. In some cases, companies like Landyachtz will use their own brand of trucks and bearings, and those work fine, but check your bearings anyways. You can upgrade to the Bones Ceramics if you really want to fly, but these are strictly for speed, so no sliding or you will break them—FYI, ceramics don’t rust, but they are $50 a set.

Trucks/Risers/Bushings

undefinedThe Bear Tucks are coming through board because it is a drop-through board. Photo Credit: Alejandro Medellin

Trucks

Trucks are what connects the wheels to the board, and the most common type is known as the reverse kingpin. You can adjust the kingpin on your trucks to adjust how stiff or loose your turns are—stiff for downhill, and loose for cruising. They come in different sizes, and if you buy a complete, then you don’t need to worry about the size of them but know that the axle length should be similar to the width of your board. I own a pair of Paris trucks, and they’ve never let me down. Read this if you want to better understand the anatomy of trucks.

Risers

Risers are simple square pads that fit between the truck and the board to raise the height of the board. The risers are usually a quarter-inch thick, and people use them to get clearance for their wheels—this is how you combat the dreaded wheel bite.

Bushings

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A set of Venom bushings in different sizes, shapes, and durometers. Image via Muir Skate 

Bushings are probably the most critical component of the truck because they determine how your board turns. Adjusting the kingpin is one way to change your turning, but the shape and hardness of your bushings make a big difference. I won’t get into all the combinations of bushings, but harder bushings are used for fast speeds and downhill bombing because they stiffen the trucks. You want stiff trucks when you’re going 60 mph with no brakes. Softer bushings make your trucks more responsive and in turn help your board turn faster—you want looser trucks when cruising because you’re always going around obstacles or dodging speeding cars. The shape of bushings matters too, and each truck requires two bushings. For stiffer trucks, longboarders use two barrel bushings per truck, and looser trucks use a combo of one barrel and one cone bushing. Again, rider weight matters and the heavier the rider, the harder the bushings you will need. Here is a more in-depth guide on bushings.

Accessories/Helmet/Gloves/Tool

Helmets

I’ll let you in on a little secret, longboarding helmets look cool, at least in comparison to other sports. Personally, I don’t wear a helmet when cruising around, but even the best boarders have nasty unexpected falls, and you want to make sure your noggin is intact. Brainsaver makes some of the coolest, and safest, helmets around and they come in a variety of colors.

Gloves

Gloves are for longboarders that have mastered that elusive art of sliding. Sliding is when your board is perpendicular to the street, and it is tough to do. Sometimes, when sliding, the longboarder will squat down on his board, 180 degrees to the road, and reach back with his hand and put all his weight on it. Unless you want your hand to look like hamburger meat buy some sliding gloves, or make your own—I made my own, and they were okay, but I also never learned how to slide.

Tool

Always bring your tool with you because your board could malfunction unexpectedly. The tool isn’t very big or cumbersome, so it is worth the trouble. Longboards don’t get flat tires, but I’ve known people whose wheel came off, or they’re trucks were too loose. Accidents will happen, but you will be grateful when your tool is within reach. Most tools do three basic things; tighten the kingpin, tighten the wheel or tighten the trucks. Paris makes an excellent tool if you’re in the market for a new one.

Riding Style/What to Watch Out For/Tips

undefinedJust cruising around. Photo Credit: Sabrina Abdul Ghani

I started longboarding about five years ago, and I was never amazing at it, but I read a lot and watched tons of videos because I didn’t really know anyone who longboarded. My biggest tip is to get out there and simply learn; longboard on your driveway, an empty parking lot or a park. Learn which stance you’re most comfortable with—this wiki should help—and keep pushing until you can balance yourself on the board.

Once you’ve mastered how to remain on the board, you will need to learn how to stop. More advanced longboarders will slide to slow down their speed, but most people lower their push-off foot and slowly make contact with the surface creating friction. Other things you can do to slow down is to carve in wide patterns, spread your arms while standing upright or, if you’re desperate, bail. 

Depending on what wheels you have, you will also want to keep an eye out for rocks of all sizes. One time I thought I had dodged a rock but it instead caught itself under my front truck and I ate so much crap. Just be careful because gravity can ruin knees faster than anything else.

If you put in the time, eventually you will get good at it, but you need a decent board to begin with. There’s nothing wrong with buying a complete, and after reading this guide, you should have a better idea of what to look for when you’re doing your research, which you most definitely should do. Building your own board is a lot more fun, but you will have to know exactly what you want, and it is more expensive.

Finally, have fun. Cruise around your neighborhood and look around and you’ll see things from a different perspective. I used to longboard a mile to the local convenience store just for some Gatorade, but all I wanted was a reason to longboard.