Understanding Longboard Decks
A longboard ain't just a plank with wheels no more. Learn about the detail and precision technology that goes into the modern day longboard deck.
Longboard decks and their variations in technology offer many unique ways to change the overall performance of your longboard. Keep in mind that all of these aspects of the deck work together to create the overall feel of the deck in your longboard setup.
longboard decks and common shapes
Here is a general overview of some common longboard deck shapes and a list of longboard styles that commonly fit each shape. You might find some other shapes out there but this list outlines the majority of decks out there right now.
The pintail is a classic surf-inspired shape that you’ll often find on many crusier, carving and pumping boards. The shape has a wider base center that sharply tapers off on the nose and tail at varring sharpnesses. These boards are designed to ride directional (different shaped nose and tail) and because of their sharp taper will often allow a little larger of a wheel to turn and carve deper without wheelbite. Many decks will also include carved out wheelwells to further prevent wheelbite. The tapered nose and tail with a wider center deck will also create more of a fluid, surf-like balance when carving.
The fishtail is similar to the pintail but are typically on the shorter end and have a split tail to mimic the style of a split tail surf board. You’ll find fishtail shapes in many crusier and mini-cruier boards for those folks that want a throwback to this classic surf style. A subtle kicktail is also common on this style to help keep your footing and turn on the shorter varieties.
The blunt shape will have a wider and rounder nose and tail compared to the pintail, often with a longer nose than tail. Wheelwells and risers are common on this shape because they don’t naturally offer as much clearance as a pintail or a cutout would. That said, they can’t allways accomodate larger wheels. Kicktails can often be found on the blunt shape for more tail control. You’ll see the shorter blunt shapes used in bowls, banks and transition riding or just for crusing with a more traditional skateboard like feel.
While not technically a ‘longboard’, this shape is common for many people that want a compact crusier setup. These are usually blunt/pin shaped and under 33″ long. Nice for people that want something that can fit in or on their bag for quick and easy transport from A-B.
The twin is the traditional trick skateboard that was first introduced in the 90s for multi directional street skating. When used for longboarding, they tend to be on the wider side compared to a trick deck for more stability when slashing the banks, hitting the park or just straight crusing. If you’re a skateboarder that want’s an easy to carry crusier set up, adding some risers and larger soft wheels to a standard 8.5″+ width x 28-33″ length twin shaped deck will do the trick quite nicely.
The cutout allows the most wheel clearance than any of the other longboard shapes and is bidirectional so you can ride regular or switch without a hitch. You’ll often see these used with drop-through trucks to lower the board giving more stability at higher speeds. This shape is used in many freestyle, freeride and downhill setups because of the ability to put larger faster wheels while still being able to initiate deep carves.
A drop down deck will have a lower deck that drops down from the nose and tail giving the rider a pocket of sorts to add stability and help make pushing easier in long distance or transportation scenerios. Drop downs are usually paired wtih cutout shaped decks because of the wheel clearance needed with an even lower deck.
Speedboards are built for maximum stability at speed. The shape will often be a combination of some sort of sharp tapered pin like nose with a blunt like tail. These will be super stiff and stable for highspeed riding and have wheelwells built in to accomodate larger racing style wheels.
Next, we’ll take this knowledge of basic shapes and move into the more specific aspects of each property of a longboard deck to understand how each goes into makeing the feel of your ride.
longer = more stable at speed but not as quick to carve
shorter = less stable at speed but quick to carve
22″-50″+ range for mini-crusiers to super crusiers
Beginners stick to the shorter end 33″-38″ (even shorter if you prefer a mini crusier)
Downhill and freeriders stick in the 38″-42″ range for stability and carve power
The range of longboard deck lengths run across a pretty wide spectrum. You can get as small as 22″ on some of the mini-crusier decks and as large as 60″+ with some of the super crusiers. When you’re crusing it really comes down to personal preference of what you prefer. Do you want a deck that is quick to maneuver around campus or tight turns on city streets? Then you might want to stick on the shorter end. For beginners, we usually reccomend staying on the shorter end, 33″-38″, for better control in most situations. You can go below 33″ if you want to get into a mini crusier but a board that is too short for beginners might not feel like enough board. If you’re looking to get into downhill and want something stable yet able to still take a deep carve at speed, you should stick in the 38″-42″ range for the best combination of stability and carveability.
longer = wider turning radius and generally more flex
shorter = tighter turning radius and generally less flex
11″-38″+ wheelbase range from mini’s to long crusiers
28″-32″ range for best downhill and freeride performance.
