BY: Brandon Frederick
Buying a Longboard: Which Deck is Right for You?
Thinking about trying longboarding as a form of alternate transportation and/or recreation while at JMU? According to X (link to info), longboarding rose to popularity in Hawaii in the 1950s as a combination of surfboarding and skateboarding. Many surfers took up elongated skateboards because they loosely mimicked the motion of their surfboards on the sea. Longboards are generally larger, more stable, and more durable than skateboards. For this reason, along with increased control and speed, many people of different riding styles, ages, genders and sizes find the sport of longboarding to be inviting and exciting.
So what kind of equipment should a new rider consider? Even before your initial purchase decisions, ask the major one: do I buy a complete longboard deck, or do I build my own set-up? The typical board has six elements: the deck (and the gripping on the deck), the wheels (and wheel bearings) and the truck (and the hardware to the deck).
Many professional and casual riders alike might agree that building your longboard setup, can be a cheaper and more rewarding experience then buying one already complete. You will gain more knowledge about your board and the technical know-how to control the experience you have while riding.
If you think that you’d rather just ride an already assembled longboard, you may find several articles on the best longboards for beginners: https://longboardbrand.com/best-longboards-for-beginners/ or https://rideasf.com/lifestyle/best-longboards-for-beginners-top-10
But if you’re willing to consider building your own, his review will help you to make the best-educated decision that you can about the different types of longboard decks for beginner or intermediate skill-level riding. We’ll take a deeper look at distinct styles of longboarding, the dimensions of longboard decks, an overview of the best brands, and a top recommended deck for each preferred riding style, referencing the deck dimensions.
For information on trucks, grip tape, wheels, or bearings, Travis Crane has shared a fantastic piece on longboard accessories. Suzanne McHeffey has an interesting piece reviewing paddles for longboards. Fix.
So let’s dive in. You have a big decision to make—choosing your deck type
Your Preferred Riding Style
The deck you select should be based on where and how you want to ride, or your riding style.
Generally, the longboarding community separates riding styles into 5 different categories: Cruising/carving, dancing, freestyling, freeriding, and downhill longboarding. Each riding style is unique, and respectively, increases in difficulty for the beginning longboarder.
Cruising/Carving: Longboard basics offer an accessible mode of transportation. By far the easiest, this style requires that you know how to kicking and push, how to lean into the board to make turns. By far the easiest, beginning riders find this style most compatible..
Dancing: Although a bit more challenging than just cruising or carving, dancing adds the element of moving your feet on the board. The board never leaves the ground, but your feet travel the surface of the board much like you’re dancing! This style of riding is compatible for beginners and intermediate-level riders alike.
Freestyle: This style includes the addition of skateboarding tricks. People who want to freestyle, choose shorter decks created with harder materials, and the board might actually feel like a skateboard. This style fits intermediate level longboarders, or new longboarders that have experience with skateboards.
Freeride: The tricks one does comprise the crucial difference between freestyle and freeride longboarding Freeriders tend to use their longboards as tools to go very fast, and then abruptly stop by switching weight in their feet and “sliding” the board. These slides are then incorporated with the skateboarding tricks of freestyle riding. In my personal experience and the experience of other professional longboarders, performing sliding tricks are very difficult and require a special strength of wheels.
Downhill: Downhill longboarders catch an amazing amount of speed. While breathtaking, it requires an immense amount of balance and skill to remain on your board and not be injured. Downhill longboarding also takes the form of slalom, much like in the world of skiing. Riders who participate in official slalom events compete against each other for the best time while carving through flags or other obstacles.
Now that you’ve read the descriptions for each of the styles, keep your style preferences in mind as we move to the choices in longboard decks.
Dimensions of Longboard Decks
Because of the diverse ways to ride a longboard, you will need to consider dimensions based on what you prefer to do. For ease of understanding, I’ll describe the five most important dimensions of the longboard deck in layman’s terms, exploring what is important and unique about each. Length, Shape, Flexibility, Construction, and Price should strongly influence the decision that you ultimately make.
Length–‘Short’ vs. ‘Long’ Deck Types:
The length of your board will largely determine your riding style. Shorter boards have trouble with downhill and dancing tricks. Longer boards have trouble effectively performing freestyle and freeride tricks. Many decks are measured in inches and range anywhere from 27” to upwards of 60.”
