The Buying Guide: Choosing Your Longboard
Longboards share a lot of their DNA with other types of skateboards out there, but they’re unique in and of themselves, as well. Originally, they were used by 1950s and 60s Hawaiian surfers to ride the sidewalks when the waves weren’t cooperative. The goal was to replicate the surfing experience on dry land. Today, they serve as a means of transportation, a vital tool for an exciting sport, and are surrounded by a unique culture.
If you’re interested in taking on long, downhill runs, cruising around town, or carving your own path, you’ll find a longboard out there that helps you do it. Of course, you’ll need to know a few things about longboards themselves, as well as the styles of riding that work best with these unique boards, in order to make an informed choice.
Longboards: The Differences and Similarities with Other Skateboards
Longboards and shortboards might both be types of skateboards, but they’re about as different as you can get. Shortboards come in a variety of lengths and styles, but they are overall short and compact. They’re best for portability, for tricks and stunts, and the like.
Longboards are more laidback. They’re longer and wider, offering much better purchase for cruising riders, and they’re less well-suited for tricks. Learning how to cruise a longboard is also easier than a shortboard. With that being said, longboards have no specific length limitations.
They can be shorter or longer, but they tend to be longer than the longest shortboards. If a board is over 91 centimeters, it is generally considered a longboard, regardless of what the manufacturer might have designated it. Longboards are often as long as 130 centimeters, and can often be longer.
Another difference other than sheer size is the means of locomotion. Yes, both longboards and shortboards are powered by your feet and legs, and you’ll need to kick off with a long board just like with a shortboard. However, on long, flat or downhill sections, longboard riders can “pump” their way forward. That is, due to the length and width of the board, riders are able to keep both feet on the deck and shift their weight back and forth. That creates forward thrust, which can allow you to keep moving forward indefinitely without the need to kick off again.
Riders will find that longboards offer a number of tradeoffs, particularly in comparison with shortboards. They’re longer, wider and much more stable, obviously. However, they’re also slower and less agile due to their greater length and weight. They’re not particularly ideal for use at skate parks – you’re more likely to find these being used out in the wild for transportation or fun, or in professional competitions, than you are within a park designed for tricks.
With all that being said, it’s important to realize that there are many different types of longboards out there, each designed with specific benefits and uses in mind. We’ll take a look at the types of longboards in the next section.
Types of Longboards
Like shortboards, longboards are available in a wide range of different types and styles. These are tied at least in part to the riding styles of different riders, but there are other benefits to the various board styles on the market today.
Blunt: Featuring a blunter nose than other longboard styles, this type is closer to a conventional shortboard, but are often equipped with taller trucks and larger wheels to make up for the reduced wheel clearance due to the presence of decking over the wheels.
Dropdown: The name of this style really says it all. The center of the deck is dropped in relation to the portions over the trucks. This allows a shorter travel distance when pumping your longboard, reducing strain on the rider’s legs. Most boards of this style have cutouts around the wheels to improve clearance when pumping.
Speedboards: Again, the name holds the key to the purpose of this board style. Speedboards are, you guessed it, designed for faster riding (relatively speaking, of course). They offer excellent stability and can accelerate more than most other board styles thanks to their reduced flexibility and large wheels. Note that the body is similar to a blunt board.
Pintail: Most often associated with cruising, pintail longboards look a lot like surfboards at first glance, with tapered ends and larger than average wheels. They’re the best all-around boards to cruise on, but can also be good for carving.
Fishtail: A little shorter than the average pintail, the fishtail longboard is best style cruiser board. They make the best options for transportation, as their slightly shorter body is easier to carry on and off buses and the like.
Cutouts: Cutouts feature sections of the deck removed from above the wheels, similar to a dropdown board. However, they’re designed without a defined back or front, and can be ridden either way, and are good options for downhill riding, as well as in freestyle riding.
Twin Boards: One of the only styles of longboard that can be used at a skate park, twin boards are slightly heavier and longer than shortboards. They’re good for stability, but because of their smaller size, they’re a bit more difficult to ride than other styles.