The wheelbase is the distance between the innermost part of your trucks (although technically, it is the distance between the truck axels most companies use the measurement of the distance between the innermost truck hole mounts). The Wheelbase directly affects the way the board turns. You’ll see a range of 11″-32″+ depending on how much the length of the deck can handle. Why are longer boards not as quick to turn? Typically, because they have a wider wheelbase that will as a result have a wider turning radius. It’s the same physics as why a semi-truck can’t cut a corner as sharp as a sports car.
The other factor to consider with wheelbase is board flex. As you get more board between the trucks, your weight causes the deck to flex more. Keep in mind that flex also is greatly controlled by the materials that go into the board.
wider = more stable but less responsive
thinner = less stable but more responsive
6″-11″ width range from mini’s to downhill decks
The width of the deck works with the width of your trucks to affect the stability of your ride. While trick decks will range in the 7.5″-8.5″ range, longboarders typically want a bit more deck space for more stability and balance as they often travel faster or use more deck space for fancy footwork. Downhill and freeriders need that extra width or they would have to battle the wobble wobbles at 30MPH+ which usually doesn’t end pleasant.
The traditional mounting system where the baseplate of the truck mounts to the bottom of the nose and tail of the deck. Relative to the drop through, a top mount is often a higher ride height making it quicker to turn but less stable at speed. Crusiers and pumpers will often stick with the top mount for quick carvability at lower speeds.
drop through mount
A machine carved slot in the nose and tail of the deck will allow the truck baseplate to drop through and mount to the top of the deck. The drop thru design provides a lower center of gravity for more stability, easier pushing, and easier sliding. The tradeoff is slower turning response. You’ll find this style often paired with cutout bidirectional boards as the lower deck needs more wheel clearance to prevent wheelbite. Freeriders, freestylers and downhillers prefer this style because of the stability to controled response combination it provides.
drop through flush mount
Similar to the drop through but the surface of the truck baseplate actually mounts flush with the top of the deck. This style is not as common because it requires special machining in the deck construction process but lowers the decks center of gravity similar to standard drop mount.
The rail is the edge around the deck and changes the way that your foot feels when standing on it. You’ll find rounded, sharp and beveled (gas pedal) style rails. They can be set in any of these combinations across any side of the board.
The flex of a longboard deck is the relative amount that the board bends under your weight when you stand on it. There are three types of flex:
The bend from nose to tail. More longitudinal flex would be said to dig deeper into carves as the mid point of the deck actual drives closer to the ground under force. Camber decks will have more longitudinal flex than flat or rocker decks.
The bend from left side to right side. Concave and camber/rocker combinations can have an impact on lateral flex.
The twisting or combination of longitudinal and lateral flex at the same time. Hard carves and slides exercise the torsional flex quality of a board where less torsional flex would be stiffer and quicker to return center.
You’ll see a range from soft to stiff to cater to the style of riding you’re looking to get into. A downhill setup will require something stiff or with no flex to stay stable at speed where as a crusier might have very soft flex to absorb more vibration giving the rider a smoother ride. Depending on their comfort level, freeriders and carvers might want a deck with a little flex to initiate deep smooth carves.
Some brands offer multiple flex ratings for their boards depending on your weight so you can dial in the right flex for your size. For example, if you fall in between 140-180lbs, you can use the reccomended flex ranges to get a deck that might be softer or stiffer according to your personal preference.
Camber is the amount higher or lower the middle of the board sits in relation to the nose and tail and has an effect on the way the board flexes under pressure.
While the majority of decks have what would be ‘flat’ camber, some decks you’ll find will have positive camber or negative camber (rocker). A deck with positive camber will have a significantly greater amount of flex (bounce) to it. Flex and speed don’t mix well so you’ll find camber mostly on your cruiser style decks for a smoother ride.
