It’s no secret that longboard skateboarding has been around since at least the early 70s, but only in the last decade has it become popular enough to support its own industry. More and more skate/surf/snow shops are regularly stocking longboards and accessories, which doesn’t really surprise the longboard industry too much’they knew that eventually the skaters, surfers, and snowers would crave the ultimate cross-trainer for all three sports. Or maybe the time has come for the masses to just kick back and “cruise.”

Who Longboards Anyway? (And Where?)

Longboarding is more commonly found in beach communities or where the hills are, but the form is rapidly infiltrating skateparks, streets, bowls, and even vert. According to Sector 9 President Steve Lake, most riders are skating three or four times a week–maybe more.

The demographic is surprisingly broad and diverse. According to many of the longboard industry’s finest, the skaters are anywhere from fourteen to 50 years old, male and female. They are skateboarders, surfers, snowboarders, and just plain longboarders. The bulk of the riders are over the age of eighteen, and 90 percent are male. Many wanted to get back on a board after quitting regular skateboarding, or cross-train when the waves or snow are less than optimal. Others were simply intrigued by the soulful aspects or wanted a fun means of transportation. Additionally, there are far more female longboarders than shortboarders, and according to Bruce Walker, president of Ocean Avenue Distribution, a recent increase in female skaters (shortboard) is most likely attributable to longboarding. You can also expect the younger kids (eight to fourteen) to be picking up longboards very soon, if they aren’t already.

The Battle: Longboarding Versus Street Skating

The physical differences between long- and shortboards are obvious: longboards have bigger, softer wheels; larger, longer decks with a bigger wheelbase and a wider variety of shapes and constructions; and bigger, quicker-turning trucks. All this enhances hill riding and provides far more stability for high-speed skating. “Everything is more drawn out so maneuvers are slower to complete,” says Walker. “As for high-performance longboarding, the skater has to put out a bit more effort to get the board to react.”

Tracker Trucks Production Manager Kevin Bergthold explores the practical aspects of the longboard: “It’s more accessible to everyone because it’s not as technical–it’s just cool to cruise and use as transportation. Plus it sucks hitting cracks with rock-hard small wheels with your hands full of beer and food.”

What about mentality and perception? Longboarding and shortboarding share a common history, culture, and demographic, but the differences may outweigh the similarities. “The focus is on the ride,” says Concrete Wave author and International Longboarder (longboardermag.com) Editor Michael Brooke. “For many, it’s not about how high you can ollie or what tricks you can do. It speaks to a different aspect of skateboarding. Most skaters (shortboard) would like to think that there’s an immense difference between their various decks, trucks, and wheels. With longboarding product, there is a huge difference between wheels, trucks, and boards. It is this focus on product, not image, that draws people in.”

Brooke suggests that the casual aspect of longboarding is also more universal, compared to the trick- and maneuver-intensive shortboard form. “The feeling of just cruising or carving is very addictive,” he says. “Younger skaters can’t believe the feeling, and older guys–like me–start reliving their childhoods. The ‘core skaters–fourteen to seventeen year olds–have a bit of a difficult time with longboarding. They’re focused on being the next Muska. They don’t perceive longboards to be that functional. Oftentimes, these hardcore skaters will get into longboarding because it’s much more of a challenge to ollie with the boards. Thas cool–whatever it takes.”

Kevin Kennedy, sales manager at Gravity Skateboards, feels that longboarding relies heavily on style and finesse, whereas traditional street skating relies on how difficult a trick is to land: “Longboards have soul, shortboards have the extreme scene. For instance, a layback can be fairly easy to do, but to do it with style is a different story.”

Evolution

The longboard business grew drastically in the early 90s and has remained strong ever since. The last few years have seen longboard interests shift from primarily beach-boardwalk cruisers toward more performance-oriented boards, many designed for specific riding styles or types of terrain. “With more and more people getting into the sport, it has brought with it a lot of competition on the business side of things,” says Sector 9′s Lake. “Which is good in that it makes each of us concentrate on manufacturing quality products and focusing on our consumers’ needs and demands.”

Brooke attests to the growing competition among longboard makers: “Manufacturing skateboards is a tough business. Manufacturing longboards can be even tougher! So people have gotten creative. Graphics have improved, shops are realizing that there is a legitimate market with longboards, and the whole segment is filled with converts who are hellbent on spreading the word. It’s been a positive experience overall, but my thinking is that we are still on a beginning level with this.”

