Longboarding and skateboarding emerged in the mid 1950s, around the same time that the surfing scene exploded in southern California. When the waves weren’t breaking, surfers took to the streets on their often-homemade boards (wood planks with roller skating wheels were standard), carving up the pavement in a way that mimicked the turns of surfing. Soon, “sidewalk surfing” became a sport in its own right, blazing trails that ultimately led to the emergence of skateboarding in the sixties and seventies. Today, longboarding is a constantly evolving type of skateboarding which blends many styles and disciplines. In recent years, companies have become increasingly more devoted to developing well-designed, high-performance boards for every type of rider.
Because of the large diversity of longboards and longboarders, the category is very hard to define. From campus cruising to mountain bombing, this guide gives you a detailed overview of the longboarding world – how they're made and how they're used – so that you’ll be aware of what to look for should you decide to buy one of your own.
A complete longboard is assembled from all the same types of components that make up a typical skateboard. However, certain features are often modified or enlarged to reflect a longboarder’s need for stability, carvability, and vibration dampening. Below is a breakdown of the major parts of any longboard set-up. For a more specific guide on how to find the longboard setup that is best for you, check out our Choosing Longboard Deck,Trucks,Wheels, and Bushings pages.
DECK Like all skateboards, longboards are made from a sturdy wood, such as maple or birch. The average longboard incorporates seven to ten plies of wood, glued and pressed together to provide the basis for what will eventually become a deck. The press forms the board by adding a concave indentation along the length of the deck (for control and foot comfort) and either a rocker or camber (where the middle of the board either sags or pops up). Longboard deck manufacturers now incorporate many different types of concaves and cambers to fit each riding style. The wooden blank, as it’s called before any shaping has begun, is then sawed into the outline of a functional shape and sanded for a smooth finish.
Some longboards are manufactured using additional materials to improve certain characteristics of the ride. Fiberglass, foam cores, and carbon fiber can be included to provide strength and stiffness while decreasing weight. Some manufacturers also use exotic woods, such as bamboo or koa, for their aesthetic beauty and durability.
Certain longboard decks also feature drop through mounting holes which are used to mount the truck baseplate on the top of the deck. This achieves the opposite of a riser pad by lowering the board's center of gravity and ride height for increased stability. To accommodate the lower ride height, many of these decks also feature cut outs where sections of the deck are removed from above the wheels to provide more clearance and avoid wheel bite.
Most longboard decks are between 35-50" long and roughly 8 ½-10'' wide. However, longboard decks come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Some of which are actually shorter than a typical skate deck. For a more in depth guide on how to find the longboard deck that is best for your riding style, check out our Choosing a Longboard Deck page.
TRUCKS / BUSHINGS Longboard trucks are made up of the same components as normal skate trucks, with some distinguishing features. First, the kingpin is usually reversed to face outward – a so-called “inverted or reversed kingpin” – giving the board higher clearance and a tighter turning radius. However, standard kingpin trucks are often used on many longboard setups. Along with the decks, trucks used for longboarding are typically wider, with a 150-184mm hanger or a 9-10" axle, providing riders with a more stable base for higher speeds and cornering. For a more specific guide on how to find the longboard trucks that are best for your riding style, check out our Choosing Longboard Trucks page.
The bushings can be customized by shape and durometer to meet the riders needs. Softer bushings make trucks feel more lively for mellow riding or lighter riders, while harder bushings offer more stability for faster riding or heavier riders. For a more specific guide on how to find the longboard bushings that are best for your riding style, check out our Choosing Longboard Bushings page.
WHEELS / BEARINGS The wheels on a longboard are generally larger than those of a small skateboard, providing a smoother, faster ride. They usually fall between 64-80mm in diameter and have contact patches of 38-70mm. Bigger, wider wheels provide a larger surface area to absorb the bumps of rough terrain, giving the skater a faster roll speed, smoother feel, and more grip when cornering. To provide clearance for larger wheels, riser pads are commonly used between the deck and the baseplate to elevate the board higher above the wheels and prevent wheelbite during sharp turns and maneuvers.
