I tend to have mini-obsessions from time to time where I hyperfoucs on one topic until I know enough to satisfy my urge. This time it was skateboards.
I don’t skate. In fact, I’ve never skated. However, I walk a mile to the train station, each way, to head into work. One day it hit me—I could stake this! Now, can I? That remains to be seen, but, I’ve found the right equipment if I decide to give this a go.
Goal: What’s the best skateboard for a city commuter, who’s never actually touched a skateboard?
Before we go any further, we should sort out the basic board anatomy and terms
- Deck—the board itself
- Wheels—self explanatory
- Trucks—the T-shaped metal hardware that controls steering and mounts the wheels to the board
- Bearings—a component of the wheel that has a major effect on speed. Almost everyone says to just get Bones Reds; or Bones Super Reds for a slightly quieter ride.
- Wheelbite—Where the wheel grinds on the board when turning
- Carving—Pivoting your body at the waist separating legs and torso, and leaning back and forth, shifting the board left to right. This is a way to turn, as well as propelling yourself other than push-kick.
- Sliding— A trick where the skateboarder slides sideways on the wheels, typically when going downhill.
- Push or Push-kick—While standing on the board with one foot, use your other foot to push yourself to gain speed.
Intro to Board Types
With that out of the way, let’s dive into the basic types of skateboards.
Regular or ‘pencil’ skateboard decks are the typical boards you see. Round on both sides and kicktails on each side. These boards have smaller, hard wheels that stay out of the way when doing tricks. Trick skateboards also tend to be more narrower (7”-8”) to make them easier to flip and maneuver. I include freestyle and pool/ramp boards in this category as they’re best for tricks.
Cruiser boards are a mixed bag. These boards are typically 30” to 36” and have a variety of shapes and kicktail arrangements. Typically what makes a board a cruiser board is the wheels—they tend to be bigger (55mm-65mm) and softer (70a-95a) to absorb bumps and vibration.
Longboards are typically longer than 32”, 8” to 10” wide, and designed for smoother distance skating. A normal longboard is typically 40” to 50”+, and a short longboard (yep!) is typically 32” to 39”. These boards are great for distance skating and particularly good at carving (pushing back and forth) to manage speed. Typical longboards will have 65mm-75mm wheels and will be quite soft.
One subtype of longboards has wheel cutouts that give the deck a nose at each end, like the picture above. This is done to avoid wheelbite; if you’re a heavier person, you’ll want this.
And of course, within these groups of boards there are several subgroups that break into categories like distance skating, downhills, types of tricks, etc. But regular, cruiser, and longboards seem to be the most common groupings.
Wait… did you think I forgot about electric skateboards? Of course not. However, the electric skateboard market is still quite young, with better boards coming out every month. The market leader right now is definitely Boosted Board with generative breaking. However the Stary Board is as thin as a traditional board and doesn’t quite scream ‘steal me’ (until they see you riding it). Electric skateboards typically go 20+/- miles per hour with a 15+ range and cost upwards of $1,000. The high-end boards ones even have brakes, which is really appealing to a non-skater! This would be my first choice if it weren’t for the price. Instead, I’m opting to get an old-fashion manual board first to see if commuting by board is a realistic option.
Wheels also vary based on the type of skating you want to do. Two things affect your ride experience: wheel diameter and softness. If you want a smooth ride, then you want a larger and softer wheel. If you want to do tricks, you want a smaller and harder wheel.
Shopping for Boards
Skateboards are sold in who ways: ‘complete’ and piecemeal. Complete skateboards are fully assembled and ready to roll. These boards save you hassle of knowing which pieces to order and assembling, but the tradeoff is that the hardware is average. Alternatively, you can mix and match the perfect hardware to build the board of your dreams, though you should likely know what you’re doing.
So, What Board Should You Get?
If you’re looking for the easiest board to learn on and don’t have to worry about storage, then a longboard is the best bet. They’ll provide the smoothest ride and the most stable platform. The downside is they’re kind of big, so storing them when not in use can be challenging. The Arbor Axis Premium Longboard seems to be the perfect learning or traveling board. It’s a great mix of quality equipment, good hardware, and a wide platform.
Most people commuting by skateboard need to store the board when not in use. If this matters to you, then the BoardUp folding skateboard is likely your best option. Its ingenious design enables the board to lock flat while skating, and fold when not it use for easy storage. And on top of that, the ride is pretty good and not gimmicky at all.
If you want a smooth ride and easy maneuvering around the city, then a cruiser is a good option. The shorter board and kicktail makes it easier to quickly navigate city streets or zip around pedestrians. This board will be slightly harder to learn on given the shorter wheelbase. The Globe Chromantic or Arbor Pilsner are two of the best (and most attractive) cruisers out there.