A rocker board would be the opposite of a camber deck and while it has less flex it is more recognized for the locked in feel on your feet and lower center of gravity it provides. Rocker boards are not as common but are nice and stable at speed if you prefer the locked in pocket type feel.
Concave is the bend across the width of the deck and effects how the board reacts to the force of your foot when turning and how your foot stays locked in. In general, the concave on longboard decks has a direct effect on the toe-heel energy transfer your foot communicates to your board. Here are some common concaves you’ll find and some of the differences.
The absense of concave that causes your board to not have much in the way of dramatic toe-heel energy transfer. Nice for folks who want a flatter platform for dancing and fancy footwork but won’t help much for speed and slide folk who need that extra foot lock.
The most common type of concave seen on most decks. Also reffered to as taco. It gives a good smooth balance of heel to toe energy transfer when initiating turns and keeps a solid place for your foot to stay locked in during slides.
Similar to radial but has a sharper transition from center point to the edge of the board. This will give the board a more rigid response feeling from toe-heel. A longboard deck with eliptical concave will turn more ‘on a dime’ than its smoother radial brother.
This concave actually has a W shape to it just like the name. It would be like putting two radial concaves on the same deck. The result is a center line that acts sort of like a pivot point for your foot to transfer even more energy toe to heel for even more response than a radial or eliptical concave. Racers who need the ultimate precision and quick turnability prefer this style.
All longboards are made from a combination of plys typically made from maple or sometimes bamboo. You’ll often find other materials like fiberglass, and other types of wood to change the balance of weight, stiffness and flexability. The way that these materials and plys are structured together (vertical – horizontal – mixed) also play into the decks torsional flex or the twisting of materials and how they rebound back to center. Here are some common materials and why they might be used in your longboard:
This is the most common material found in most longboards and skateboards. You’ll see 7, 8 and 9 ply variations. The less amount of plys will lend to a lighter weight deck but tradeoff on durability. Of the common materials used in longboard decks, maple will be the most rigid.
Bamboo will commonly be found in combination with other materials as a core or top/bottom sheet veneer. By nature, bamboo is lighter and more flexible but also stronger than maple. You’ll often see bamboo used in more crusier and carving type decks. That said, when bamboo is combined with other materials like fiberglass (the loaded line) you get a pretty groovy ride that has a good balance of flex and stability that can really sing at speed.
Fiberglass is most commonly used in combination with either maple or bamboo plys to decrease weight and flex for added stability. It also helps dampen vibrations at speed and on rougher surfaces.
Lightweight, durable and stiff. Used as a reienforcement in some in downhill decks to add stability and durability.
Traction helps keep them feet on the dang board!
The most common traction material is a sandpaper like material called grip tape. Grip tape is superior to sand paper in that it is made to last much longer and has a super strong adhesive backing to keep it attatched to the deck. Each slice of grip is not equal in terms of grippyness. They come in rougher and smoother textures and multiple color flavors so pick your poison.
Grip tape but cut in to funky fresh patterns to make you feel good when you look down at your tootsies. This is what is, die-cut grip tape.
An alternative to sticking on a sticky grip tape is use a spray grip material. Many boards with a fancy wood veneer will have clear painted grip to preserve the beauty of the wood.
Grip does a great job at keeping traction but it sucks to ride without shoes on. Cork is found on some crusiers for folks that want to live the surf lifestyle and ride barefoot. Limited traction but soft and cushy for the shoeless folk.
Plastic is slippery and not intened for any type of riding where you really need traction. It normally means the whole board is made of plastic which is super durable but really only suited for quick cruisetime fun you might have on a mini-crusier like a Penny.
Some companies like Never Summer and their ‘Carbonium Dura Pic’ technology actually incorporate a special process into the printing process to preserve the deck graphic against scratches and dings. Longboarding is about expression so all the other tech aside, graphics tell a story about the deck and yourself when you pick one out. You should always make your descision on how well the board fits with the style of riding you want to do but it never hurts to have a killer graphic. You gotta see that thing everyday!