Surf skateboards, aka surf skates, are a special kind of beast. Not your normal skateboard, not your longboard, they claim to be the closest thing to surfing on the asphalt. Since the late 90s, these things have been growing quietly in parallel to the longboarding world.
Surf skateboards are rarely mentioned in discussions among longboarders, who typically see them as distinct animals. Surf Skateboards take the concept of carving and pumping to a level unparalleled in the classic longboarding realm due to their unique truck designs.
Surf skateboarding (surf skating) is a very appealing sport for new riders, seasoned longboarders, and ocean surfers alike. If you’re curious about what surf skateboards are and what they allow you to do, or if you’re already sold on the concept but are not sure the options that exist on the market and how to choose the best surf skateboard for your needs, read on.
By the end of this article, you’ll understand exactly what and whom surf skateboards are for, what kind of riding style they enable, what skills and techniques you’ll need to master, which brands and models are available and what the key differences are between them.
What the heck are surf skateboards?
First appeared in the late 90s, surf skateboards are special skateboards/longboards designed to emulate the dynamic and motion of riding a wave on a surfboard.
You might say they are a special kind of skateboard, as they’re typically short with smaller wheels. However, they’re usually wider than a street skateboard, and because they have lengths of up to 40″, one may also argue they’re a special sort of longboard.
What really differentiates surf skateboards from “regular” skateboards and longboards is their special moving front truck. Normal trucks only turn along their kingpin axis :
Surf skateboard trucks, on the other hand, add an extra axis of rotation by mounting the truck on a rotating arm, allowing it to girate in an additional plane compared to a normal skateboard/longboard truck.
A good way to understand this is by looking at this animation from Waterborne :
As you can see, the Surf Adapter allows a normal truck to turn along an extra vertical axis, in a plane parallel to the deck. Likewise, the front truck on most surf skateboards is either attached to, or integrated with, a similar kind of rotating arm.
Such pivoting trucks enable the nose of the board to shift left and right as the rider shifts his/her weight between rails, and allow more dramatic transitions from rail to rail. The board is able to turn much more dramatically due to the amplitude of movement of the nose, while the rear truck acts as a pivot point around which the board rotates.
This gives you something similar to the way a surfboard evolves on the wave, with the fins in the back acting as a pivot while the rider keeps shifting from one rail to the other to make the board move faster.
Update: here’s an updated animated gif from Waterborne featuring the newer version of the Surf Adapter. I thought it was worth including since it illustrates well how surf skates work:
Who are surf skateboards best for?
If you are a surfer
Skateboarding was initially started in the 70s to keep surfers riding on land when the ocean went flat. Surf skateboards go one step further, allowing surfers to actually use and improve their surfing skills on land.
So if you’re an ocean surfer, a surf skateboard can be a great surf trainer for you. Many surf schools use these boards to help learners master surfing maneuvers, much easier to break down and demonstrate on land than in the water.
Surf skates are a great learning tool because the body motion they involve is much closer to surfing than riding a regular skateboard – keep reading for more about this.
If you’re a longboard skateboarder
As a longboarder, you probably know there are many different riding styles, from cruising to freeride to downhill to freestyle etc.
Among them, carving involves performing continuous flowing turns on your longboard, drawing imaginary lines, leveraging any small incline to keep going. Pumping also involves short turns, but with deep body weight shifts that transfer energy and speed into the board and keeps it moving without having to foot push or ride downhill.
Both carving and pumping require a very lose and turny front truck and a rear truck that provides stability and pivoting capacity. For this reason, surf skateboards can be considered the ultimate choice for these styles. If carving and pumping are your thing, then a surf skate is definitely a possible option (though not the only one).
Note that surf skates may not be the best choice for long distance carving or pumping, because the extreme looseness (which varies among models) make them less efficient for riding on large distances. See this article on distance longboarding and this one on longboard pumping.
