How Longboarding Works

By: Chris Jones
Outdoorsy person enjoying leisure lifestyle.
Extreme Sports Image Gallery That's a 4-foot-long (1.2-meter-long) Cloud 9 skateboard that Craig Beck is cruising on in San Diego. Looks pretty fun, doesn't it? See more pictures of extreme sports.
AP Photo/Dennis Poroy

If you've ever pondered ways to cut down on your routine expenses and shrink your carbon footprint, then perhaps you've considered longboarding as an alternative mode of transportation. Longboarding, a skateboarding subculture, can be an exhilarating way of exercising your balance and reflexes, but it's also perfectly suitable for getting you from point A to point B in an economically conservative and environmentally friendly manner. And the 750,000 or so enthusiasts in the United States, from fearless teens to decidedly more careful adults, swear that it's fun, too [source: Krcmar].

Longboarding was originally conceptualized in the early 1960s as a way to replicate the experience of surfing or downhill snowboarding but on paved surfaces instead of snowy or watery ones. The sport turns any piece of sloped pavement into the rider's own personal amusement park. Unlike shorter skateboards or "shortboards," longboards aren't ideal for doing the impressive ollies and railslides that win the hearts and minds of skateboarding enthusiasts, although, if you really wanted to, you could try those tricks with a longboard.


Instead, longboards are built for fast, stable rides. Their wheels, which are comparatively softer and larger than those of a skateboard, enable the rider to turn more easily than a regular skateboard allows. The longer deck, or platform that you stand on, gives riders more stability, which is nice when you're trying to avoid eating more concrete than necessary. Together, the wheels and the deck make longboards more suitable for transportation than their shorter counterparts.

In this article, we'll dig deeper into what sets longboards apart from other skateboards, how to make the most of a longboarding outing and how to adjust your longboard to best accommodate your own riding preferences.

Keep reading to learn more about the physics of longboarding.


The Physics of Longboarding

two skateboards
Longboards can be modified to specifications perfectly suited for each individual rider.
Thomas Northcut/Getty Images

First off, longboards are customizable for the intended purposes of you, the rider. But whether you're interested in downhill racing, slaloming (riding downhill in a zigzag fashion) or just getting to and from work or school, longboards share certain characteristics, which set them apart from other skateboards.

Compared to trick-oriented skateboards or shortboards, longboards are obviously longer and heavier. They also have those bigger and softer wheels that we mentioned, which can grip more of the pavement, increase your cornering ability and potentially prevent the board from shooting out underneath you. In contrast, the wheels on shortboards are typically going to be smaller, and harder, making them quicker with near-distance acceleration. The downsides are that they require more effort for the rider to gain momentum, and they're more vulnerable to sidewalk cracks, discarded soda cans and -- um -- roadkill [source: Karg].


In addition, softer wheels reduce vibration and afford the cruising longboarder a less bone-jarring ride. They're also set farther apart from each other than you'd normally find the wheels on a shortboard [source: Longboard Empire]. Longboard trucks, the collective parts of the skateboard that connect the wheels to the deck's underside, are designed to achieve a wider wheelbase. That wider distance between the front and rear wheels grants the longboard rider more turning versatility than his or her shortboarding counterparts.

A longer board makes the skateboard heavier, which also makes it more stable than a typical shortboard. With a heavier board, you're likely going to have more mass, and more massive objects will have more resistance to a change in motion, or inertia, as you'll remember from Newton's first law of motion. That's pretty handy, as a change in motion isn't all that good for helping you get where you're going. It also makes longboards more suited for downhill racing or slaloming than a shortboard.

Now that we've covered the difference between regular skateboarding and longboarding, we might as well ask -- which one is easier anyhow?


Is Longboarding Easier Than Skateboarding?

Girl at skatepark
If you have your heart set on hitting the skate park in your free time, a longboard may not be the right skateboard for you.
Adam Gault/Getty Images

Some people might get offended if you say skateboarding is easy, but relatively speaking, few would disagree that it takes less time and effort to get used to the feel of a longboard [source: Krcmar]. With their long wheelbases and bigger decks, longboards give the rider more room to move around and find a comfortable stance.

But is longboarding really easier than skateboarding? The answer depends on a few key differences between the two activities. For one, longboards are designed specifically for turning and smoothly cruising at high speedsĀ  over long distances. You could obviously argue then that for extended downhill runs, a longboard is going to be much easier to control than a skateboard.


Conversely, skateboards have evolved over the years for specific niche activities like hanging in skate parks, going for verticals on half-pipes and hitting the streets for some urban trick skating, so if your goal is to do some railslides and kickflips, a skateboard is going to be easier to maneuver.

