Skateboarders the world over cling to one word to describe their skateboarding: progression. No one is ever finished learning new tricks, and the development of a personal skating style is always ongoing. From top-tier professionals to the locals at a skatepark, progression is the force that drives skateboarding. It has always been this way, even when wheels were metal.
It does not matter what level of skill or athleticism you bring with you when you start skating. It simply comes easier to some than to others. The important thing is to be always learning, always progressing. You will fall, of course. But real skaters get back up and try again until they land the trick — and land it clean. Progression equals falling.
Being willing to risk injury is one thing, but many new skateboarders fear embarrassment worst of all. It’s true, there will be some who will pick on new kids, calling them posers and other foul things. Remember this, though, no matter where you are in your skating progression, everyone else was there once. Real skaters get happy for one another when they pull a trick they’ve been slamming on, even though it may be easy for them. Progression is the light that guides us in skateboarding, and it is beautiful at every level.
It may seem obvious, but we stand on a skateboard sideways to our direction of travel. Your dominant foot — the one you kick a ball with — goes on the tail and the other one goes toward the front of the board. Most skateboarders place their front foot above the front truck, directly on top of the truck bolts or just behind them.
Skaters who are right-foot dominant are called regular footed, which is a term we owe to our surfing roots. We call left-foot dominant skaters goofy footed, though it is perfectly normal. Even though roughly 80 percent of skaters are regular, the pro ranks seem to be closer to 50-percent goofy. So, if you’re left-footed, embrace your goofiness.
Balance and Pushing
Pushing simply requires taking your back foot off the board and pushing off the ground to gain speed. When pushing, turn your front foot to be in-line with the direction of travel. Then, place the rear foot back on the tail and turn both feet sideways again. Keep it slow at first, and progress to faster speeds at a steady pace.
Skateboarders frown upon pushing with the front foot, which we call pushing “mongo.” Though some of the great pros have pushed mongo, most skaters find it awkward-looking and ugly. It’s best to push normally from the start.
As a beginner, you should always be working on balance. You may need to hold your arms out to balance yourself at first, and some skaters find it easier to make small adjustments to body position while keeping their knees bent. You will soon be able to stand comfortably straight while coasting.
You won’t always be able to coast to a stop, so start learning to apply the brakes as soon as you can push. The easiest way to stop is to place the rear foot on the ground as though you were about to push, but instead drag the sole of your shoe along the pavement. You will stop quickly with this method, but it will wear out the sole of your shoe.
The more-expert way to stop is to press down on the tail and drag the toe or heel of the shoe to stop. To use the toe, simply dangle it off the side edge of the tail so it will contact the ground when you press the tail down. For a heel brake, turn your foot in-line with the board and hang the heel off the back of the tail. Press down the tail with the balls of the foot until the heel begins to drag. Whatever you do, don’t get in the habit of scraping the tail of your board to stop. The rubber soles on shoes last longer than wood, and dragging the tail makes “razor tail,” which leads to chips in the wood.
In an emergency, many skaters will simply jump off their boards and run out until they can stop. In this case, forget the board and save yourself. One note, though. This method is unsafe at high speeds, as you can skate much faster than you can run. High-speed stopping requires the more advanced power slide.
This is when you force your board to go sideways, beginning a slide on the urethane wheels. Power slides produce a distinctive sound, which is why the original name was a “burt.” To do one, place your rear foot on the edge of the board opposite the direction you wish to slide and push it sideways.
You can do it just a little and let the rear wheels hook back up immediately to check your speed. Stay sideways and force both front and back wheels to slide if you wish to come to a complete stop. It’s easy to lose traction and to slip out when power sliding, so build this skill gradually.
Leaning and Carving
In skateboarding, we lean to turn. Adjust the nuts on the kingpins of your trucks so the board tilts when you put your weight to one side or the other. After that, it’s simply lean left to go left, and lean right to go right. You must keep your center of gravity inside the arc your board is creating, or you risk being thrown to the outside of the curve.
Turning so that the front of your body moves toward the line of travel is called turning frontside (left turn for a regular-footed rider), while turning so that your back faces more forward is called backside. These terms color many more technical tricks in skateboarding.
To tic-tac is to lift the front wheels by pressing down on the tail and to move from side to side. Tap the front wheels on the pavement each time you move left or right, which makes the sound for which the move gets its name. Tic tacs teach us to turn and carve frontside and backside on just the back wheels, and they help us build muscle memory for bigger tricks later. Skaters who prefer tighter trucks rely on this move to adjust their angle of attack on obstacles, as well as simply turning the board.
This guide to the basics of skateboarding is not meant to be a step-by-step manual, and following it that way will not make you a great skater overnight. It is meant to be a touchstone, a reference to the fundamentals that all skateboarders use for nearly every trick.
Get these basics down, because you will use them throughout your skating progression. When you’ve learned them, you will be ready to move on to more technical jumps, grinds, slides and flatland tricks. But you do not need to have them all wired to begin learning to ollie. Check out our tricks tips for beginners to learn more, and remember to take your time and enjoy the ride. Welcome to skateboarding!