If you’re a newbie
If you’re new to skateboarding and longboarding altogether – and you’re not an ocean surfer – you may be wondering whether you should get a surf skate as your first board. Here are a few considerations to think about :
- Surf skates are A LOT of fun, but they’re not nearly as stable and easy to start on as a large, stable, classic drop-through or drop down longboard (see this post about choosing a beginner longboard)
- Some surf skateboards are more stable than others, as you’ll find out below (hint: do NOT start with a Swelltech, Yow, or Smoothstar surf skate as your first board unless you’re very talented or very patient)
- If your aim is to only ride in small spaces such as a driveway, small yard, or small parking lot, then a surf skate may make sense as your first board since it’ll allow you to make tight turns in a limited amount of space – something you typically don’t get on a classic longboard.
- If your goal is to use your first board for commuting, long distance cruising or traveling, or riding down hills, then a surf skateboard is likely NOT your best choice. See this article on choosing the right longboard for you.
Are surf skateboards for kids only?
If you’ve been watching surf skateboard videos, you’ve probably seen kids (“groms” in surf talk) slashing and ripping driveways, street banks and drain pipes with great agility. Like this grom from my neighborhood :
So you may be wondering, are these surf skateboards good for older, heavier, or less fit riders?
The general answer is “yes”, as depending on your age and fitness level, you will be riding the surf skateboard differently.
As I mentioned previously, surf skates are less stable and harder to handle than classic larger longboards. One important factor is the size of the deck you choose. Bigger / heavier / less agile riders should typically go for a larger deck (e.g. 36″ and up), which typically provides more stability – albeit at the cost of some turnability.
Assuming you pick the right size board for you, depending on your physical build and condition, it may take you a couple hours to a few days to get the hang of it. Once you do, however, you can really have a blast riding this thing everywhere.
Carving and pumping are probably the most exciting and stimulating skating activities you can get into without tons of skills and without much risk of injury – unlike freeriding / downhill or freestyling / skatepark. For this reason, a surf skate can be a good option for an older rider, assuming you’re willing to put in a bit of effort initially.
Be aware that carving and pumping on a surf skate gives you an insane workout that will exhaust the heck out of you, working muscles you never knew you had – some riders have claimed to get close to a 6-pack after riding their surf skateboard for a while.
Surf skateboard riding
Carving and pumping
As I mentioned, surf skateboards are designed for carving tight turns and pumping. The swiveling front truck allows you to carve really tight turns with an extremely short turning radius compared to regular longboards. This lets you easily turn tight corners and slalom around obstacles.
Effective pumping is the other unique aspect of surf skate riding: the special front truck lets you propel your board and pick up speed by doing rail-to-rail shifts. One of the most astonishing abilities of the best surf skateboards (e.g. Carver boards) is that you can actually pump uphill from a still position – something few normal longboards can do.
This clearly shows how powerful these trucks are for generating speed purely based on body motion.
Surf skate stance
The typical stance on a surf skateboard is similar to that on a surfboard, i.e. your feet about shoulder width apart, with your front foot slightly behind the front truck and your back foot right on top of the rear truck.
In most cases your feet lie perpendicular to the deck, although this depends on the type of surf skate you’re riding : some designs revolve around toe-heel shifting to get the board moving, while others involve more of a full body motion – in this case, angling your front foot slightly can help you get the right motion.
More about this in the section on surf skate models.
Surf skate maneuvers
The maneuvers surf skateboards are designed for are different from classic longboarding – e.g. cross stepping, nose riding, kickflips, shuvits … Surf skate riding emulates surfing, so a lot of the techniques you use are surfing based.
You can of course ride a surf skateboard like you do a regular longboard, but there are a couple of things to be aware of :
- The moving front truck makes tricks such as nose riding or riding fakie harder
- Leaning hard on the rails is the most effective way to leverage the power of a surf skate
- Traditional freestyle and skatepark tricks can be awkward on most surf skate setups
Remember, surf skateboards are designed for quick and tight turning, deep carving, and pumping like a surfboard. To really make the most of your surf skate, you need to learn some surfing-related techniques.
In surfing, a bottom turn is the kind of hard, deep powerful turn you make after taking off on the wave and dropping down to the bottom of its face. You lean hard onto the rail, shifting most of your weight into it.
Surf skateboard designs allow you to perform similar deep turns, typically a prerequisite for subsequent “top” turns or snap.
To go into bottom turn, you need a little speed, e.g. a slight incline. As you get into the turn, you bend your knees and lower yourself on the board, leaning heavily onto the rail that’s on the side of the turn. This pressing and crouching is called “compression”, similar to a spring.