Each of the longboard styles above ties into one of five types of longboard riding, delivering capabilities that help riders achieve the style and performance level they want. In the next section, we’ll explore longboard riding styles and what each involves.
Longboard Riding Styles
Like shortboards, bikes and pretty much every other method of transportation that is also used for pleasure, you’ll find a number of riding styles for longboards.
Cruising: This is perhaps the most obvious style of all, as it’s really not a style per se. Rather, it’s a pastime itself, similar to cruiser bikes. Those who use longboards for cruising appreciate easy stability and super easy rolling, as well as good balance. Boards with cruising in mind usually have softer wheels, and often feature more flexible decks for easier pumping.
Carving: Carving is similar to cruising, but generally involves some gradual downhill slopes. Think of riding a snowboard, where the rider does not go straight down the hill, but cuts S-shapes into the snow instead. The concept is the same with carving. Softer wheels, responsive trucks, and good deck flexibility are important here.
Downhill: Downhill longboarding is fast – very! Riders can get up to 50 miles per hour or more, all while handling straightaways, curves, bumps, dips and more. A board made for downhill riding will have a lower center of gravity (shorter trucks, or a dropdown deck), and less flexibility than a cruiser style longboard.
Drifting: Drifting is part of both cruising and downhill riding, and it’s very similar to the action of the same name in auto racing. The rear wheels break traction and slide across the pavement in time with the body, allowing the boarder to skim around turns. Drifting requires wheels that can be broken out easily, and a board with less flex.
Freestyle: Freestyle, or free riding, is nothing more than adding a few tricks to cruising or carving. A shorter board is often best for this, but longer boards can also work well. The necessary board characteristics will vary depending on the tricks you want to perform.
Now that we’ve covered some of the board types out there, as well as the various riding styles possible with longboards, it’s time to touch on what you need to consider before buying your own longboard.
What to Consider before Buying a Longboard
In some cases, you’ll want to buy a board already made, but in others, you might find that buying individual components and assembling your longboard on your own is the better option. Below, we’ll cover a list of what you need to think about before buying a longboard, whether you’re buying prebuilt, or looking to customize something on your own.
Riding Style Preference: Obviously, your preferred riding style is going to have a huge impact on every aspect of the board you buy. That applies to everything from the shape of the deck to the softness or hardness of the wheels. So, before buying anything, know how you want to use your board.
Deck Material: You’ll find a very wide range of deck materials out there. Some low and medium-range boards use thick plastic. Others might use wood like maple or birch, or even bamboo. Carbon fiber is a more exotic material. Wood is the heaviest and carbon fiber is the lightest, and you’ll find that wood is more frequently used on boards where speed isn’t the main factor (cruisers, for instance). The lighter the material, the better suited it is for speed (and the higher the cost, usually).
Deck Flex: The amount of flex in a deck is a very important consideration and will tie into the type of riding that you do. If you’re carving, you will want a lot more flex than if you were interested in downhill racing where straight line performance and speed are the most important factors. The greater the flex, the more control in turns you have, but also the better you’ll be able to pump the board along.
Overall Length: Length is important for control. The shorter the board, the more control you have over it. Shorter boards are also easier to do tricks with. However, longer boards are faster, more stable and offer better balance.
Kicktail/No Kicktail: A kicktail is nothing more than a raised tail section of the board, similar to that of a shortboard. Some longboard styles have no tail (cutouts, for instance). Having a kicktail means that you’ll have an easier time controlling the board, and a better chance of doing tricks. Not having a kicktail makes a board more stable.
Wheels: Longboard wheels can be up to 107 mm in diameter, in contrast to shortboard wheels, which max out around 60 mm. The larger diameter means they can hit higher speeds. You’ll need to choose the right lip shape (round for better tricks, or square for better stability), as well as the right width (wider for better cruising and narrower for higher speeds). Finally, make sure to choose the right durometer (hardness) for your riding style. A indicates a softer wheel and B indicates a harder wheel.
Bushings and Trucks: Trucks are the pieces that connect the wheels to the deck of your longboard. They matter for a number of reasons, including the kingpin used, which affects flexibility and handling, and the bushings used, which affect control. Harder bushings reduce turning ability, while softer ones allow more control. Kingpins are used to adjust the compression of the bushings, modifying the ride quality and control you have.