If you’re a beginner, you may want to choose a board that will allow you to progress to dancing and ultimately to downhill riding, in which case, you would select a longer board. If you want to progress to free style, choose a shorter board.
Shape: Kicktails vs. Pintails vs. Wheel Cutouts:
When a longboard rider talks about the shape of their deck, they are usually referring to what the deck looks like at each end of the board. There are four primary longboard shapes, and like many aspects of longboarding, fulfills a specific and unique purpose.
Kicktails come in two different varieties: Single or double kicktails. Single lips on the back end of the board that makes it easy to “kick” the board down to do tricks. Double kicktails are similar, but as the name suggests, are applied to both ends of the board and eliminates the distinction of front and back ends of the deck. Pintail shapes are different from kicktail ends because instead of curving up, they lay flat in order to give a more aerodynamic feel to the deck. They may or may not be shaped to come to a point at the back end of the deck. Similarly, wheel cutouts are board shape modifications that allow you more room for bigger wheels, smaller trucks, and lower ‘drop-through’ riding levels.
Flexibility: Flexy vs. Stiff vs. No Flex:
When you push off of the board with your foot, you will feel a certain amount of give applied to the board, and riders commonly refer to this as flex. Flexy materials, like bamboo, can give the rider a very loose but stable approach to longboarding. Stiff materials, like maple wood, can provide more strength to hold increased weight and perform some particular skateboarding tricks. Materials with almost no flex, like polycarbonates, have many different uses and are surprisingly more durable than any type of wood construction.
Construction: Top-Down vs. Drop-Through
Construction primarily involves how the trucks of your longboard interact and attach to your deck. Your construction also will determine how close you will be riding towards the ground, which can be potentially important for some riding styles. Top-down construction styles are what many perceive when they picture a longboard; the screws attach to the trucks under the board through the actual board material. Drop-through construction is different looking and feeling in many ways, but the defining difference is that the trucks are attached to the top of the deck material and screws fasten it into place. This allows for a lower riding board, and is usually paired with some sort of wheel cutout because of the modified riding level.
Price: High vs. Low
Lastly, as a smart consumer and longboarder, you must always consider how costly it will be to make your deck purchase. Your purchase intentions may take a serious halt if you stumble upon some highly-priced decks by the brands I’ll be discussing in the next section. Dimensions have a relationship to the price of the deck. Deck length directly correlates with price, meaning the deck price usually increases uniformly with size. The more additional shaping that you have on a particular deck (wheel cutouts or kicktails) the more it will cost; the aspect of flexibility may influence different prices based on materials used as well.
Have a budget while searching for a longboard deck, and remember that the deck is one expense. Plan for at least $100 more in order to build the other aspects of your deck (grip tape, wheels, bearings, trucks, and bolts). If you don’t own tools, you’ll need to buy a few of those as well.
Meet the Brands
Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the different types of longboard riding styles and the dimensions of what makes a deck, the next step is to get to know which brands supply the best product for a beginner or intermediate rider.cAccording to data from sate shops and retail shops, the top 5 most popular and reliable brands for longboard decks are Sector 9 Longboards, Loaded Longboards, Arbor Collective Longboards, Landyachtz Longboards, and Penny Skateboards. Here’s a short breakdown of what makes each brand special and unique from one another:
Sector 9: A subsidiary of the surf and skate apparel giant Billabong, Sector 9 is probably the widest known and popular of all longboard brands. Started in 1993 in the quaint city of La Jolla, California, the longboard manufacturer has found continual success in crafting boards for crusing/carving, downhill, and freestyle riders. Their website can be founds at https://www.sector9.com/.
Loaded: Personally, I have had a lot of experience with the craftsmanship of Loaded Longboards, as a few of my riding colleagues were previously sponsored by the brand. Specializing in customizable board load-outs, the manufacturer caters heavily to the rider’s needs. Loaded has found a niche in the longboard market by using bamboo materials to create drop through decks that downhill riders or freeriders love. Their website can be found at http://loadedboards.com/.
