Updated: Jan 26, 2018
Making the decision to start riding a skateboard is the easiest part of the whole endeavor. It only gets more complicated from there. The complications start as soon as you begin shopping for your first board. Suddenly, you’re confronted with an assortment of skateboards. It’s okay to be confused and a bit overwhelmed at first.
To start making sense of the skateboard marketplace, and to make your decision much easier, the first thing to do is to decide what type of skateboarding you would like to try. This is not the most critical decision, because you can always try another type later.
To longboard or to skateboard?
The main distinction between skateboard types is in their intended uses. From here on out, we will make a distinction between a longboard and a skateboard. This is an industry-standard distinction. A longboard is a skateboard, but a skateboard is not necessarily a longboard. Confused? Don’t worry; we’ll sort it out.
Size and Shape
Skateboards are intended for learning and performing tricks. Many of these tricks involve sliding the board or grinding the trucks on an obstacle. Over time, skateboarding tricks began to demand a particular shape of deck. The skateboard’s shape slowly evolved to the homogenized, “popsicle stick” shape that we see today.
Though skateboarders learn to pick them out, the differences between skateboard decks are subtle. They are limited to width (7.5 to 9 inches), concave (mellow or deep), and length (about 31 to 33 inches). The nose and tail also vary in terms of length and steepness from one board to another. All of these variables add up to the shape of a skateboard.
Doing tricks is what skateboarding is all about. Skateboards are not really designed for transportation, though they will work in a pinch. The long tail and, often, longer nose are there to facilitate ollies as much as slides. The roughly equal length of the tail and nose enables skateboards to be ridden in either direction (regular or switch).
As the name implies, longboards can be quite a bit longer than skateboards, though this is not always the case. Typically, longboards range from 36 to 45 inches in length, and are usually around 9 to 10 inches wide. Exceptions include minicruisers and microcruisers, which can be as short as 28 inches or less in length.
More so than skateboards, longboard shapes can differ drastically. They can be shaped like surfboards (pintails and fishtails), or like classic skateboards (old school boards). There are longboards that curve down between the trucks to lower the rider’s center of gravity (drop-down decks), while others achieve the same thing by mounting the deck from beneath the baseplates on the trucks (drop-through decks). And there are still other shapes from which to choose.
Longboarding has evolved into several distinct disciplines, and each has its own requirements. The first distinction between longboards is made according to its intended use. Downhill boards must be stable, but freeride boards can allow for some lateral instability to make slides easier. Freestyle dance moves require a large, flat platform, and cruisers can be almost any shape.
Skateboard wheels are designed to enable them to slide easily across objects. To achieve this, harder urethane formulas are the norm. The harder durometers (98A to 101A) do not offer a great deal of traction, but that is precisely why they slide. Comfort is not only secondary; it is barely a consideration at all. Skateboard wheels are also relatively small (about 50 to 55 millimeters).
In contrast, longboard wheels are typically larger and softer than skateboard wheels. Wheel heights can range from 60 to 70 mm or more. This is one reason longboards can outpace the average skateboard. With durometers hovering around 78A, the softer longboard wheels have better traction and roll right over debris and cracks in cement.
The wheels enable longboards to go faster than skateboards, but that brings up another issue. When pushed too fast, skateboards tend to lose stability. The speed wobbles that can occur will throw a rider clean off the board. To avoid this, downhill-style longboards typically use reverse-kingpin trucks, which face outward. This widens their turning radius, but it also allows them to achieve much higher speeds without losing stability.
Skateboards are not designed for such high speeds, though they are capable of going nearly as fast with some modifications. The conventional, inward facing kingpins on skateboard trucks enables tight turns, and they also help skateboarders land tricks that are not done quite perfectly. Both style of trucks can be tightened or loosened at the kingpin to adjust their turning radius and increase their stability.
Which is easier?
Without a doubt, larger cruiser-style longboards like drop-through decks are easier to learn to balance on than most others. Their inherent stability keeps them in a line, and the rider is free to work on balance and pushing. Skateboards are twitchy and naturally unstable in comparison, but that doesn’t mean a beginner should overlook them.
Skateboards repay the dedication it takes to learn to manipulate them with a lifetime of progression. Skateboarders build their repertoire of tricks, one on top the other, and their accomplishments set them apart from other athletes. If your intention is to eventually become this type of skateboarder, then you should really start with a skateboard.
When deciding between a skateboard and a longboard, it pays to consider what you want out of your board. If you want to learn tricks and ride like the guys in the streets and at the skatepark, get a skateboard. If you need transportation for more than relatively short distances, try a drop-through longboard – one of the most common choices of beginners.
Of course, there is no law that says we cannot learn to do other types of skating. If you live in, or will be traveling to, a mountainous area, you owe it to yourself to get a downhill longboard like a drop-down. If you live by the ocean, you may appreciate a boardwalk ride on a mini cruiser or slim kick, or you may like the way pintails emulate surfing. And for those who reminisce about carving pools in the ‘80s, there is always the old school board. The point is, there’s a whole world of boards nowadays. Why limit yourself to only one type of skating?
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