Another important part of any wheel’s description is its hardness, referred to as its durometer rating. The typical skateboard wheel has a relatively hard durometer, between 90a and 100a. Longboard wheels range from 75a to 85a (78a is most common), making them much softer by comparison. This added softness helps the wheels absorb vibrations, get firmer grip on the road and allows them to be more easily controlled when a rider loses traction by accident or on purpose.
Longboards use the same bearings as standard skateboards. The universal industry standard is 8mm 608 size bearings.
Like their smaller counterparts, longboards can be used in a variety of ways. Not only can you ride your board around town as a healthy and fun mode of transportation, you can take the sport to a more extreme level by racing mountain roads and performing technical power slides. Here we provide an explanation of the most popular riding styles, as well as some suggested setup sizes and tuning options for each.
TRANSPORTATION Longboarding is a healthy “green” way to get around town, and a lot more fun than sitting in traffic. The number of people using longboards for transportation has increased dramatically in recent years for many reasons. Longboards are less expensive to own and maintain than bicycles. They can be more maneuverable in tight spaces, and can be conveniently carried into stores, on buses, and into school or a house without having to worry about bike locks and theft. Many of us also find skateboards to be far more playful and fun than bicycles. They give you an opportunity to be creative with the way you navigate around the many obstacles you encounter on the way to your destination.
With the needs of this group of riders in mind, longboard manufacturers design boards that are specifically geared toward the commuter’s comfort. They are typically between 35-40" long, with a kick tail for making it up cracks, curbs, and around tight corners. Some riders prefer flexible construction decks that bend slightly under your weight and provide dampening for rough pavement and vibrations. A short wheelbase and soft bushings give the rider a more playful and responsive setup for maneuvering tight turns and avoiding obstacles.
Some longboarders even embark on epic journeys to push thousands of miles on their boards. There are also many long distance push (LDP) races that are similar to long distance bicycle and foot races. Long distance pushers typically ride long (40''+) double drop decks for more stability and less pushing effort.
DOWNHILL / FREERIDE The most extreme and exhilarating discipline of longboarding is referred to simply as downhill. At speeds that can run upwards of 60 mph, riders use a racing style to negotiate hairpin turns and maximize their speed throughout the run. Riders use protective slide gloves with plastic pucks so they can slide their hands across the surface of the road while preforming technical drifts and tight cornering. This can be very dangerous on public roads, and should be reserved for intermediate to expert riders only. However, there are many downhill races held around the world which close roads to traffic and let riders test their limits under controlled conditions. This type of riding is still very dangerous, and riders are typically required to wear full face helmets and full leather suits. Downhill riders usually ride very large wheels (70-80mm) with wide contact patches (50-70mm) and sharp lips to provide maximum speed and grip through corners.
Freeride is a far more accessible form of downhill longboarding or skateboarding. This discipline revolves around the power slide but encourages creativity and blending of many styles. Freeriders also use protective slide gloves with plastic pucks so they can slide their hands across the surface of the road to improve their balance. However, they love to stand up slide to slash driveways, preform spins, switch slides, and drift corners without using their hands. This is a very fun riding style that is a great way for beginners to get comfortable on their boards and learn how to control their speed. However, many expert riders have learned to throw standing drifts at very high speeds. Freeriders generally use small to mid sized wheels (60-70mm) with narrow contact patches (29-55mm) and rounded lips. These wheels make it easier for the rider to break traction and hold out long slides.
Downhill and freeride boards are usually between 35-45" long. They are also much stiffer than a board used for casual riding, because the rigidity enhances stability and lends more control to the rider at high speeds. The wheelbase of the board is also tuned to meet the demands of downhill riding. In general, a longer wheelbase (25-32'') is used for faster riding. Setting the trucks farther apart drastically increases the board’s stability, but makes it more difficult to turn at slower speeds.
