The Long And Short Of It

It’s no secret that longboard skateboarding has been around since atleast the early 70s, but only in the last decade has it become popularenough to support its own industry. More and more skate/surf/snowshops are regularly stocking longboards and accessories, which doesn’treally surprise the longboard industry too much’they knew thateventually the skaters, surfers, and snowers would crave the ultimatecross-trainer for all three sports. Or maybe the time has come for themasses to just kick back and “cruise.”

Who Longboards Anyway? (And Where?)

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

The demographic is surprisingly broad and diverse. According tomany of the longboard industry’s finest, the skaters are anywhere fromfourteen to 50 years old, male and female. They are skateboarders,surfers, snowboarders, and just plain longboarders. The bulk of the ridersare over the age of eighteen, and 90 percent are male. Many wanted to getback on a board after quitting regular skateboarding, or cross-train whenthe waves or snow are less than optimal. Others were simply intrigued bythe soulful aspects or wanted a fun means of transportation. Additionally,there are far more female longboarders than shortboarders, andaccording to Bruce Walker, president of Ocean Avenue Distribution, arecent increase in female skaters (shortboard) is most likely attributableto 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 areobvious: longboards have bigger, softer wheels; larger, longer decks witha bigger wheelbase and a wider variety of shapes and constructions; andbigger, quicker-turning trucks. All this enhances hill riding and providesfar more stability for high-speed skating. “Everything is more drawn outso maneuvers are slower to complete,” says Walker. “As for high-performance longboarding, the skater has to put out a bit more effort toget the board to react.”

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

What about mentality and perception? Longboarding andshortboarding share a common history, culture, and demographic, but thedifferences may outweigh the similarities. “The focus is on the ride,” saysConcrete Wave author and International Longboarder(longboardermag.com) Editor Michael Brooke. “For many, it’s not abouthow high you can ollie or what tricks you can do. It speaks to a differentaspect of skateboarding. Most skaters (shortboard) would like to thinkthat there’s an immense difference between their various decks, trucks,and wheels. With longboarding product, there is a huge differencebetween 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 alsomore universal, compared to the trick- and maneuver-intensiveshortboard form. “The feeling of just cruising or carving is veryaddictive,” he says. “Younger skaters can’t believe the feeling, and olderguys–like me–start reliving their childhoods. The ‘core skaters–fourteento seventeen year olds–have a bit of a difficult time with longboarding.They’re focused on being the next Muska. They don’t perceive longboardsto be that functional. Oftentimes, these hardcore skaters will get intolongboarding because it’s much more of a challenge to ollie with theboards. That’s cool–whatever it takes.”

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

Evolution

The longboard business grew drastically in the early 90s and hasremained strong ever since. The last few years have seen longboardinterests shift from primarily beach-boardwalk cruisers toward moreperformance-oriented boards, many designed for specific riding styles ortypes of terrain. “With more and more people getting into the sport, it hasbrought with it a lot of competition on the business side of things,” saysSector 9’s Lake. “Which is good in that it makes each of us concentrate onmanufacturing quality products and focusing on our consumers’ needsand demands.”

Brooke attests to the growing competition among longboardmakers: “Manufacturing skateboards is a tough business. Manufacturinglongboards can be even tougher! So people have gotten creative. Graphicshave improved, shops are realizing that there is a legitimate market withlongboards, and the whole segment is filled with converts who arehellbent 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-breedlongboard companies out today–gives credit where credit is due. “Thanksto the efforts of Sector 9, Gravity, and others, longboarding hasexperienced a phenomenal rebirth in the past few years,” he says. “Newtechnologies such as Randal and Exskate trucks, and composite decks arecontinuing to facilitate this growth. And original skate companies such asGordon & Smith, Turner Downhill, et cetera have rejoined the ranks of theskate community issuing newer, more advanced versions of their productsand promoting the development and rebirth of sub niches of the marketsuch as slalom and downhill.”