Arbor Collective: Arbor Collective, more commonly referred to as just Arbor, is a conglomeration of snowboards, longboards, and fashion that is well received in the longboarding community. Founded in Venice, California in 1995, the company features many different ‘series’ of longboard models that would fit any of the five previously discussed riding styles. Their website can be found at http://arborcollective.com/.
Landyachtz: If one thing could be said about what the manufacturer Landyachtz excels at, it would be the superior quality of their deck materials and stable construction. Many freeride and downhill longboarders favor this brand because many of the activities you will be doing on the board require an extra amount of balance. Their website can be found at http://landyachtz.com/us/.
Penny: Many longboard aficionados may not completely agree with my last pick for popular and reliable longboard brand, but I Australia’s Penny Skateboards appeals to the most casual cruising/carving and freestyle riders. Although they offer three different models of their ‘short’ longboards, they all are made from super-durable and weather resistant polycarbonate material. Many clothing retailers have started to partner with the manufacturer, making their selection easily found in any mall in America. Their website can also be found at http://www.pennyskateboards.com/us/.
An In-Depth Review: The Best Longboard Decks
|Brand/Model||Sector 9’s “Horizon”||Landyachtz’s “Pinner Sketch”||Arbor’s “Backlash”||Sector 9’s “Dropper”||Loaded’s “Tesseract”||Penny Skateboard’s “Nickel”|
|Length||39”||44”||37” or 40”||34”||39”||27”|
|Shape||Pintail/cut-out combo||Pintail||Single kicktail||Wheel Cutout||Double Kicktail||Single Kicktail|
|Flexibility||Flexy; 8-ply maple wood||Flexy; 6-ply bamboo and fiberglass||Stiff; thick cut maple wood||Stiff; 9-ply cold pressed maple wood||Flexy; 6 ply fiberglass and bamboo||No Flex; Laminated polycarbonate|
Cruising/carving – Sector 9’s “Horizon”
Sector 9 longboards easily take the cake as most affordable and accessible decks for new riders. Their “Horizon” selection brings all the perfect attributes for someone looking to cruise around and enjoy a beautiful day. The drop-through construction and flexy maple wood design make pushing feel like a breeze and allows for easy carving to maintain speed. Sector 9 makes quality longboard decks that age well and don’t wear out from wheel bite all for an affordable price.
Dancing – Landyachtz’s “Pinner Sketch”
Landyachtz’s flagship dancing model, the “Pinner Sketch,” is an improved version of an old favorite. The flexy design is perfect for riders who want to move their feet and jump from board to ground often. The top-down construction allows for more room for your feet,coming in at 44 inches. Landyachtz’s superior manufacturing allows for a low cost for such a long and powerful deck.
Freestyle – Arbor’s “Backlash”
Many decks can serve the purpose of skateboard-style tricks, and Penny Skateboard’s “Nickel” offering came in a close second in this category, but Arbor’s “Backlash” took the top selection. Arbor’s high quality wood makes for a durable board that can take a lot of abuse—something that freestyle riders need when trying to perform skateboard-style tricks. The larger size of the “Backlash” differentiates it from the smaller “Nickel” deck, giving riders more control of their kickflips and other tricks.
Freeride – Sector 9’s “Dropper”
Sector 9’s “Dropper,” the clear leader in this category when comparing price and other dimensions to freeride style decks, comes in at an affordable $94. Sector 9’s board offers everything a freeriding longboard enthusiast could ever want. The 34” length is just short enough to pop some very nice tricks but also maintains enough length to comfortably perform slides.
Downhill – Loaded’s “Tesseract”
Loaded’s “Tesseract,” a high quality deck leads not only downhill styles, but also the versatility of all the other riding styles as well. With Loaded brand decks, you definitely pay more– almost a $300 charge for just the deck, but you can expect the quality and durability of the board to last you a very long time.
An Honorable Mention – Penny Skateboard’s “Nickel”
The up-and-coming Australian manufacturer has an offering that gives the best all-around deck. The “Nickel,” a play on the company’s name, is the mid-sized version of their longboards at 27.” This short size, paired with an almost indestructible polycarbonate material, allows for riders to cruise, carve, and freestyle with ease. Modifications can also be made to the wheels and bearings as well to aid in sliding or even speedy downhill pursuits, showing the deck’s true versatility at a very low cost.
Logos courtesy of their respective owner websites