In recent years, downhill/freeride board technology has exploded. There are new types of shapes, concaves, cambers, and constructions being released every year to cater to the needs of the demanding sport. Check out our Choosing Longboard Deck,Trucks,Wheels, and Bushings sections for advice on how to find an ideal setup for this discipline.
CRUISING / CARVING Aggressive downhill and freeride longboarding is not for everyone. After all, skateboarding and longboarding are all about having fun. Some people just love the feel of gliding down a mellow hill, path, street, or sidewalk. Longboard cruising and carving is a great alternative to jogging or biking for exercise.
Any board can be used for cruising and carving so board selection all comes down to personal preference. However, many cruisers prefer longer, more flexible boards with loose trucks which can exaggerate carves and generate speed/energy out of turns using a technique called pumping.
FREESTYLE / DANCING Longboard freestyle and dancing encourages maximum creativity from the rider. It incorporates dancing maneuvers with technical flatground tricks and any other stylish elements that the rider wishes to mix in. Dancing involves changing stances on the deck of your board, performing side-stepping maneuvers similar to board walking on longboard surfboards. Shuv its, kick flips, cross steps, and tiger claws can all be considered freestyle tricks.
Like any vehicle, a longboard is only safe to ride if you know how to stop it. Here are several different braking techniques that will help you stay safe and in control while enjoying your ride:
Foot brake – This is the most important technique to learn when you are first getting comfortable on any type of longboard or skateboard. It is preformed by taking your pushing foot off your board and dragging the sole of your shoe along the road to decrease your speed. Foot braking will do some damage to you shoes but is by far the safest and most effective speed control technique in almost every situation. You should be a confident foot braker at every speed you ride at.
Carving – Carving is a basic longboarding and skateboarding technique that involves smooth continuous turns from side to side. Carving is often used to get style points, a feel of your setup, or added enjoyment of the ride. However, it can also be used for speed control. Wide, deep carves will extend the amount of distance you are traveling and help slow your acceleration but will not slow you down very much.
Air brake – Air braking uses wind resistance to slow down at high speeds. Standing upright, the rider stretches his arms out to either side to slow down a small amount. This technique is usually used in combination with long exaggerated carves for additional speed loss.
Slide brake – Also called a power slide, this type of braking is mainly used by downhill and freeride longboarders/skateboarders to maintain a consistent speed, slow down quickly before corners, or come to a complete stop at the end of a run. Essentially, the rider makes a rapid, controlled turn to break the traction of the wheels and pitch the board sideways. The rider often uses slide gloves to place their hand on the road to steady himself. For this reason, slide gloves are essential accessories for most downhill riders. The first and most important hands down slide that everyone should learn is the pendulum or shut down slide.
Sit brake – This is where a rider sits down on his board, sled-style, and uses his outstretched feet to slow the board to a stop. This technique will slow you down very quickly but it is difficult to get in and out of the sitting position, so it is typically only used to slow to a stop at the end of a run.
Run outs – This technique should only be used as a last resort. Running out is basically bailing off your board and taking quick steps to slow yourself down from running speed. There are can be quick and painful consequences to using this technique and it is only effective if you can run as fast as you are rolling when you jump off your board.
If you are a beginner that is not comfortable using these breaking techniques, make sure that you never ride a hill that you can't ride out. This means starting on hills with a long, flat, or uphill section at the bottom, allowing you to slow to a stop over some distance. This will give you a safer environment to practice your braking techniques and provide you with an exit strategy if you get going too fast for your comfort.
The longboard market is one of the fastest growing sectors of the skateboarding industry. Manufacturers and riders continue to progress the sport through constant innovation and development. You can bet that Tactics will be right on top of whatever they come up with next! Once again, if you need help finding the perfect setup for your riding style, make sure to check out our Choosing a Longboard Deck, Wheels, Trucks, and Bushings pages.