Then as you exit the turn, you “decompress”: again like a spring, you push hard to extend your knees and “unroll” and open up your body, releasing energy into your board. The main purpose of a deep bottom turn is this “compress/decompress” motion which impulses speed to the board in preparation for the next turn.
In surfing, most bottom turns (performed at the bottom of the wave) are followed by a top turn, sometimes call “off the lip”, performed at the top. On a surf skateboard, you do your top turn as you reach the top of the bowl, the V bank, or whatever incline you’re on.
For the top turn, you leverage the speed gained from your bottom turn, and push off the lip/edge, opening up your upper body, to complete an S-turn and start heading down again (after heading up to the top edge).
Note that you can learn to perform a “top turn” on flat ground – in this case, “upward” and “downward” refer to an imaginary slope/wave, what matters here is the body motion and weight shifts.
Snap and cut back
While a top turn is a smooth, S-shaped turn performed at the top of the wave, a snap is a very sharp angle turn in which you push your board around, spinning it almost 180º, typically slashing your fins out of the water.
On a surf skateboard, a snap is performed by pushing the back of your board out hard, sliding your back wheels, shifting your weight onto your front truck to offload the rear truck. This is a radical move commonly used in surfing.
A cut back is similar to a top turn (a snapback is closer to a snap) but instead of doing an S-turn and continuing forward down the wave, you actually perform a U-turn and then ride back in the opposite direction. The purpose of a cut back in surfing is to get back closer to the curl – the energy zone of the wave you’ve gotten too far away from.
Surf skateboard features
What are the features to consider when looking for the right surf skateboard for you? Well, obviously of a lot of the aspect come into play when choosing a skateboard/longboard also matters for a surf skate. But let’s briefly look at a few features that are specific to these road surfers.
- Truck turning angle: how much the front truck is able to rotate on the swivel arm. This is a key factor in the surfing feel you’ll get on the board, as discussed earlier.
- Truck wedging: affects the angle between the truck’s baseplate and the deck. Wedged pads are often used between the deck and the front truck to modify the angle between ground and wheels when turning. This also affects the board’s pump ability.
- Truck resistance: for those surf skate trucks that use springs, the amount of resistance of the spring is important in the carving feel.
- Truck height: some surf skate trucks are higher off the ground than others, which affects the stability and versatility of the board. Higher rides may turn faster but may be harder to ride over longer distances and at greater speeds. Lower boards may suffer from wheelbite in extreme turns.
- Axle width: also a determining factor in wheelbite and pumpability.
- Rear truck: the width, height, and geometry of the back truck affect the surf skateboard’s ability to pivot around “its fins”, which in turn is a key point in surfing. A bigger, higher, stiffer truck generally works well with most surf skate front trucks.
- Wheelbase: distance between front and rear truck. Smaller wheelbase means tighter, more critical turns. Many surf skateboards models offer short decks (around 30″) for a shortboard feel. Depending on your size though, you may need a longer deck for a correct stance. This can provide more of a longboard surf kind of feel.
- Concave: deck concave plays a critical role when carving hard turns and radical surf maneuvers like snapbacks of 360 slides, as the concave is what keeps your feet locked in. String concave is typically less critical for longer surf skateboards since the rider tends to do less extreme turns on them.
- Wheel width: wider wheels provide better grip and stability, while thinner wheels allow for faster transitions between turns and more slidability (less traction).
- Wheel hardness: while soft wheels absorb cracks and bumps well and have better traction when turning, harder wheels are faster on a smooth surface and break into slides more easily.
The best surf skateboards on the market
Now that we’ve looked at the most important features in a surf skateboard, let’s turn our attention to the leading surf skateboard brands in the market today. In the following sections, I will recap key information about each brand.
Please note the opinions and evaluations I share about the different boards are my own, so take them with a grain of salt. Your choice of surf skateboard may differ from me and any other rider based on your own preferences, height and weight, level and experience, and riding environment.
For each of the brands, I’ve included a “slider” kind of graph that reflects my own assessment of how each board is positioned in terms of skate vs surf riding feel, using a scale from 1 (pure skateboarding) to 5 (pure surfing).
