Some people buy their first longboard because they want to cruise around town or campus, enjoying fresh air while getting where they need to go.
Some take up the hobby because they want the adrenaline rush of reaching top speeds as they zoom downhill. And still others are simply looking for a fun activity that they can do both on their own and with friends.
Whatever your reasons, this guide is meant for you. It covers everything you need to know to choose a longboard and learn the fundamental skills that will get you cruising in no time.
What is a longboard?
And how is it different from a skateboard?
Longboards technically are a kind of skateboard, but what sets them apart is, as you might expect, their length. Typical skateboards (or “shortboards”) are usually between 30 and 33 inches. Longboards range from 33 inches all the way up to 60 inches, with most midsize longboards at or near the 40 to 42-inch mark.
Skateboards are more associated with tricks, while longboards are more commonly used for cruising around. That said, you can perform some pretty cool tricks on your longboard—more on this below.
I’d also say that there’s a bit more variation (in terms of shape) among longboards than among skateboards.
To get started with longboarding, you will need the following equipment:
- Longboard: There are a dizzying array of options on the market, but this guide will help you understand the differences between them and make an educated decision.
- Safety gear: Most importantly, a good and properly-fitted helmet.
- Flat, closed shoes: Skip the sandals and go for durable flat shoes, ideally skate shoes specifically designed for the purpose.
Understanding your longboard
How your longboard handles and feels depends on several factors, including the size, shape, style, and materials of the deck, in addition to the tightness of your trucks, the kind of wheel, and use (or absence) of accessory parts such as riser pads, shock pads, bearing spaces, and speed rings.
Longboards vary in size, typically measuring between 33 and 60 inches in length and 9 to 10 inches in width. Ideal dimensions, as with most things, come down to personal preference, but here are some general guidelines:
Shorter longboards (around 34 inches) are good for younger or smaller riders, while longer boards (say around 50+ inches) are often a better fit for taller people.
Longer boards are generally more stable than shorter boards. Similarly, wider boards are usually more stable. Stability is great, but smaller, less stable boards have the advantage of being more maneuverable. Smaller boards are also lighter-weight, which many people find more convenient for daily use.
If you’re completely new to longboarding, I recommend selecting a midsize board (around 40 to 42 inches), which will be suitable for multiple purposes and provide a good balance between stability and maneuverability.
Drop-through vs. top-mounted decks
Your longboard is made up of a few main parts: deck, trucks, wheels, bushings, and bearings. The deck is the actual board, the part that you stand on. As I’ve mentioned, it can come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and can be made out of a variety of materials.
Decks can be either drop-through or top-mounted. This distinction refers to how the trucks connect to the deck. The trucks are the metal pieces that connect your deck with your wheels.
Just as an example, this board is a drop-through model. Basically, there are holes in the board. The trucks are mounted on top of the deck and drop through the holes below.
Since the trucks on mounted on top, the deck sits lower to the ground. The advantages of drop-through boards are:
- More stability
- Easy to push
- Good for beginners
- Good, comfortable all-around boards
- Not as good at carving as other models
- Less responsive due to decreased leverage on the trucks
Also, keep in mind that it’s often possible to top-mount a drop-through deck. How? Don’t put the trucks through the holes, and instead just attach them to the bottom of the board.
Okay, so what about top-mounted boards? This means that the deck is mounted on top of the trucks. Here’s an example. Note that the deck is on top and therefore sits a little higher off the ground. Pros of top-mounted decks include:
- Easier to turn
- More responsive
- More foot space
Some longboards have drop-down decks. These boards don’t just go straight across in a horizontal line from end to end. Rather, they drop down in between the trucks, so you ride closer to the ground. Look at the example here and note the dip in the middle.
Drop-down boards can be either top-mounted or drop-through, though most are top-mounted. Drop-down, drop-through (double drop) boards provide a super low ride.
Why consider a drop-down board? Similar to drop-through styles, they lower you closer to the ground and offer greater stability and easier pushing. But, drop-down boards are also a bit less responsive and take more effort to turn. In addition, they tend to be a little heavier.