However, if you're just a beginner and you're trying to get the feel of being on a board, you're probably going to have an easier time balancing on a longboard, which contributes to its reputation for being easier to ride [source: Krcmar].


Longboarding Tips

bunch of longboards
When you're starting out on your brand-new longboard, safety gear is a good idea. Once you're carving like a pro, you can reconsider the knee pads, like these skaters obviously have done.
Ryan McVay/Getty Images

No responsible discussion of longboarding would be complete without mentioning safety. Whenever you set out to ride a narrow plank of wood downhill at high speeds, you risk the chance of hurting yourself -- badly.

As with anything else, becoming an accomplished longboarder takes practice. To get the most out of your practices sessions, you have to be comfortable on the board. Part of being comfortable involves taking safety precautions. Maybe you'll be a little looser if you know that your noggin is safely encased in, say, a Triple 8 Brainsaver Helmet made from black rubber. There has to be a reason they named it that, right?


In addition, if you also wear knee and elbow pads, plus flat-soled closed-toe shoes, you'll be less susceptible to injuries and more comfortable on the board, which will allow you to make the most out of every session.

Having said that, you'll of course want to do everything possible to prevent wiping out on hard asphalt. If you're riding downhill, and your board begins to shake and wobble, you have a short amount of time to choose your next move. On a clear roadway, it's possible to maintain control by shifting your weight -- effectively turning -- to one side or the other. If executed properly, you'll overcome the board's vibration by making a smooth turn and slowing down your downhill dash, rather than allowing the board to vibrate out of control [source: Karg].

As every rider is different, you should consult an expert to determine the best board and board settings for your own purposes. If you live near a skate shop, stop in and talk to the longboard specialist if there is one. If that's not an option for you, hop online. Numerous online forums, such as Silverfish Longboarding, are available specifically for longboarders of all abilities to share ideas and learn from one another's bloody palms. busted elbows and bruises.

Read on for different ways you can adjust your longboard.


Adjusting Longboards

Depending on your purposes, there are a variety of options available in terms of outfitting yourself with a longboard that's going to meet your requirements. In fact, there are so many options, that we can't even mention everything here, so we'll just cover the basics [source: Karg].

One of the biggest determinants of how your longboard will ride has to do with turning. Truck bushings (turning), deck stiffness (flexibility), and wheelbase (stability) all affect the board's maneuverability.


If you decide to get a relatively short, flexible board with a narrow wheelbase and small, stiff tires, you're going to have more maneuverability. However, your board may feel wobbly at high speeds, and you won't have as smooth a ride as possible. Conversely, a long, rigid deck with a longer wheelbase and large, soft tires can offer a smooth ride even at fast speeds, but you won't be able to turn as sharply [source: Karg]. By now, all of this should be hammered into your brain, but there are seemingly endless adjustments you can make.

For example, there are a number of different truck options, as well as universal trucks for general-purpose longboarding. Truck bushings are an area for modification, but remember that the fundamental give-and-take relationship between maneuverability and stability stays the same. A soft bushing allows for easier turning, and a harder bushing provides more stability at high speeds. So depending on what you want to do, you can modify your longboard accordingly [source: Soul Boards].

The geometry of the truck helps determine how far it will turn, and through the use of wedges that go between the truck mount and the deck, turning angles can be adjusted, thereby tweaking stability and maneuverability. For more stability, you can insert wedges facing the outside of the deck so that the truck axles are tilted slightly inward toward the middle of the board, and for a greater turning angle, the wedges can be inserted on the inside of the deck to achieve the opposite effect [source: Robinson].

It mostly boils down to personal preference, but you should at least be aware of these relationships before you break out the toolbox and start messing with your longboard. It's a good idea to enlist the advice of a reputable skate shop or at least consult one of the many online technical forums for longboarding.

Now that you've seen the tip of the iceberg, keep reading for lots more information.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Cave, Steve. "Longboarding Instructions - Basic Just Starting Out." (Accessed Dec. 4, 2009)
  • Karg, John. Adjusting Longboards. Personal Interview. Dec. 7, 2009.
  • Karg, John. "Woody's Halfpipe." (Accessed Dec. 4, 2009)
  • KidzWorld. "Longboard Skateboards - A Faster, Smoother Ride." (Accessed Dec. 4, 2009)
  • Krcmar, Stephen. "Longboarding's fans are on a roll." Los Angeles Time. Aug. 18, 2008. (Accessed Dec. 8, 2009)
  • Longboard Empire. "Which longboard is right for me?" (Accessed Dec. 4, 2009)
  • Robinson, Kelly. Adjusting Longboards. Personal Interview. Dec. 10, 2009.
  • Soul Boards. "About Longboarding." (Accessed Dec. 10, 2009)
  • Silverfish Longboarding. (Accessed Dec. 10, 2009)