Don Tashman, CEO of Loaded Boards, Inc.–one of the new-breed longboard companies out today–gives credit where credit is due. “Thanks to the efforts of Sector 9, Gravity, and others, longboarding has experienced a phenomenal rebirth in the past few years,” he says. “New technologies such as Randal and Exskate trucks, and composite decks are continuing to facilitate this growth. And original skate companies such as Gordon & Smith, Turner Downhill, et cetera have rejoined the ranks of the skate community issuing newer, more advanced versions of their products and promoting the development and rebirth of sub niches of the market such as slalom and downhill.”

Tashman also cites online forums such as the Northern California Downhill Skateboarding Association’s Web site at ncdsa.com as being instrumental in keeping skaters informed about new longboard products, skate styles, and skate locations. Renewed and reinforced interest has led to official and unofficial competitions and gatherings, further advancing longboarding culture and society.

Typical Setup

These days, typical longboards are your standard, horizontally laminated seven-, eight-, or nine-ply maple. The lengths start at 34 inches and generally go as long as 50 inches, with the average around 40 inches in length and seven to twelve inches wide. They tend to be differentiated by aesthetics or size rather than function, and are generally configured with traditionally designed wide trucks and 65 to 70 mm softer-durometer wheels.

More recent, less typical developments in longboarding technology include the more frequent use of composite decks. Both Sector 9 and Loaded are headed in the composite direction. “With a focus on flex patterns as well as durability,” says Tashman, “cores tend to consist of vertically laminated wood of all types–particularly maple, hickory, ash, oak, and even bamboo, although there are a few instances of foam cores.” “Composite boards are the focus of our longboard production right now,” says Jonathan Reese of Comet Skateboards. “We’re currently using tri-axial fiberglass, carbon fiber, and custom-blended ‘toughened’ epoxy. We design our own vertically laminated woodcores, using species such as poplar, hickory, bamboo, and balsa. We’re all avid downhillers and slalom skaters, and composites can’t be beat because of the energy return and ability to tailor flex patterns to a skater’s weight or style.”

To Complete Or Not To Complete

What considerations go into building a longboard? It seems that they are typically sold as completes nowadays. Does this mean they were designed with specific truck and wheel combinations in mind?

Most companies’ design process starts with questions about what the board is going to be used for, and what terrain it will be used on. Without getting into technical rocket science, the size, shape, wheelbase, flex, truck positioning, and whether or not a kicktail will be added, all depend on whether basic cruising, high-speed downhill, slalom, or high-performance maneuvers are the intended function.

Reese says longboards are typically sold as completes because many shops don’t stock wide trucks or grippy wheels. “However, we’re selling an increasing number of decks as the ability level of the average longboarder goes up because they know what components they prefer,” he says. “Thankfully, shops are beginning to carry Randall trucks, Indy 169s and 215s, and bigger, softer wheels.”

Brooke feels that Sector 9 started this trend a number of years ago. “Completes make sense when you think about it,” he says. “After all, the boards can be set up to create an optimum ride. For many, their first longboard is a complete, and it’s an easy purchase. The next board may in fact be a component purchase. I own over 30 complete boards, and each one rides differently.”

Loaded designs boards around the trucks and wheels, which determine wheelbase and board shape. “Our experience is that trucks, wheels, and decks must work in tandem and should be designed with that in mind,” says Tashman. “Our current line is built around the Randal R-II truck, and we are working on prototypes based on the Seismic truck system, as well as Trackers, Torsion trucks, and perhaps the BMW truck system. While we sell decks on their own, we don’t want customers to get stuck with an inapplicable setup, and therefore (we) prefer to sell our boards complete with only the top components available, or at least provide a recommendation as to setup.”

From a distributor’s point of view, Walker feels that longboards are typically sold as completes because the average longboard buyer is a cruiser who wouldn’t really know what specific components they needed anyway. “It’s easier for them to trust the manufacturer,” he says. “They can just buy it and ride it. Performance skaters will choose all of their components for the exact same reasons that a typical shortboard skater would. As for specific truck/wheel combinations, it still works just like short skateboards.”

