Afraid of biting concrete and bones broken on ramps but still in love with skateboarding? Give longboarding a go!
Words by Caroline Nieuwenhuis, photos by Matthew Griffiths and Paul Nieuwenhuis
My knees were covered in cuts and bruises and my jeans were ripped to shreds. I had finally accepted that I simply wasn’t cut out for skateboarding. In the five years that I had owned skateboards, my body simply refused to progress to any tricks past an ollie. As the five-year-olds skated rings round me, twirling and popping on their boards with ease, I decided it was time for a change.
It was not until last summer when I took a trip to Southern California that this miraculous change would take place. I was sitting in Santa Monica, sipping my way through ‘Snapple’ when something caught my eye. A tall man in a business suit went flying by, almost hovering motionless above the sun-beaten ground. Something about the way in which he was moving attracted me enough to stare at him disappearing into the distance. It wasn’t until he had disappeared that I learned he was riding a longboard. His body seemed to flow with the board like a gentle wave lapping the shore, without even breaking a sweat. This was something I just had to try for myself.
After doing some longboarding research on the web, I learned that they were originally based around surfboards. This gave surfers something to do when there was no surf. I decided to take myself along to the home of surfing, Santa Cruz. It didn’t take me long to pick out an elegant-looking longboard that didn’t break the bank. It was a ‘Sector-9’ board that sat proudly on bright yellow wheels, decorated with a curling wave sparkling in the sun. Even if I never managed to ride it properly, at least it would look nice on my bedroom wall! I took myself and my board to a nearby car park where I would introduce myself into the world of longboarding.
Standing on it couldn’t have felt more different to a skateboard. This board was soft and springy and turned with the slightest of movements. As I pushed off for the first time, I felt the power and freedom straight away that I had seen flowing through the man in the suit. I felt as if I was flying above the trees and shops, shooting through tunnels of waves on the pacific and I was still in a carpark! I couldn’t help thinking that everyone should put down their skateboards and hop on a longboard to share the experience. Why wasn’t this a mode of transport worldwide? Within minutes I had got the hang of riding my longboard and took to the streets of Santa Cruz, flowing through the town under the beating sun.
During my time in California I longboarded along the beach in Pacific Grove, through the city of San Diego and straight down Sunset Blvd, becoming more and more at ease with my longboard.
Arriving back home in Cardiff, Wales, I took to the streets on my new best friend. As I flew by, people would stop and stare, with cries of ‘What’s that?’ and ‘Nice board!’ hollered my way every couple of blocks. As I weaved in and out of the skateboarders, they too would stop in their tracks, sweat dripping off their faces and blood dripping down their legs from bails and falls.
I have now been longboarding along the streets of Cardiff for a year and I’m still stopping people in their tracks. Unlike California, longboards are a rarity and not once have I bumped into a fellow longboarder, someone else who has found the light at the end of the tunnel. Cardiff isn’t quite California, but if I’m on my board and close my eyes, sometimes I can imagine flying down the streets of Santa Cruz with the pelicans circling and sea lapping the shore…
So, in order to convert you to the wonders of the longboard, here’s my Beginner’s Guide to Longboarding, with all the essential info and inspiring advice to get you on your way…
Beginner’s Guide to Longboarding
Longboarding is becoming increasingly popular among surfers and skateboarders. Invented during the 1950’s, longboards were built for racing downhill or general transportation. Longboarding is often described as ‘surfing on concrete’ because the big wheels and thin board allow quick turns and carves, just like surfing waves.
What kit to buy
The kit needed to start longboarding depends on how you intend to use your longboard. When people use them to race down steep hills they often wear protection similar to that of skateboarders, including a helmet, knee and elbow pads. Sometimes riders wear ‘slide gloves’ which allow them to use their hands to turn more sharply.
The great thing about longboarding is that if you intend to longboard purely as a mode of transport or for fun, the only piece of kit you’ll need is the board itself, so you won’t break the bank!
Most longboards measure between 90 and 150cm and come in lots of different shapes. Mid-length boards are the most versatile, whereas shorter boards are better for downhill racing.