Bearings: Without bearings, your wheels won’t turn. However, you’ll find a range of options in terms of bearings for your board. Each bearing has an ABEC rating. The higher the rating, the faster the bearings will spin and the higher your ultimate speed will be.
What Durometer Longboard Wheels Should You Get?
When you are choosing your longboard wheels, you need to do more than just think about the diameter of the wheels. You will also need to be certain you are choosing the right hardness for those wheels. Wheels that are harder will generally be much faster than the softer wheels. However, even though the softer wheels might be slower, you will find that they have a much better grip.
Most of the time, companies use the Durometer A Scale when it comes to longboard durometer, and this scale will generally go from 1 to 100 as a measurement of hardness. The higher the number, the harder the wheel. However, there are some companies that will use the B Scale, which will measure 20 points lower. This essentially will allow the scale to be extended by 20 points as an indicator of harder wheels.
In practice, this would mean that a 70b durometer would be the same as a 90a durometer. The average wheel durometer in use today is 99a. However, there are other options out there. Let’s get a closer look at a basic durometer scale to give you a better idea of what different level wheels can do for you.
- 78a to 87a – You will find that these wheels tend to be relatively soft, which can make them suitable for rough surfaces. They are a good solution for longboards, especially those that are used for travel, as they can provide some excellent grip to go over pebbles, cracks, and other issues with the road. They can help to provide a nice, smooth ride.
- 88a to 95a – You will find that even though these are a little bit harder than the previous wheels on the list and they are faster, they still do have a good grip. It is just not quite as grippy as the previous durometers mentions. These can work well for the street, which makes them a robust solution for the longboard.
- 96a to 99a – The wheels that are within this range tend to be considered good “all-around” wheels because they can work well for so many different situations. For example, you will find that they are a good option for the street, for skate parks, and a range of smooth surfaces. They are a good option for beginners, as well.
- 101a+ – These are the hardest wheels available, and they will have the least amount of grip. They are considered pro wheels, and they are probably not something you would want for your longboard.
- 83b and 84b – The wheels on the B scale are going to be very hard, and they are not likely going to be suitable for a longboard either. Remember, these are going to measure 20 points higher on the A Scale.
Should You Consider Riser Pads?
Have you heard about wheel bite? This is a problem that can occur when you are not using any riser pads on your board. This happens when the wheels rub against the deck. This occurs when turning in many cases, and it can happen for those who might be trying tricks. Wheel bite can be a problem, as it can cause indentations when the wheel and the deck meet and rub together. A good and effective solution for this is to buy some riser pads and install them.
The riser is a plastic pad that is flat and that you can easily mount to the skateboard deck. It will go between the truck and the deck, which will add some more space so that you will not have to worry as much about wheel bite. Today, you can find quality riser pads that are available in a range of colors and thickness levels. There are even different styles that can appeal to your aesthetics. It should not be much problem at all to find those that can match well with the board that you choose.
Since the wheels for longboards have a larger diameter, it means that there is a higher chance of wheel bite occurring. Therefore, having risers in place tends to be a good idea. It could even help to prolong the life of your deck. Without having a riser, you will have more to worry about than just the indentations that are caused by the wheels rubbing on the deck. Over time, this can cause cracking, which could make riding dangerous, and it could eventually cause the deck to break.
If you have a very casual riding style and you are only riding for some basic transportation, then you might not need to have the risers. Those who are putting their longboard through the paces will undoubtedly want to consider the benefits of having these simple, affordable risers on their board. They can make a big difference.
Get the Perfect Trucks for Your Board
We touched on trucks earlier, but it is essential to take a closer look at them and how to choose the right ones fro your deck. Having quality trucks can help to improve the way the board feels and handles. They are the T-shaped metal pieces that are on the underside of your deck that have the wheels attached to them, but they are more than just “something to hold the wheels.”
It is essential to realize that you will need to have longboard trucks specifically for your board, as the standard trucks will not work for them. The most significant difference that you will note is that the width of the truck hangars tends to be greater. The sizes that are most typically associated with the longboard trucks are 150mm and 180mm.