At Ocean Avenue, which carries a wide array of longboard products, the best-selling soft wheels are Kryptonics and Sector 9, and Tracker outsells all other trucks for longboards. The higher-priced Randal and Seismic trucks are popular as well, and Walker likes the Z Lightning truck for its straight up-and-down kingpin, which he says creates a turning radius that is excellent for longboards.

Branching Out

Whether they’re looking in other directions for the future or have always supported slalom or downhill, just about every company I spoke with doesn’t limit themselves to casual longboarding. Comet is heavily involved in downhill and slalom designing. Tracker has always been involved in every aspect of skateboarding and is currently designing new trucks and plans to rerelease old ones for slalom and downhill. Loaded is in the process of developing Alpine and slalom boards. And Gravity is definitely slalom-izing more than ever. Ocean Avenue continues to carry slalom and downhill boards alongside their regular longboards. Sector 9, although not focusing on other niches, feels they do lend a hand to those who are branching out.

Even International Longboarder covers slalom quite heavily. “There’s a big connection between longboarding, slalom, pool riding, and general old-school skateboarding–high jump, anyone?” says Brooke. “The connection between longboarding, downhill, slalom, pool, bank, et cetera is that there’s a skate renaissanboard? It seems that they are typically sold as completes nowadays. Does this mean they were designed with specific truck and wheel combinations in mind?

Most companies’ design process starts with questions about what the board is going to be used for, and what terrain it will be used on. Without getting into technical rocket science, the size, shape, wheelbase, flex, truck positioning, and whether or not a kicktail will be added, all depend on whether basic cruising, high-speed downhill, slalom, or high-performance maneuvers are the intended function.

Reese says longboards are typically sold as completes because many shops don’t stock wide trucks or grippy wheels. “However, we’re selling an increasing number of decks as the ability level of the average longboarder goes up because they know what components they prefer,” he says. “Thankfully, shops are beginning to carry Randall trucks, Indy 169s and 215s, and bigger, softer wheels.”

Brooke feels that Sector 9 started this trend a number of years ago. “Completes make sense when you think about it,” he says. “After all, the boards can be set up to create an optimum ride. For many, their first longboard is a complete, and it’s an easy purchase. The next board may in fact be a component purchase. I own over 30 complete boards, and each one rides differently.”

Loaded designs boards around the trucks and wheels, which determine wheelbase and board shape. “Our experience is that trucks, wheels, and decks must work in tandem and should be designed with that in mind,” says Tashman. “Our current line is built around the Randal R-II truck, and we are working on prototypes based on the Seismic truck system, as well as Trackers, Torsion trucks, and perhaps the BMW truck system. While we sell decks on their own, we don’t want customers to get stuck with an inapplicable setup, and therefore (we) prefer to sell our boards complete with only the top components available, or at least provide a recommendation as to setup.”

From a distributor’s point of view, Walker feels that longboards are typically sold as completes because the average longboard buyer is a cruiser who wouldn’t really know what specific components they needed anyway. “It’s easier for them to trust the manufacturer,” he says. “They can just buy it and ride it. Performance skaters will choose all of their components for the exact same reasons that a typical shortboard skater would. As for specific truck/wheel combinations, it still works just like short skateboards.”

At Ocean Avenue, which carries a wide array of longboard products, the best-selling soft wheels are Kryptonics and Sector 9, and Tracker outsells all other trucks for longboards. The higher-priced Randal and Seismic trucks are popular as well, and Walker likes the Z Lightning truck for its straight up-and-down kingpin, which he says creates a turning radius that is excellent for longboards.

Branching Out

Whether they’re looking in other directions for the future or have always supported slalom or downhill, just about every company I spoke with doesn’t limit themselves to casual longboarding. Comet is heavily involved in downhill and slalom designing. Tracker has always been involved in every aspect of skateboarding and is currently designing new trucks and plans to rerelease old ones for slalom and downhill. Loaded is in the process of developing Alpine and slalom boards. And Gravity is definitely slalom-izing more than ever. Ocean Avenue continues to carry slalom and downhill boards alongside their regular longboards. Sector 9, although not focusing on other niches, feels they do lend a hand to those who are branching out.

