Main image: Joel Peck / LandSharkCrew.co.uk
Choosing your first skateboard
How do I choose my first skateboard? What size skateboard should I buy? Are there different kind of trucks? What’s grip tape? What’s the difference between wheel sizes on a skateboard? Who’s the slightly crazy looking man with tattoos in the corner of the shop staring at me?
There are a lot of questions to be asked when buying your first skateboard. It can be a pretty intimidating process, but it doesn’t have to be. We’re here to answer all of your questions and get you rolling.
But you won’t have to just take our word for it. We’ asked the experts so you don’t have to. We hooked up with Dan Cintra from Note, one of the UK’s leading independent skateboard shops. Dan’s been skating for over 25 years, and has been selling decks in Note for 12 years, so it’s fair to say he knows his skateboarding onions.
Along with Dan, we’ll cover all the basics of choosing your first skateboard, breaking down all the separate elements that go to making up a board: The Deck, wheels, trucks, bearings, and grip tape.
To simplify things so that buying your first skateboard is easier, we’ll look at each of these five elements individually. Finally, we’ll cover the advantages and disadvantages of choosing a complete - a board that already comes fully assembled and ready to ride.
How To Choose Your First Skateboard: Deck
The deck is the most recognisable part of the skateboard. It’s the flat bit of wood that you stand on when skating. Initially, you might think that all decks look the same, but as soon you dip your toe into buying your first skateboard, you’ll quickly realise, there’s a bewildering array of variety.
There are longboards (that, as the name suggest, are very lengthy) and shorter length cruiser board (like those made by Penny) on the market, but we’re going to focus on the most common skateboard, the 2’7"-3’ (80-90cm) length board.
There are different shapes, widths, designs, manufacturers, and lengths. With all these variable, how do you find the right skateboard deck for you?
Skateboard Deck Width
Skate decks come in a number of widths. Typically, most skate shops will stock decks ranging anywhere from 7.5" (19cm) to 9.5" (24cm) wide. So, what’s the difference in skateboard widths? It’s largely down to what kind of skateboarding you want to do, suggests Dan from Note.
“Having a lighter, narrower board means that it is easier to flip your board and manoeuvre, and easier to learn flip-tricks on. But bigger board give you more stability and more room. Look at Danny Way when he goes off that mega ramp. He's got a huge board and huge trucks, because he wants more space and more stability, because he's going bigger and higher."
“Going up the sizes, you certainly notice the difference. You can catch flips a lot easier on a wider board. They're harder to flip, but better to catch your flips with, and there's more room for your feet."
So, the right skateboard width for you is a bit of a trade off between the style of skateboarding you want to do. More technical street skating with lots of flips, certainly for somebody with a smaller, lighter body mass may want to opt for a narrower board. However, if you’re more into using your board as a means of transport, or have a slightly greater body mass, a wider board would be more suitable.
It’s also worth noting that trends can play some factor in the width of the skateboard you should buy. In the past 20 years, the width of boards have increased, and it’s not uncommon to see experienced skaters doing very technical tricks on wider decks.
Dan backs this up when he adds “Because of the fashion [in board width], if you want to do very technical skating, people are skating big boards, just because that's where [the fashion has] gone. Your body and style of skating adapts to the size of the board you're riding"
Skateboard Deck Concave
An important factor to consider when buying your first skateboard deck is the concave, or how much the board dips down in the middle, compared to the sides.
“You get flatter, and steeper boards." Says Dan. “Certain companies, like Girl and Chocolate tend to have very flat boards. Some people really like that. Other brands have deeper boards. If you have a steeper concave, the middle of your foot might be slightly raised up from the middle of the board, but if you've got a flat board your whole feel sit on the deck." But what’s the difference?
Like with deck width, the concave can be determined by how you want to ride your board. A deeper concave will help flip the board, as it created greater leverage. However, a flatter board will be easier to catch a flip and land on when in the air.
Should you buy a skateboard with a deep concave, or a flatter deck?
“Again, the rider will work out themselves what their preference is." Dan tells us. “Here at Note, we tell people to stand on boards on the carpet to see what feels better to them"
Of course, all of this technical information is very important when choosing your first skateboard. However, there is another factor in buying your first deck that’s every bit as important: how it looks. Skateboarding can beat you up when you first learn, so it’s genuinely important to have a deck that you love, and feel proud to be on. Dan agrees.
“Just look at the boards available in the shop, and see if any of them are shouting out to you. Normally people are drawn to one graphic or or another."
How To Choose Your First Skateboard: Wheels
After the deck, the wheels are the next most obvious part of a skateboard. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that they’re the bits that roll, allowing you to move on the board. However, there are a bewildering array available on the market, so what skate wheels should you choose?
Skateboard Wheel Size
Let’s start by looking at size. The range of sizes of wheels can seem a little overwhelming at first, but it’s not too tricky to get your head around, even if you’re buying your first ever skateboard.
“Wheels typically start at 50mm, which is quite small, and they go up in size to the big cruiser style wheel up to around 65mm, which is pretty huge." suggests Dan from Note.
Much like with board width, the style of riding you want to do plays a big factor in the size skateboard wheels that will suit you the most. “Small wheels," adds Dan “can make your board lighter, so smaller wheels suit very technical skateboarding, including manuals and flips. You'll find that the more technical skaters will have a smaller pro wheel. Bigger wheels are more suited to cruising around."
Skateboard Wheel Hardness
The second, but no less important option in wheel is hardness. All wheels are on a scale, with 101 being the hardest widely available, so anything around 78 being the softest. The lower the number, the softer the wheels. Easy. But how hard should you get?
“On the whole, 80% of the wheels we sell at Note are very hard and quite small." agrees Dan. “The reason people like harder wheels is that you want a certain amount of slide. When you're doing tricks, you'll want your board to be able to slide around a bit."