Keep in mind that a higher mark does NOT indicate a better board, just a different style. A “surfier” board may be much harder to push and cruise on than a “skatier” one, and not as fast or pumpable uphill as a “mixed” board, while a “mixed” board may be snappier and better for airs than a “surfier” one, etc.
Price range: US$ 200 – 260
The Swelltech surf skateboards are real little surfboards on wheels – literally, judging from the design. Just look at the beautiful SurfSkate Jamie Obrien model (Amazon link) :
More important than looks though, the “Swelltech Truck System” enables one of the closest riding experience to surfing on the market, with a 360º rotation capability that enables the rider to point the board in any direction.
The front truck is loaded with both external springs for hard carving and internal springs for stability in pumping. It comes with wedged risers that tilt the truck backward, resulting in smoother rail to rail transitions and high pumping efficiency.
The front truck allows free movement of the front of the board, while the back truck, a regular, narrower reverse kingpin truck, acts like surfboard fins, i.e. providing a stable pivot while the front spins freely.
On a Swelltech SurfSkate, you gain momentum through back foot pressure (vs front foot on some other surf skateboards) which is similar to surfing.
The free moving front trucks teach you to keep the board on the rail, just like in the water or on snow. It lets you make critical turns by doing full body rotations, emulating top to bottom surf-like motion as opposed to side-to-side, toe-to-heel wiggles.
Check out this 18-second video :
Swelltech SurfSkate boards are really nice for surfing mellow ramps and low-grade inclines, e.g. at the skatepark, providing a compelling surfing experience.
Be aware that the super loose front truck results in relatively low stability, making it harder to kick push for everyday transportation – this board is designed mainly for pumping, so kick pushing and maintaining speed will take a bit of practice.
Depending on how you ride, you may also experience some wheel bite, a normal consequence of having a very loose turning truck.
Slide Surf Skateboards
If you’re looking for a less expensive yet quality surf skateboard made at a reputable European skate manufacturer, you may want to look at Slide’s surf skateboard product lineup.
Created by a Taiwanese surfer and skateboarder who designed and engineered the Slide truck, the board uses a spring-loaded multidirectional truck with similar function to other leading surf skate trucks.
Slide has partnered with Australian surfboard equipment company Hot Buttered, a world-renowned brand in the surfing world founded in 1971, which has been manufacturing skates and trucks since 1987 (“OZE” brand).
Hot Buttered, in turn, works with Sancheski, a family-owned company in Northern Spain which has been building skateboards since 1966, making it one of Europe’s oldest skateboard manufacturers. Sancheski is in charge of the Slide brand for Europe.
Just to say this isn’t some obscure, no-name Chinese brand making copycats for a quick profit – even though the boards are actually built in China (like most others) under Sancheski’s supervision.
Sancheski has been continuously improving the design and quality of the products, leveraging its extensive experience in skateboard manufacturing. Improvements include the boxing of the spring to protect it from dirt, the addition of rubber pads for smoother carving, and improved materials quality.
Last year Sancheski also changed the wheels for softer, stone-grind ones for improved traction, stability, and slide control. This year, they introduced brand new revamped models with nice pastel colors. They’ve also made Slide replacement parts readily available – something that had been problematic in the past.
Like most competing surf skates, Slide’s moving front truck allows the rider to pump and generate speed really well like they would on a surfboard. The 165 mm Slide truck is very stable, making it a good choice for new surf skaters of all ages.
The Slide truck is highly adjustable: you can easily tighten up the internal spring for normal cruising and commuting, or loosen it if you want to carve and pump like on a surfboard – using the provided Allen wrench to adjust the front bolt on the truck. The rear truck is a standard aluminum 165 mm truck.
The boards have a nice retro look and provide a pretty good surfing experience when riding on flat ground and small inclines. Riders are generally happy with the truck’s pumping ability, although it may not carve as deep as some other surf trucks.
Slide surf skateboards provide good value for money, being quite cheaper than leading competing boards while still offering good quality craftsmanship. Check out these two models (click on the images to view their pricing in Amazon) :
If you’re new to surf skateboarding, or you’re on a budget but want to practice your surf skills on land and have a blast carving surf-like turns on a surf skate truck, you may consider giving Slide a spin. You’ll get a nice looking decent quality deck and a pretty good surfing feel for an unbeatable price.