Even International Longboarder covers slalom quite heavily. “There’s a big connection between longboarding, slalom, pool riding, and general old-school skateboarding–high jump, anyone?” says Brooke. “The connection between longboarding, downhill, slalom, pool, bank, et cetera is that there’s a skate renaissance out there, and people who didn’t care about skateboarding for years are being drawn back in via skateparks and longboards.”

Through his magazine, as well as the various longboarding and racing sites all over the Internet, Brooke hopes more and more to get the word out about some of skateboarding’s less popular forms. “Younger kids are always drawn to something different, and they get their cues from the skate media,” he says. “Our magazine was created to document a part of skateboarding that wasn’t getting covered in TransWorld, Thrasher, and Big Brother. Films like Dogtown And Z-Boys and companies like Deathbox are showcasing the history of skateboarding to a new generation of skater, and these skaters are lapping it up! My number-one goal with the magazine is to convince the skate world that it needs to branch out to other areas.”

Don’t Miss The Boat!

Should your shop be selling longboards? Yes! Most shops keystone completes, selling them for twice what they paid. Longboards also broaden the customer base, bring in more female skaters, older customers, parents who want to get back into skating, and snowboarders and surfers looking for something to hold them over until their season returns. Longboards look good aesthetically, sell well, and add to the variety of products that your shop has to offer.

Gravity’s Kennedy feels that shops and skate buyers should realize that by putting more longboards on the street, they’re growing the population of people who are more tolerant of skateboarders in general: “These individuals will eventually support more issues such as skateparks, contests, laws, et cetera that are in the skateboarders’ favor.”

Brooke offers further logic: There are some difficult times ahead for those in retail who don’t think about the consequences of this trend. Study the demographics carefully. Longboards are one way to keep a customer as they morph into young adults.”

The Future?

Loaded’s Tashman acknowledges that skateboard culture as well as the industry have been steered by street skaters and the companies that cater to them, but he hopes to see skateboarding’s various forms develop as distinct and independent sports that continue to diversify and develop individually as well as in tandem. “While the recent rebirth of longboarding has been overshadowed by its prodigal son, ease of use, recent advances in technology, and of course, the experience of carving and cruising have poised longboarding as a unique alternative method of skating,” he says. “It’s my hope that it will soon be common to see skaters carving their longboards down to the local skatepark with their shortboards strapped to their backs.”ssance out there, and people who didn’t care about skateboarding for years are being drawn back in via skateparks and longboards.”

Through his magazine, as well as the various longboarding and racing sites all over the Internet, Brooke hopes more and more to get the word out about some of skateboarding’s less popular forms. “Younger kids are always drawn to something different, and they get their cues from the skate media,” he says. “Our magazine was created to document a part of skateboarding that wasn’t getting covered in TransWorld, Thrasher, and Big Brother. Films like Dogtown And Z-Boys and companies like Deathbox are showcasing the history of skateboarding to a new generation of skater, and these skaters are lapping it up! My number-one goal with the magazine is to convince the skate world that it needs to branch out to other areas.”

Don’t Miss The Boat!

Should your shop be selling longboards? Yes! Most shops keystone completes, selling them for twice what they paid. Longboards also broaden the customer base, bring in more female skaters, older customers, parents who want to get back into skating, and snowboarders and surfers looking for something to hold them over until their season returns. Longboards look good aesthetically, sell well, and add to the variety of products that your shop has to offer.

Gravity’s Kennedy feels that shops and skate buyers should realize that by putting more longboards on the street, they’re growing the population of people who are more tolerant of skateboarders in general: “These individuals will eventually support more issues such as skateparks, contests, laws, et cetera that are in the skateboarders’ favor.”

Brooke offers further logic: There are some difficult times ahead for those in retail who don’t think about the consequences of this trend. Study the demographics carefully. Longboards are one way to keep a customer as they morph into young adults.”

The Future?

Loaded’s Tashman acknowledges that skateboard culture as well as the industry have been steered by street skaters and the companies that cater to them, but he hopes to see skateboarding’s various forms develop as distinct and independent sports that continue to diversify and develop individually as well as in tandem. “While the recent rebirth of longboarding has been overshadowed by its prodigal son, ease of use, recent advances in technology, and of course, the experience of carving and cruising have poised longboarding as a unique alternative method of skating,” he says. “It’s my hope that it will soon be common to see skaters carving their longboards down to the local skatepark with their shortboards strapped to their backs.”