What kind of deck to choose? Ultimately, it depends on your personal preferences and cruising priorities. I recommend trying out a few different styles to get a sense of what you like.
Decks come in all sorts of shapes. A few common ones include:
- Pintail: These boards look kind of like surfboards with their tapered ends. The “tail” is especially tapered and pointed as the name suggests.
- Wheel cutout: These shapes have skinny sections on either end near the wheels to prevent wheels from bumping into the deck during turns (known as “wheelbite”).
- Double kick: Both ends of the deck turn up (meaning that there are two kicktails), which helps anchor your feet on the board and offers helpful leverage for performing freestyle tricks. Double kick boards are generally quite versatile.
Personally, I like wheel cutout models since they’re versatile, adapting well to cruising, fast downhill skating, carving, dancing, and so on.
Your main choice here is firm and durable versus flexible and light.
Materials such as maple or other hardwoods are very common. Maple is nice and durable; maple boards will hold up well even if you’re skating all the time. They also provide great stability for high speed and downhill skating.
Bamboo is a lighter, more flexible option, which is awesome for absorbing little bumps and vibrations and giving a smoother ride. Bamboo rides are popular among people who like carving or commuting around town on their longboards. Since they’re lightweight, they’re also much easier to carry around with you.
Birch is a third option that falls in between maple and bamboo in terms of strength and flexibility. Birch boards are a good, versatile option.
Note that whatever kind of wood you choose, the wood can come in two forms:
- A solid piece of wood (stronger, heavier, more expensive)
- Plywood (more flexible, less expensive)
Most people opt for some sort of plywood. There are also boards made from “new” materials like carbon fiber, aluminum, and fiberglass.
Up above, I mentioned a few other parts: trucks, bushings, wheels, and various accessories.
Trucks come in two basic varieties: Reverse Kingpin trucks (RKPs) and Traditional Kingpin trucks (TKPs). Longboards typically use RKPs, which I recommend, especially if you’re new to longboarding. TKPs, on the other hand, are more typically seen on skateboards.
Bushings are little urethane pieces that are essential in letting the trucks turn. They come in different sizes, shapes, and hardness (durometer rating), which influence how your trucks feel and therefore how your board feels.
For now, though, the main thing to know is that you can loosen and tighten your trucks. Too loose, and your board won’t feel stable; too tight, and your board will feel stiff and reluctant to turn.
Watch this video tutorial for advice on how to know when your trucks are at the right level of tightness, and for a demonstration of tightening trucks.
As for wheels, I prefer larger wheels (around 75mm), and since my board has wheel cutouts, this isn’t a problem. If you don’t have wheel cutouts, stick to wheels that are around 65mm and smaller to avoid wheelbite.
Then there’s durometer, or hardness. How hard should your wheels be? Most longboard wheels fall somewhere between 75a and 90a on the durometer scale. Soft wheels absorb bounces more, and so lead to a smoother ride. Hard wheels, on the other hand, are great for going fast. For beginners, I suggest going the middle route with 80a-85a for the most versatility.
How to get started
Once you’ve chosen and bought your longboard, it’s time to get started!
Getting into your stance
Your first step is to figure out whether you’re more comfortable leading with your left foot or with your right foot (also known as “skating goofy”). Stand (or pretend to stand) on a longboard. Which foot naturally takes the front position?
For most people (but not everyone), the dominant foot goes in back.
You can also think about which foot you favor when kicking a soccer ball. If you prefer to kick right-footed, your right foot should probably be in back, since the back foot is the one you push with.
If you kick left-footed, then your left foot will probably take the back position, and you will push with your left foot.
Some people push with the front foot instead, but this is generally not recommended.
Where should your feet be positioned? When both feet are on the board, they’ll usually be a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
Your front foot should be a bit behind the front screws/trucks. Your back foot should be just in front of the rear screws/trucks. If you place your back foot too far back, you run the risk of putting too much weight on the back and making your board rear up.
So, both feet are positioned in between the trucks.
Your feet will naturally move around, shift, and switch angles as you cruise along and try different maneuvers.
