Beginner Longboarding: Getting started

Buying your first bits of gear can be scary. You haven’t done much research; you’re lost on what works for you and what will help you progress the fastest. People are telling you, buy this, buy that, I like this, I like that, but you don’t know why or if you can trust those people; after all, they’re not you.

This is a guide that aims to help you, the common beginner, to safely make good Longboard related purchases that will aid in your quick progression and reduce wasting money on things you really don’t need.

Deciding what you want:

The first step to buying your first package of gear is finding out what you’re really looking for from longboarding as a sport. Do you want to cruise around with friends? Do you want to go fast and be a daredevil? Or maybe you want to get into some sliding stuff and wow your friends here and there! Or maybe get into a really niche sector of skating and be the only guy in your whole city that does it and get famous for it. Regardless, there’s a set of gear that’s tuned just for you, and even more, since you’re just starting out.

Before we get into specifics, there are a few things that are mandatory for any and all skating that you ever do: A helmet. This is a disclaimer of sorts that warns you to absolutely buy a helmet when you start skating. There is a huge selection of helmet companies out there, but what you need in general is a dual-certified helmet. For most applications, a regular half shell will do. The easiest way to buy a helmet is to go to your local shop and try out helmets. All helmets have different shapes and therefore will fit a bit differently based on the brand, and it is extremely important that your helmet fits snug and slightly claustrophobically in order to protect your noggin! A brain-dead skater isn’t a skater at all. Also, most people won’t skate with you unless you have a helmet on anyway.

Skating can be split into a few general categories, namely cruising, downhilling, freeriding, and freestyle/dancing.

Section one: Cruising.

Arguably the one kind of skating that every skater in the history of longboarding has done. Most of the pros started out with it, and I can guarantee you that most of the longboarders you see around town are either cruisers or downhillers who are having fun just cruising around. I can also guarantee that you, as a first time skater, are most likely going to be a prospective cruiser before you actually get into any other more “hardcore” disciplines of skating like downhill or freeride.

The Longboard.

For a cruiser longboard setup, you have a huge selection of boards to choose from. Virtually any longboard will suit your needs as a cruiser, since you don’t really have any criteria to fill in terms of the speeds you’re reaching of the foot placement, as you’re going to be doing slow, chilled-out stuff for the majority of your time. However, there are a few standard practices out there when it comes to building a cruiser setup that revolve around comfort.

A cruiser longboard setup should be low to the ground, slightly flexible, and easily manageable in terms of weight and size. Being low to the ground means that you don’t have to reach down very far to push. Being slightly flexible lets the arches of your feet rest as the board will absorb a lot of the vibrations from the road. Being manageable lets you commute to places, easily maneuver around obstacles, and when time comes to duck into a café, you can just pick it up and bring it inside without being too cumbersome. A good example is a drop through longboard.

On a cruising setup, it is in the greatest interest of your time for you to just go with the complete setup. As you start cruising around and enjoying the sport, you will very quickly find out what you want in a board and start to upgrade by yourself.

Section two: Downhill longboard/Freeride

Downhill longboarding and Freeride comprise around half of the population of more “hardcore” skaters. It involves skating long, downhill roads, pulling slides and drifts to control speed and cornering, racing, and just all-around having some adrenaline-pumping fun. Freeride generally consists of pulling long, fancy slides and innovating to come up with new slides on a very steep, fast hill. Freeriders indulge in slide jams and are very good downhillers as well.

In terms of gear, you will need:

  • Slide Gloves
    Slide gloves allow you to place your hand on the road when you are riding, allowing for slides such as colemans and predrifts. Even if you don’t slide, these are awesome for saving the skin on your hands when you fall.
  • Pads
    Knee pads and elbow pads are recommended as they will protect your knees and elbows from getting road rash. Getting pads with hard caps is the best, since you can actually get on your knees when you fall and slide to a stop on them.

See the Tesla Downhill Longboard/Freeride Longboard 

Tesla downhill longboard

The Longboard.

You can use most downhill longboards for freeride, and most freeride boards for downhill. This is because the two styles of skating share the common factor of going fast, and also sliding. Companies like Rayne offer a huge downhill/freeride selection; there are boards of every concave and size.

Downhill longboards/freeride boards are for the major part, much stiffer and in some cases, shorter than cruising boards such as pintails and dancers. The stiffness is almost mandatory as in a downhill setting, you want an extremely direct and linear influence on the turn and lean of your board. Flex is slightly non-linear and thus makes wobbles and other implications of bad downhill easier to get. A shorter board is the product of weight reduction and generally taking out surface area that isn’t needed. Downhill boards are sometimes not the prettiest in terms of shape; this is because manufacturers try to take out as much meat as possible in order to conserve on weight and utility.

The most important thing for a downhill longboard/freeride setup is to make sure that the board you choose has a concave that is comfortable for you, but also locks you in so you don’t slip out mid-ride. There are a few unique styles of concave:

For your first longboard, your best bet is to go with a simpler concave, such as radial concave or progressive concave. This will allow you to not only be comfortable while riding around, but also be able to get some good, decent locked-in sensation when you’re doing mellow downhill and freeride. In the case that you want more support for your arch (three times the surface area support), then you can opt for some W concave. If you feel that you want some intense heel and toe support, but feel that your arches hurt from flexing upwards, you can get flatcave concave.

This, paired with the option of drops, microdrops, rocker and camber in boards gives you an incredibly huge selection of concave that you must experiment with as you carry on in your journey to become an outstanding downhiller/freerider! A good piece advice is to try out and stand on as many boards as you can at meets. This will allow you to not only see and touch but also feel how it is under your feet. You may think you don’t like one type of concave but find you are obsessed with it!

A few quirky tendencies of people do exist when they pick boards though. For instance, some people like kicktails on their downhill/freeride boards just because they can fool around at the top of the hill doing flip tricks with them. Some people like “quiver-killers” which are boards that are jacks-of-all-trades. They are good for flip tricks, good for freeride, and good for downhill.

Another important part of your freeride/downhill setup is the truck. You will need, in general, a low-angle truck with a low-angle baseplate such as 45 degrees for a downhill setup, and a higher-angle, 50 degree truck for freeride. As you ride, you will find your favorite truck and start to tweak it to your liking with aftermarket bushings. It is a good idea to buy a complete for your first downhill setup and go from there.

Section 3: Freestyle Longboarding

Freestyle is the fancy board-walking stuff that you see on the internet sometimes, where people twirl on top of their boards and somehow flip their board up into the air, catch it, twirl it again, throw it down and somehow step on it and keep riding. This is an increasingly popular niche of the sport, and recently, there have been whole competitions dedicated to dancing and freestyle in Europe.

For freestyle, you definitely will want pads, as it requires a lot of falling to learn flip tricks!

The Longboard.

The Longboard requirements for a freestyle board are just slight, welcoming flex, a 40+ inch length, and double kicktails.

The welcoming flex will allow you to land on a board without splintering into pieces, and it will protect you from destroying your feet when you land. The length allows you to make some nice steps up and down the board without feeling too cramped, and the double kicktails will allow you to do some stylish pivots and flip tricks!

Make sure you get high-angle trucks to get a really nice, carvy, surfy feeling to your setup, as carving is what really drives the tricks behind freestyle and carving.

Remember to ALWAYS wear a helmet. Ryan of Magneto Longboards.