Tashman also cites online forums such as the Northern CaliforniaDownhill Skateboarding Association’s Web site at ncdsa.com as beinginstrumental in keeping skaters informed about new longboard products,skate styles, and skate locations. Renewed and reinforced interest has ledto official and unofficial competitions and gatherings, further advancinglongboarding culture and society.

Typical Setup

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

More recent, less typical developments in longboarding technologyinclude the more frequent use of composite decks. Both Sector 9 andLoaded are headed in the composite direction. “With a focus on flexpatterns as well as durability,” says Tashman, “cores tend to consist ofvertically 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 rightnow,” says Jonathan Reese of Comet Skateboards. “We’re currently usingtri-axial fiberglass, carbon fiber, and custom-blended ‘toughened’ epoxy.We design our own vertically laminated woodcores, using species such aspoplar, hickory, bamboo, and balsa. We’re all avid downhillers and slalomskaters, and composites can’t be beat because of the energy return andability 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 thatthey are typically sold as completes nowadays. Does this mean they weredesigned with specific truck and wheel combinations in mind?

Most companies’ design process starts
with questions about whatthe 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, alldepend on whether basic cruising, high-speed downhill, slalom, or high-performance maneuvers are the intended function.

Reese says longboards are typically sold as completes becausemany shops don’t stock wide trucks or grippy wheels. “However, we’reselling an increasing number of decks as the ability level of the averagelongboarder goes up because they know what components they prefer,”he says. “Thankfully, shops are beginning to carry Randall trucks, Indy169s and 215s, and bigger, softer wheels.”

Brooke feels that Sector 9 started this trend a number of yearsago. “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 firstlongboard is a complete, and it’s an easy purchase. The next board may infact be a component purchase. I own over 30 complete boards, and eachone rides differently.”

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

From a distributor’s point of view, Walker feels that longboards aretypically sold as completes because the average longboard buyer is acruiser who wouldn’t really know what specific components they neededanyway. “It’s easier for them to trust the manufacturer,” he says. “Theycan just buy it and ride it. Performance skaters will choose all of theircomponents for the exact same reasons that a typical shortboard skaterwould. As for specific truck/wheel combinations, it still works just likeshort skateboards.”

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

Branching Out

Whether they’re looking in other directions for the future or havealways supported slalom or downhill, just about every company I spokewith doesn’t limit themselves to casual longboarding. Comet is heavilyinvolved in downhill and slalom designing. Tracker has always beeninvolved in every aspect of skateboarding and is currently designing newtrucks and plans to rerelease old ones for slalom and downhill. Loaded isin the process of developing Alpine and slalom boards. And Gravity isdefinitely slalom-izing more than ever. Ocean Avenue continues to carryslalom and downhill boards alongside their regular longboards. Sector 9,although not focusing on other niches, feels they do lend a hand to thosewho are branching out.

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

Through his magazine, as well as the various longboarding andracing sites all over the Internet, Brooke hopes more and more to get theword out about some of skateboarding’s less popular forms. “Youngerkids are always drawn to something different, and they get their cuesfrom the skate media,” he says. “Our magazine was created to document apart of skateboarding that wasn’t getting covered in TransWorld,Thrasher, and Big Brother. Films like Dogtown And Z-Boys and companieslike Deathbox are showcasing the history of skateboarding to a newgeneration of skater, and these skaters are lapping it up! My number-onegoal with the magazine is to convince the skate world that it needs tobranch out to other areas.”

Don’t Miss The Boat!

Should your shop be selling longboards? Yes! Most shops keystonecompletes, selling them for twice what they paid. Longboards alsobroaden the customer base, bring in more female skaters, oldercustomers, parents who want to get back into skating, and snowboardersand surfers looking for something to hold them over until their seasonreturns. Longboards look good aesthetically, sell well, and add to thevariety of products that your shop has to offer.

Gravity’s Kennedy feels that shops and skate buyers should realizethat by putting more longboards on the street, they’re growing thepopulation 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 aheadfor those in retail who don’t think about the consequences of this trend.Study the demographics carefully. Longboards are one way to keep acustomer as they morph into young adults.”

The Future?

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