Different shapes of longboards include pintails and flatnose riders. Pintails generally have looser trucks and a wider diameter which gives more or a ‘surfing’ feel when riding. Some boards have a ‘camber’ which is where the board is bent up slightly in the middle. Longboards that have cambers are bouncier and allow the board to turn harder, whereas flat boards will lower the centre of gravity and allow it to turn easier.
The best way to choose a longboard is to try a few out. Try standing on different longboards in the shop and see what feels the most comfortable. Remember that if you are used to skateboarding, a longboard will feel quite weird when you first try one. If you want your board to be practical, choose a small to medium length board to make it easier to carry around.
Most longboards will come as a set up in the shop. This will include the deck, trucks, wheels and bearings. As you learn more and more about longboarding, you can customise your board to suit your needs. Wheels, trucks and bearings can all be bought separately to allow you to do this.
Tricks to master
Unlike skateboarding, longboarding isn’t based around doing different tricks. Instead it is about flowing with the board and is generally more laid-back and relaxing. However, you can still pop longboards which allows you to ‘ollie’ and I’ve seen people ‘kickflip’ them. If you do try to attempt these tricks on a longboard, bear in mind that because the board is thinner than a skateboard, landing hard on it may cause it to crack.
There are a few tricks that are dedicated to longboards, I’ve listed a few below to try out…
• Slalom – This is where you manoeuvre your longboard between obstacles using sharp turns and curves. Try using obstacles quite far apart to begin with and move them closer together once you get the hang of it.
• Dancing – This is where the rider moves up and down the longboard while moving. You can use this to control the speed and direction of the board, similar to longboard surfing. Standing near the back of the board will speed it up and near the front will slow it down.
• Hang Ten – This phrase originates from surfing. To ‘hang ten’ on a surfboard is when the surfer puts all ten toes on the edge of the board. This is exactly the same in longboarding. The rider moves up the board and balances on the front edge, sending the back end into the air. This is also called a nose-manual. It’s a very hard trick to master but looks impressive once you can do it. The best way to practice this trick is to do it on carpet without the board moving. This way you can find the balance needed to do the trick and then try it out while moving along.
Good places to practice
The good thing about longboarding is that you can do it pretty much anywhere. In America the curbs are flattened between roads to allow skateboards and longboards to get up and down the curbs with ease. We don’t have this luxury in Europe but I find that roads along the beach are great for practicing because they are long and straight and don’t tend to have lots of curbs that get in the way. However, if you don’t live near a beach, any flat surface or smooth hill is ideal for longboarding. Due to the bigger wheels on longboards, they can roll over bumps and ridges that a skateboard would get stuck on. I’ve even managed to longboard along a wooden pier. Unlike snowboarding or surfing you can take your longboard out anytime and anywhere.
Unfortunately there aren’t as many longboarding events in Europe as there are in America, but with more and more people starting to longboard this side of the pond, there should be more events organised in the next couple of years.
GoFast! Speed Days, IGSA World Cup Series (sponsored by Lush Longboards)
Where: Beachy Head, Eastbourne, England
What’s on: Downhill skateboarding, Street Luge, Inline Board Races, Slalom.
Bude Downhill Skate Championships
Where: Bude, Cornwall, England
What’s on: Slalom, Street, Downhill
IGSA French National Championship
Where: Normandy, France
What’s on: Downhill Skateboarding
Almabtrieb World Cup
Where: Starting in Austria, finish in Germany
What’s on: Downhill Skateboarding
Rock & Roll 2008
Where: Thalgau, Austria
What’s on: Downhill Skateboard, Classic Luge, Street Luge, Gravity Bike and Dirt Surfer
• Although you’ll want to take your longboard out whenever you can, try not to take it out in the rain. The board will absorb moisture and after a while it will start to feel damp, soggy and less responsive.
• You’ll notice that a longboard will go a lot further and faster with less effort than a skateboard. To keep it this way make sure you clean out the bearings every month or so to remove any dirt and grit that may be slowing it down.
• Be prepared to answer lots of questions about your longboard. Most people in the UK especially have never seen one before and will take it upon themselves to hunt you down and ask exactly what it is you are riding.