Longboards have been around in one form or another since the 1950’s when surfers from Hawaii started using them as cross training tools when the surf was flat. The boards were large enough for wide stances, changing foot positions and carving the way you would on a wave. These decks were usually made out of solid planks of wood, instead of maple and birch laminate as they are today, and most had metal wheels. Later, clay wheels and then polyurethane wheels were used to get better traction and make it easier to hold a carve through your turns without side-slipping. So here’s some of the main differences in the longboard vs skateboard conversation.
Starting in the late seventies companies began manufacturing shortboards that excelled at doing aerial tricks and riding in swimming pools, vertical ramps and skate parks. The main differences between longboards and shortboards, besides the obvious length and weight, are the wheels and the shapes of the decks. Longboards have softer, wider and thicker wheels that allow them hold better through turns, absorb vibration, and more easily roll over cracks in the pavement and small debris that happens to be in your way. Longboard wheels are also set farther apart than shortboard wheels so the trucks are larger and consequently, they are also set further apart than on the deck. This allows the board to turn more sharply and quickly than a short.
Longboard decks have many different shapes depending on the intended use, whereas regular skateboard decks normally have one basic shape. Because of their larger size and additional weight, longboards are more stable than short boards especially at higher speeds. But they are not nearly as easy to ollie and spin in the air- so forget about doing all the tricks that are possible on a shortboard.
Some of the specific features that go into a longboard are:
- Decks: Longboard decks can have directional or twin shapes. Directional boards are designed to be ridden regular or goofy but not switch. They are good for cruising, carving, downhill and long distance commuting. Pintail and fishtaildesigns are examples of directional longboards. Twin longboards have a symmetrical nose and tail and can be ridden switch. These boards are good for freestyle, freeride, downhill and cruising. Cut-out (aka drop-through) and bluntshaped boards are examples of twin longboards.
Decks can also have a downward curve going across the top called a concave. Concaves give the rider better grip over the deck by increasing the surface area contacting their feet. Some decks have two separate concaves at each end called a W concave that give the board a unique feel.
- Trucks: Longboard trucks are T-shaped metal devices that connect the wheels to the deck. They consist of an axle, hanger, kingpin, bushing and baseplate. Some boards have risers that are installed under the baseplate and extend the height of the trucks allowing for the use of larger diameter wheels. The kingpin holds all the parts together and is located on the backside of the axle instead of in front of it, as on standard skateboard trucks. Longboard bushings hold the kingpin in place and are made out of softer urethane than the ones on regular skateboard trucks. This allows the board to turn really easy and carve in tight arcs.
- Wheels: Longboard wheels are made of a hard plastic inner core and a thick, soft urethane outer shell. The core holds the bearings in place, which in turn allows the wheel to spin around the axle. Longboard wheels come in different sizes anywhere from 33mm to 101mm. The most commonly used wheels fall in the 65mm to 75mm range. Larger diameter wheels are faster once at speed and absorb more vibration. Smaller diameter wheels accelerate faster from a dead stop but absorb less vibration.
The inner edge, or lip, of the wheel can be square, beveled or rounded (radiused). Square wheels offer the most grip are good for fast carving. Beveled wheels have a ridge running along the corner and are more forgiving as the rider can more easily slide to dump speed when going fast. Rounded wheels are the most forgiving and are great for freestyle and freeride longboarding.
The cores of wheels can be centerset, backset or sideset. Centerset cores sit in the middle of the wheel and tend to be the most durable. Backset cores sit flush with the inside of the wheel making sliding and other freestyle/freeride tricks easier. Sideset cores sit between the middle and inside edge of the wheel- they offer the most grip.
There is a lot more that goes into the design and construction longboarding but we’ll leave that for upcoming posts. For now, the main thing you want to be aware of is that every board can have any combination of deck, trucks and wheels. Look into which ones will perform the best for the type of riding you plan on doing. You can always buy replacement parts to change the way the board rides. There’s a lot of variety available on the market to do that, so check it out!