If you’ve never purchased a skateboard before, you might be overwhelmed by the vast options you have to choose from. While all types of boards provide specific benefits, not all are created equal.
With this in mind, it’s important to know the differences, especially between a longboard and a traditional skateboard (or ‘shortboard’ as they’re often referred to) in order to make the best decision for your riding style.
Longboards are ideal for beginners as they’re easy to ride and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. With that said, knowing if a longboard is right for you comes down to personal preference. Let’s explore the key differences between the two board types to help you make the best decision:
Longboard vs. Skateboard: Key Differences
What’s a Skateboard?
The term ‘Skateboard’ can be pretty misleading, as it’s essentially a blanket term that refers to all types of boards. However, when we say ‘skateboard’, we’re talking about the boards that run an average of 36 inches. These are the ones you can easily find at your local box store.
These types of boards allow the rider to perform a variety of tricks — such as an ollie or kickflip — by design. The tail and nose curve upward to make this possible.
What’s a Longboard?
Longboards are basically variations of the skateboard and they can vary length-wise. Typically, you won’t see a longboard that is over 51 inches. Unlike the boards we described above, the tail and nose of a longboard is flat, which is one of its most distinctive features.
Let’s explore what makes both board styles special and discuss some of the pros and cons to help you decide what board would be the best choice for your riding style and skill level.
Longboard Pros & Cons
I’ve met a lot of beginners who don’t understand the difference between a longboard and a skateboard, and I don’t blame them. While longboards are pretty distinct looking to the trained eye, they come in a range of lengths; some even shorter than traditional skateboards.
Even more confusing is the fact that some longboards actually ditch the flat nose and tail design and feature a ‘lick tail’, which is a raised edge that allows longboard riders to do tricks, similar to what they can do on a standard skateboard. With that said, these longboards aren’t that common, and really only serve a niche group of longboarders.
Longboards range from 28 inches to about 59 inches, and you can also purchase boards in a variety of nose and tail options, such as:
- Freeride (also referred to as ‘Freestyle’): These come in a range of shapes and have two common subtypes called drop through and drop down.
- Cruiser: Cruisers are boards with rounded tails and noses.
- Topmount: These boards typically have pointier tails and noses.
- Pintail: These longboards have a pointy toil and a blunt nose.
Additionally, longboards have other unique features you can choose from, including flexibility and wheel shape. Square wheels are best for cruising, while round wheels provide more speed.
Longboards are great for riders that are looking for variety out of their board, as they allow you to commute, carve, cruise, and (as I previously mentioned) even do tricks.
They are also easier to get the hang of for beginners as the flat design makes it much easier to balance and bigger longboard sizes can accommodate riders with larger feet.
Longboards tend to be bulkier and heavier, making them more difficult to carry and conceal when you’re not riding them. They are also pricier than a standard skateboard, even for the most basic models.
Skateboard Pros & Cons
Unlike longboards, skateboards usually range from 28 to 36 inches in length, and feature a curved edge on both ends to allow the rider to do impressive tricks.
Experts refer to these types of boards as ‘shortboards’ to avoid confusion, and that’s a term you should probably use if you want to distinguish between the two easily.
Exploring The Different Parts of a Skateboard
- The deck is the board itself and is (ideally) made of high quality materials like bamboo or Canadian maple. There’s also decks out there that are made of lighter materials, such as fiberglass and aluminum, which make it easier to do tricks. There’s even decks made of plastic, called ‘penny boards’.
- The trucks are metal pieces that connect the wheels of the board to the deck.
- The bearings give the wheels the ability to spin. Any skater will tell you to check what’s called the Annular Bearing Engineering Committee (ABEC) rating before purchasing bearings, as this score can determine how precisely the bearings spin the wheels of the board.
- The wheels of the board should be made of urethane for the best possible ride. These types of wheels are typically translucent. For optimal longevity, avoid wheels that are made of rubber or plastic.
How to Choose a Skateboard
If you’re looking for quality, then plastic materials should be avoided. This includes the wheels and bearings. You should also test the board out before you buy it. Check the wheels to make sure they aren’t wobbly and aren’t making a lot of noise. These can be signs of poor quality wheels.
While most pros want to build their own boards, and will purchase parts separately, beginners typically go for complete boards that are ready to ride right away.
Standard skateboards are small, lightweight and easy to carry and conceal when you’re not riding them. They can easily be stored in your backpack, locker, or carried around town.
They’re also typically more cost-effective than longboards, which can be an important factor for a beginner skater. If your goal is to learn tricks, then standard skateboards are the way to go as well.
Unlike a scooter or bike, you can’t lock up a skateboard to prevent it from being stolen before going into a store, restaurant, or library.
Also, because you’ll be doing tricks that require a lot of kicking, and due to the rough grip tape of the deck itself, skateboards can ruin your shoes pretty quickly.
Which Option is Right For Beginners?
A lot of skaters will tell you to start with a traditional skateboard, due to their affordability and availability at most skate shops (and box stores) around the country.
With that said, if you’re worried about being able to get the hang of riding a board quickly, and scared of falling, then a longboard is probably the better option of the two. This is because longboards are designed for easy and smooth riding, and provide the proper amount of stability by being wider and longer than a standard skateboard.
Additionally, longboards typically have thicker wheels, to prevent you from tripping over your board. It’s important to note, though, that longboards tend to be on the heavier side, and younger skaters might have trouble controlling them as a result.
With this in mind, I’d recommend traditional boards or more lightweight longboards for kids, and longboards for adult beginners.
Which Option is Right For Intermediate Skaters?
If you’re in between the beginner and advanced stages, you’ll want to choose a board that can accommodate the type of riding you’re wanting to do.
For instance, if you’re trying to race downhill, carve around curves, or simply cruise down the street, then a longboard is right for you.
For intermediate skaters who have a few tricks in their bag already, and want to spend their days at the skatepark, a traditional skateboard is ideal.
Intermediate skaters should be at the point where they care about buying a quality board that will assist them when it comes to growing their riding skills.
If you want to improve your tricks and balance, rather than your control and speed, than you probably should go with a traditional board.
Which Option is Right For Advanced/Pro Skaters?
Pro skaters have the most options available to them, as they don’t really need to worry about the learning curve that comes with being a beginner or intermediate skater. Many advanced skaters choose traditional boards over longboards, as they’re more likely into doing flashy tricks and skating big ramps.
That doesn’t mean advanced skaters can’t own a longboard or two for basic cruising and downhill rides. In other words, if you’re an advanced skater, then why not choose both?
Which Board is Safest?
A lot of parents worry about safety when it comes to buying a skateboard for their children. It’s an important factor to consider when going into skateboarding, so it’s understandable. While there’s always going to be a risk of injury involved with skateboarding (just like there is with riding a bike or scooter) there’s certain boards that are made specifically for safety.
If your goal is to cruise around town, I’d say longboards are the safest option since this is what they’re built for. But, if your goal (or your child’s goal) is to learn tricks, then traditional boards are the way to go as they’re built for this purpose.
Essentially, the safety of the board itself will be determined by the goals of the rider. Regardless of the board you choose, you should always wear a helmet, elbow and knee pads, and other protective gear to prevent injuries.
As you can see, both longboards and standard skateboards offer a myriad of benefits that are ideal for many different types of skating.
This is why it’s not easy to solve the debate between the two. However, if you take all of the factors listed above into consideration, you should be able to find a board that perfectly fits your skill level and goals when it comes to skating.