Surfing the concrete: How to pick the right gear?
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 9 August, 2017 - A group of snowboarders made the first modern longboards in the off seasons of the early 1990s. After the thaw, they reshaped old snowboards to resemble surfboards and mounted repurposed skateboarding trucks and wheels on them. The movement and the carving they were missing when the snow was gone were back, but it all goes back to surfing.
Longboards have diversified since those early days, and longboarding has diverged into several distinct disciplines. At their core, each discipline shares something in common with surfing.
Downhill resembles big-wave surfing, while the slides and carves in freeride are reminiscent of technical, shortboard surfing. Because of their similarities, there are many reasons for surfers to try longboarding, but a surfing simulator shouldn’t be one.
Longboarding is never going to approximate true-life surfing. The surface in longboarding is concrete, and concrete is predictable. The ocean, is ever-changing. No two waves are the same. But longboarding is a blast in its own right, and it’s an activity anyone who’s mastered riding waves can learn quickly. Best of all, it’s almost always available. No waiting for swells and, for many people, no traveling. Just find a hill and carve.
Any surfer starting out in longboarding is still likely looking to replicate the surfing experience, though, which is understandable. Like in surfing, the key to optimizing your abilities and getting the most out of your efforts is to get the right equipment. Here are a few things a surfer should note before getting a first longboard.
Anyone looking to recreate the feeling of surfing on concrete should first consider the classic pintail shape. These boards, which surfers might call a fish shape, are designed to mimic surfboards and the way they ride. If you’re looking to slash and cutback, pressuring the urethane wheels to maintain grip as you carve, then a pintail is for you.
Cruiser is a generic term in longboarding for any board meant for leisurely riding, but there are a couple subsets of cruisers that any technical surfer should enjoy. Mini cruisers are about the size of trick skateboards, but are usually wider. They are agile, maneuverable shapes that can perform almost any sudden movement a rider asks of them. They are always paired with conventional trucks to provide the utmost is turning ability.
Old school cruisers are a bit larger than mini cruisers. Their shapes are reminiscent of the skateboards of the 1980s, and some modern pool skaters use these boards. If you’re into aerials, flips, rolls or any of the most technical surfing, an old school cruiser might be your shape.
Longboard trucks come in two main flavors, and the style of riding dictates which one is right. Conventional trucks have kingpins that face toward the middle of the board. Boards with these trucks are whippy and ready to carve, much like a surfboard with small, low-profile fins.
Reverse-kingpin trucks have kingpins that face outward. They cause boards to track more, producing a more stable ride that is safer at high speeds. Reverse-kingpin trucks ride similar to surfboards with larger fins, requiring more effort to initiate what will be a more gradual turn.
The steering geometry of a truck is dictated largely by the width of the axles and the wheelbase, but the angle of the kingpin plays a huge role as well. Skateboarding trucks and other conventional designs have steep angles of around 50 degrees that help them turn sharply. The angles on reverse-kingpin trucks can vary, though, with lower numbers corresponding to looser, more stable trucks.
Once we select a set of trucks, the only variable still in our control is the hardness of the urethane bushings through which the kingpin passes. Manufacturers commonly use bushings of around 90A durometer (hardness) on their trucks, but a change to softer bushings will make for more slashy carves and tighter turns with less effort. For those who prefer stability above maneuverability, hard bushings can make trucks much tighter and more stable at speed.
Wheels and Bearings
The quality of the urethane in your wheels and the components of your bearings will directly affect the quality of your ride. Longboarding wheels are normally pretty soft, so they handle debris and uneven surfaces better than hard street skating wheels. Freeride wheels are a bit harder for sliding — around 86A — but most are closer to 78A. There are many quality bearings on the market, but don’t get fooled by advertising gimmicks like ABEC rating. Sometimes a higher rating means a better bearing, but sometimes not. The best advice is to experiment.
The learning curve is not as steep for surfers learning to ride longboards as it is for the average person, but if the hill you’re on is steep, a helmet is still a good idea. When properly set up, downhill longboards are capable of speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour. Hitting the pavement at that speed is deadly without a helmet. Even at slower speeds, concrete can crack a cranium.
Skill level is not the only factor that should determine whether you get a helmet and which helmet you should get. At slower speeds, a multiple-impact skate helmet is a wise investment.
These lids can take repeated shots because their foam liner always snaps back to its original shape. Single-impact helmets provide more protection because their liners deform slowly, but they must be replaced after just one impact.
Because they ride barefoot, most surfers prefer to wear shoes that provide a lot of board feel when they skate. Longboarders normally wear skate shoes, and the best longboarding shoes for board feel usually have vulcanized soles. Vulcanization is hot is skate shoes right now, so finding shoes with vulcanized soles is easier than ever before. The alternative is cupsoles, which are protective but rigid and thick-soled.
Longboards can get cumbersome after a long day, and stashing one on a backpack makes things easier. Longboarding backpacks are practically unicorns, though. A few examples aimed specifically at longboarders have hit the market recently, and they do make traveling with a board and gear less of pain. In the absence of pack that can carry a board, a regular backpack is still useful for gear storage. It is also a good idea to carry a skate tool, spare bearing(s), bearing lubricant and spare hardware, especially if you push far from home.
Surfing, longboarding, skateboarding and snowboarding are the four sisters. It is hard to be a part of one and not have love in your heart for the other three. Even if they are not how you wish to spend your time, you just cannot look at someone doing one them without feeling a connection.
The smile in a skater’s eyes when he lands a trick he’s worked for is the same as the one in a surfer’s eyes when she’s ridden the perfect wave. Longboarding gave snowboarders the feeling of fresh powder like skating gave surfers the feeling of a new set. If you’re in love with surfing, you owe it to yourself to experience longboarding. It’s understandable if you only do it when the surf is slop.