Many people like to push off while keeping the front foot pointed mostly forward, in the direction of travel. They then place the back foot on the board (perpendicular to direction of travel), and shift the front foot to perpendicular as well, which lends greater stability.
Check out the video here for some more guidance on stance (as well as on pushing and carving).
Learning basic skills
Your first step: Pushing off. Place your front foot on the board, then push off with your back foot. As you get going, bring your back foot up onto the board and practice balancing.
I suggest starting out somewhere quiet and safe, not too hilly or steep, without much traffic or tons of people. You might try a cul-de-sac, an empty parking lot, an area in a park, or a quiet college campus over a holiday break.
Once you’re comfortable on flat ground, try your hand at some gentle hills. Simply push off to get going, then let gravity take it from there and cruise smoothly to the bottom.
It’s always important to know how to stop or slow down! Sometimes you can just cruise to a gentle stop, but sometimes you need to brake faster.
One common method is known as “footbraking,” or letting your back foot drag against the ground to create friction. Bring your foot down slowly, heel first, to gradually apply pressure.
You can also bail out if necessary. For example, you might be coming up fast on a huge pothole, and you’re not confident that you can avoid it.
In this case, jump off to the side, aiming to land on your feet and run a few steps to dissipate your momentum. Bailing out is usually preferable to crashing!
This video gives you a visual demo of braking and stopping. Learning how to stop and slow down is incredibly important, and it’s something you should be comfortable with before you tackle big hills or try for high speeds.
Carving is a method of turning and going smoothly around curves. You will shift your weight either to your heels or to your toes, depending on which direction you want to turn.
Say you’re in a regular stance (left foot forward, right foot back). Both your feet are more or less perpendicular to the direction of movement.
- To turn LEFT: shift weight backward toward your heels.
- To turn RIGHT: shift weight forward toward your toes.
Keep your knees bent, and look up in the direction you want to go to help keep your balance.
Carving is pretty easy to understand once you’ve seen it done, though it takes a while to get the hang of it in practice.
Some boards are more responsive and easier to turn than others, so be patient and get to know your new board. It’s very common to overdo things or fall out of a turn when you’re just beginning, so don’t get discouraged.
Carving can also be used to slow yourself down or to regulate your speed as you go downhill.
Once you’ve gotten comfortable with cruising, carving, slowing down, and stopping, you might want to try your hand at a few tricks. Learning tricks not only looks cool and flashy, but also helps you gain better, more refined control over your board. Some of my favorite tricks for beginners include:
- Pivot: Quickly turn your board (and your body) 180o. So, you’ll start out in your usual stance (whether that’s “normal” or “goofy”), then pivot to the opposite stance.
- Ghostride: You’ll jump off and back on your board as it keeps moving forward.
- Ghostride kickflip: Combine the ghostride above with a kickflip! You’ll jump off your board then use your foot to flip the board before jumping back on. To get the board to flip properly, make sure to kick with a scooping motion (you can practice this with your board at a standstill).
- Early grab: Squat down and grab your board, then pop up, using your hand to bring the board up with you. This trick is a good method for navigating curbs and other obstacles.
- Boneless: Another trick that lets you pop your board up, which makes it useful for handling obstacles.
Taking up longboarding can be intimidating, especially if you’re not already familiar with similar sports like skateboarding, snowboarding, or skiing. No one wants to get hurt! Luckily, there are a number of measures you can take to stay safe:
- Wear a helmet. This is the single most important piece of safety gear.
- Consider wearing elbow and knee pads. Some people wear mouth guards to protect their teeth.
- Wear closed shoes—no flip flops!
- Avoid riding in high-traffic areas.
- Learn the basics thoroughly before attempting more complex tricks.
- Avoid steep hills, and keep your speed under control—high-speed downhill longboarding is a lot of fun, but it’s best left to experienced riders.
- Warm up a little before getting on the longboard. I like a simple dynamic warmup with a few jumping jacks, squats, ankle circles, arm circles, and so on to loosen up.
With a few precautions, your introduction to longboarding will go a lot more smoothly.
Longboards are simple machines, but you can do a remarkable amount of things with them. Have you tried longboarding before? What advice would you give a new rider?