Some of the axles will feature what is known as an inverted kingpin, which means that the axle is on the opposite side of the kingpin than on a standard truck. The design of the longboard trucks helps to make using the board easier. They help to make the board easier to turn and to provide you with more maneuverability overall.
When you buy trucks, you will find that they come in pairs, which you will then add to the board. If you ever run into a situation where one of your trucks needs to be replaced, but the other looks fine, it tends to be a better option to replace both. This will ensure that you have two good trucks on your board.
Today, you can find a range of sizes available when it comes to trucks, as well as various colors and styles. Just as with the decks, wheels, risers, and other parts of the board, you should be able to find an option that meets your needs from a functional and an aesthetic sense.
Buying the Right Skateboard Bearings for Your Longboard
Let’s take a more in-depth look at the skateboard bearings that you will want for your longboard. For starters, all of the bearings for skateboards will be the same size, which means you won’t have to worry that you have gotten the wrong size. The bearings are used for mounting the board to the axle, and they ensure that your wheels will turn.
Something to keep in mind with longboard bearings is that even though they are all the same size, it does not mean that they are all the same quality. The cheaper the bearings the lower the quality in most cases. This is because the more inexpensive bearings will generally be made with inferior materials, which means they are more prone to deformation or even breaking while you are boarding. The more expensive options mean better materials and better machining. When it comes to the bearings, you always want to choose the best quality possible.
You will also want to understand the ABEC ratings. This is a measurement for the bearings. The higher the rating, the faster the bearings will spin, and the higher your ultimate speed will be. The higher ratings also tend to mean that they will be more accurate and precise. The rating system includes various grades – 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9.
However, it should also be noted that this rating system does not take all factors about the bearing into consideration, which means that ABEC 5 bearings could provide better performance than an ABEC-9 bearings, for example. The rating will not include the materials, the hardness, noise, vibration, and lubricant, for example. Additionally, some companies make bearings that do not use this rating system at all. They will have their proprietary rating system. Bones Bearings is an example of this.
What does this mean for someone who is getting ready to buy some bearings for their longboard? It means that you will want to put in some added research and check to see what other riders have to say about the brands and ratings that you are considering. This is the best way to understand what bearings will work best for your needs. The wrong bearings can make your ride a lot more problematic, so take the time to do the research. You will be much happier for it.
Tips for Applying Grip Tape
Many of the boards that are available today will come with grip tape. Others will not. Even those that already come taped up included will likely need to have that tape replaced at some point. In this section, we will be looking at some basic tips that will help to ensure you know how to apply the tape to your board, as well as how to remove the old tape that needs to be replaced.
Steps for Application
To apply the tape, you will only need to have a few tools available. You will need the deck and the tape, of course, as well as a razor blade, and a straight-edged tool like a skate tool.
- Make sure the grip tape you have is large enough for your board, and that it is grippy and gritty enough for your liking.
- You will then remove the backing from the grip tape and set the tape down on top of the deck. Press the tape to the board starting from the inside and working your way outward.
- You will want to pay special attention to make sure that it is nice and flat and that there are not any wrinkles in the tape. Go slow and be thorough.
- Once you have it applied, you will notice that there is quite a bit of “overflow” around the edge of the board. At this point, you will take the deck, turn it upside down, and cut off all of the excess that is hanging over the edge. Make cuts and remove the tape on any location where it should not be present and discard the pieces you do not need.
- You can then use a skate tool or even a screwdriver to rasp around the edges of the board, which will make it easier to remove the extra tape when you do a second pass with the razor.
- Clean up any areas that still have tape that needs to be removed. You can do this by rasping again and using a razor blade to make the clean up the deck.
- Do not forget to make holes through the grip tape at the location where the bolts will go. Any sharp object should be able to make the holes that you need.
That is really all there is to applying your grip tape. It can be a little nerve-wracking when you first do it because you do not want to make mistakes. However, it is not too difficult. After you do it once or twice, it will become much easier.
