If you’ve ever pondered ways to cut down on your routine expenses and shrink your carbon footprint, then perhaps you’ve considered longboarding as an alternative mode of transportation. Longboarding, a skateboarding subculture, can be an exhilarating way of exercising your balance and reflexes, but it’s also perfectly suitable for getting you from point A to point B in an economically conservative and environmentally friendly manner. And the 750,000 or so enthusiasts in the United States, from fearless teens to decidedly more careful adults, swear that it’s fun, too.
Longboarding was originally conceptualized in the early 1960s as a way to replicate the experience of surfing or downhill snowboarding but on paved surfaces instead of snowy or watery ones. The sport turns any piece of sloped pavement into the rider’s own personal amusement park. Unlike shorter skateboards or “shortboards,” longboards aren’t ideal for doing the impressive ollies and railslides that win the hearts and minds of skateboarding enthusiasts, although, if you really wanted to, you could try those tricks with a longboard.
Instead, longboards are built for fast, stable rides. Their wheels, which are comparatively softer and larger than those of a skateboard, enable the rider to turn more easily than a regular skateboard allows. The longer deck, or platform that you stand on, gives riders more stability, which is nice when you’re trying to avoid eating more concrete than necessary. Together, the wheels and the deck make longboards more suitable for transportation than their shorter counterparts.
In this article, we’ll dig deeper into what sets longboards apart from other skateboards, how to make the most of a longboarding outing and how to adjust your longboard to best accommodate your own riding preferences.
The Physics of Longboarding
First off, longboards are customizable for the intended purposes of you, the rider. But whether you’re interested in downhill racing, slaloming (riding downhill in a zigzag fashion) or just getting to and from work or school, longboards share certain characteristics, which set them apart from other skateboards.
Compared to trick-oriented skateboards or shortboards, longboards are obviously longer and heavier. They also have those bigger and softer wheels that we mentioned, which can grip more of the pavement, increase your cornering ability and potentially prevent the board from shooting out underneath you. In contrast, the wheels on shortboards are typically going to be smaller, and harder, making them quicker with near-distance acceleration. The downsides are that they require more effort for the rider to gain momentum, and they’re more vulnerable to sidewalk cracks, discarded soda cans and — um — roadkill.
In addition, softer wheels reduce vibration and afford the cruising longboarder a less bone-jarring ride. They’re also set farther apart from each other than you’d normally find the wheels on a shortboard. Longboard trucks, the collective parts of the skateboard that connect the wheels to the deck’s underside, are designed to achieve a wider wheelbase. That wider distance between the front and rear wheels grants the longboard rider more turning versatility than his or her shortboarding counterparts.
A longer board makes the skateboard heavier, which also makes it more stable than a typical shortboard. With a heavier board, you’re likely going to have more mass, and more massive objects will have more resistance to a change in motion, or inertia, as you’ll remember from Newton’s first law of motion. That’s pretty handy, as a change in motion isn’t all that good for helping you get where you’re going. It also makes longboards more suited for downhill racing or slaloming than a shortboard.
Now that we’ve covered the difference between regular skateboarding and longboarding, we might as well ask — which one is easier anyhow?