So, if harder wheels are better for flips and tricks, if you’ve been following so far, you’ll see the pattern that’s emerging when it comes to larger things.
The softer, bigger wheels," confirms Dan, “are more for cruising about on. They're really good over rough surfaces, so you don't feel any gravel or bumps. However, bigger, softer wheels probably would hold you back from learning some tricks because you don't get any slide with the take off and when you land.".
"With a hard wheel you can start your board doing a turn before you take off or before you land, where as a big soft wheel would just grip, and if you tried to throw it around, you'd lose the spin.".
To make things easier, generally speaking, smaller wheels tend to be harder, and larger ones softer. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but as a rule-of-thumb, it’s a good one to follow when buying your first skateboard. Think about the kind of riding you’ll be doing, and what you see yourself doing when you improve, and go for the size and hardness that suite that style.
How To Choose Your First Skateboard: Trucks
Trucks are like the axles of your skateboard. They’re the things that connect the wheels to the deck. Although a search through history will throw up some very peculiar truck designs, generally speaking most modern models you’ll see in skate shops will have the same inverted T design. But with so many skateboard trucks on the market, how do you know which are right for you?
Skateboard Truck Width
The width of the trucks you’ll need is directly decided by the width of your board. “The rule of thumb," Dan tells us, “is that, when it's got the wheels on, your truck should be pretty much level with the end of our board.".
Somewhat confusingly, different brands and models of truck can have numbers in their name. However, a good skate shop (and, importantly their website) will always tell you what width board the particular trucks you’re looking at will work with. If you’re shopping in-store and you’re not sure, ask the person serving you. We guarantee they’ll be impressed with your knowledge.
Skateboard Truck Height
The second factor in buying the right trucks for your board is height. This ties into wheel size on your board. You need enough clearance between your deck and the wheels to ensure, especially when turning, that the two don’t rub against each other. When this happens, the board acts as a break against the wheel, stopping your momentum and possibly throwing you off.
The height of the truck is measured from the base-plate (the rectangular piece of metal that your deck bolts on to) to the centre of the axle (where the wheels go on). Again, a good skate shop will be able to advise on the correct height truck for you set up.
When you’ve got the width and heights of your trucks sorted, you just need to choose a brand and a colour that you like, and you’re skateboard is starting to take shape. However, you’re not quite riding off into the sunset just yet.
Skateboard Truck Tightness
Getting the tightness of your trucks is an important part of setting your skateboard up, but it’s also completely down to the individual rider's preference. You can leave your trucks very loose, or tighten the bolt that sits halfway between the wheels on the able to make the board very stiff indeed. But why?
“The tightness is for turning." Dan informs us. “ A looser truck will be wobblier, but you get more response from it. Loser is more responsive, and easier to use the weight of your body to turn the board. Tight offers you more stability."
It’s only really though riding around on our board and experimenting with tightness that will tell you how tight to have your trucks. The good news is, you can keep readjusting to your hearts content until you find the perfect balance that works for you.
How To Choose Your First Skateboard: Bearings
When choosing your first skateboard, bearings are often easily overlooked when considering what to buy, but they’re just as important as the deck, or wheels. You’re probably asking “What are skateboard bearings?". They’re essentially a disk of ball bearing that sit inside a housing made of metal disks and a cylinder. This cylinder sits inside your skateboard wheel and is what allows it to spin so freely.
All bearings are the same size, so whatever wheels you go for, you won’t have to worry about the size of the bearings you’ve got to go in them. However, just because the size is universal, it doesn’t mean that all bearings are created equally. Just like all bearings, whether they’re used in skateboards, machinery, or anything else, they’re subject to something called the ABEC Measurement.
As ever, Dan from Note fills us in on the details. “It's an industry measurement that indicates how many of the ball bearings have been tested to see if they're a perfect sphere. You can get ABEC 3, which is the lowest, and ABEC 11 which is the highest. So, ABEC 11 will mean more of the bearings are tested so are a higher grade." The higher the ABEC number, the more costly the bearings.
“The exception are Bones bearings, which are made specifically for skateboarding, so they don't have that industry measurement." adds Dan. “You can also get ceramic bearings, which are more expensive, but they don't rust, so maintain their sphere for a lot longer than the metal ones"
If you’re just starting out, we don’t recommend that you break the bank with your bearings. Maybe start with a mid-quality set, and then invest in higher quality ones a little further down the line.
How To Choose Your First Skateboard: Grip Tape
The final element of getting all the bits of your board separately is grip tape. It’s the abrasive top sheet - a bit like sand paper, that lines the top of your deck. It’s there to help you both stop from slipping off, and to help you do flip tricks when the time comes to mastering them.
Aside from extra wide grip tape for people with extra wide boards, there isn’t much difference between brands other than colour. The traditional, and still most popular colour is black.
However, there are an increasing amount of colours and designs cropping up on the market, and really what you go for is down to nothing more than personal preference and/or fashion.
How To Choose Your First Skateboard: Complete
The final option when buying your first skateboard is to go for what’s called a Complete. As the name suggests, it’s a complete set up, with everything you need includes, and already assembled for you.
As such, it can be a really good option for somebody buying their first ever board. Dan agrees. "For somebody that's first getting in to skating, I'd advise getting a complete.". A lot of the hard work is already done for you, and a complete almost always works out cheaper than buying all of the component parts yourself.
However, seemingly with all things in skateboarding, there’s a balance to be struck. “The reason they're cheaper is because they have unbranded trucks on them" Dan tells us. “And if you get into skating more, you realise ‘This isn't a brand that I've heard of’ and you might end up buying a branded set anyway." Then you’ll almost certainly have spent more than you would buying individually.".