Steps for Removal
Eventually, your grip tape is going to start to fail you in some way. After a few months of regular riding, you might find that the tape is beginning to wear away and even peel off in some places. It will also be getting slightly dirty. At some point, you are going to want to remove the tape and replace it.
Of course, the tape is meant to stick to the board, so removing it can be something of a hassle if you do not know what you are doing. Fortunately, it is super easy when you have the right tools and techniques.
- Start by removing the trucks from your deck with a skate tool. You could also use a screwdriver and socket wrenches if you do not have a skate tool handy.
- You will then want to heat up the tape using a hairdryer. You could also use a heat gun, but you will want to make sure that you are keeping it on a low setting.
- Apply the heat for about two minutes across the entire board, and then spend about 30 seconds or so focusing on one edge of the tape.
- Use a razor blade to get beneath that edge of the grip tape to start to remove it. You can use a flat blade, even a butter knife, to simultaneously push between the tape and the deck. Just make sure that you are not gouging either of the blades into the deck, as this can cause damage.
- Start to pull up the tape slowly with your hands. Go even slower when you reach the holes where the trucks were mounted, as you do not want to tear them.
- If the tape starts to get too sticky again and difficult to remove, you will want to follow the same steps. Add heat, get it started again with the blades, and then start pulling again.
- Sometimes, it will come off quickly on one or two parts. Other times, there will still be tape stuck to the surface, and you will need to carefully scrape away the remaining bits with a flat blade. Again, the hairdryer can help with this.
- What about the goo? Sometimes, the grip tape will come off without leaving any residue. However, that’s not always the case. A simple option that will ensure that your artwork on the board stays intact is to use some WD-40 and a terrycloth to wipe it away.
It can take some time to make sure that you get all of the old tape off neatly and carefully. Once it is off and the board is cleaned up, you can then add new grip tape using the instructions in the previous section.
What Other Skating Gear Do You Need?
Skaters know that having the right deck, trucks, bearings, and wheels is only part of what they are going to need. Sure, those things might be some of the most important elements, but you will find that there are plenty of other types of gear and accessories that you will want to add to your setup. Let’s look at some of the other types of gear that you will want to have along with you whenever you are boarding.
Naturally, you want to be as safe as possible when you are riding, and a helmet is an essential item. While no one plans to fall and hit their head, accidents happen and head injuries can be hazardous. Having a quality skateboard helmet can help to keep you safe in the event of a fall.
Skate shoes are equally important. A good pair of skate shoes for your longboard can make sure that you are comfortable when you are riding, and they can make sure that you have a proper grip on the board. Fortunately, there are plenty of stylistic choices available, so you can find something that will go along with your style.
Elbow and Knee Pads, and More
When you take a fall off of a skateboard, you could end up injuring more than just your head. Therefore, you will want to consider getting elbow and knee pads that can provide some added protection for your joints. If you are someone who is using the longboard mostly for travel to and from work or school, you will undoubtedly want to have these available.
Those who are going to be riding a bit more aggressively on the longboard will also want to consider getting some slide gloves. This can help to ensure that the hands can stay safe while sliding or cornering.
If you do not already have skate tools, you will want to make sure that you have a set that you can keep on hand. This will help to ensure that you can make sure that the nuts and bolts on your longboard are always tightened property when you are riding. Having these tools available on the go can be a huge benefit.
Try a Land Paddle
You might also find that you want to try something a little bit different and a whole lot of fun. Getting a land paddle will allow you to paddle your longboard down the street rather than using foot power. While this is not necessary when it comes to your longboard, you will find that it can change up the way that you ride, and it can be a good time.
You will want to make sure that you have the right paddle, of course. The paddle should be long enough that you can use it without needing to bend over or alter your stance too much. The paddle should be about as long as you are tall when you are standing on flat ground. This way, it will be somewhere between your forehead and lower jaw when you are riding. Consider getting one of these paddles to see how much you like this type of riding.
There you have them – some of the best longboards for 2020. By this point, you should not only have a good idea of what the best longboards are thanks to our handy rating in the beginning, but you should be well positioned to find the right board for yourself, even if that means building one from loose pieces.