Price range: US$ 185 – 270
Carver pioneered the surf skateboard in the late 90s and has paved the way for many other surf skate companies, remaining a leader to date.
They offer a wide range of high-quality decks mounted on a choice of two different surf skate trucks, the C7, and the CX.
The C7 has a spring loaded swivel arm that allows the nose of the board to move from side to side. The truck is extremely adjustable, with multiple levels of advanced tuning to get the feel you want – either tighter or really loose.
The CX is a more regular reverse kingpin truck without a swing arm. It’s a “hybrid” surf and skate truck, but its special geometry and light weight make it more pumpable and tighter turning than most normal RKP trucks.
Both the CX and C7 are designed to provide a surf-like experience. The CX actually turns sharper and is snappier than the C7: the C7 feels like a single fin surfboard while the CX is more like a shortboard.
Nevertheless, the CX is more stable than the C7, hence better suited for normal longboard riding. With the C7, it’s easier to pull tight turns off the back foot, or slide the “fins” (back truck) by putting more weight on the front foot.
Compared to the Swelltech, the C7 handles speed better but is slower to initiate turns due to more constrained movement. Its turning radius is wider and requires harder leaning into turns, as the Swelltech responds better to pressure.
Both the C7 and CX are easy to learn on and great for city pumping and some distance riding – though you should expect quite a hard ab and leg workout.
While the CX is typically considered better for cruising and moving around, both can be used at the skatepark – choose the C7 to surf the bowl or the CX for skate tricks and airs.
Many surfers love the C7 – Carver is the official surf trainer for 7 international surf teams for the 2020 Olympics. Some hardcore surfers, however, feel that Carver boards ride more like a skateboard than a surfboard due to the side-to-side wiggling motion it involves (vs full body rotations).
For this reason, these riders tend to opt for surf skates with freer front truck movement and a bigger focus on body rotation and back foot pressure – which they consider closest to surfing.
The majority of Carver riders, however, rave about the boards’ very high quality and long-term everyday use.
If you go for a Carver, make sure to choose a deck length well suited for your size: you want to be able to stand with your feet at least shoulder wide, else you may find it hard to pump and balance. If you’re a taller rider, go for a longer deck, even if that means a wider turning radius.
Price range: US$322 – 345 (completes)
Smoothstar is an Australian brand which markets surf skateboards using a truck adapter with a swing mechanism, the Thruster System. The Thruster adds an extra axis of rotation to the trucks, similar to other surf trucks we’ve seen earlier.
Like the Swelltech, the Thruster adapter has an internal spring that provides resistance and response to the skater’s body rotation and pumping motion. The spring combines with the bearings inside to enable smooth rail-to-rail transitions and creating a pumping motion.
Smoothstar primary focus is on surfing functionality. They tout their boards as being significantly different from products like Carver’s (they’re actually quite adamant about it). They emphasize their boards truly emulate surfing as opposed to wiggling back and forth as on competing boards – generating speed but not in a true surf style.
They published a comparison test between their Thruster and “another” surf skate truck (likely the C7 ?) which concludes the Thruster turns more, is stronger, has more carve from wedging, offers better transitions, and allows more radical tricks.
Smoothstar’s surf skateboards have indeed gained good recognition among surfers and surf coaches, who praise the surfing feeling of pumping and carving they get on the boards, including longer wheelbase models.
Smoothstar allows you to purchase the Thruster adapter for use with your existing deck and trucks [UPDATE: apparently the company no longer sells the adapter standalone, though last time I checked it still appeared to be available on the Australian site].
Some Smoothstar riders, however, do think the deck sits a bit high off the ground and have a high center of gravity due to the extra layer the adapter adds.
Some riders compare it to the C7 for surf style riding. While the C7 is more stable and ridable for everyday city commuting and pumping, the Thruster offers deeper carves and more of a surfy feel.
All in all, if you’re a surfer (or wannabe) and want something a bit looser and perhaps a bit closer to surfing than a C7, you may want to give the Smoothstar a shot.
Yow Surf Skateboards
Price range: 273 – 296 euros
Yow was started 4 years ago in the Spanish Basque Country. They offer a surf skate adapter for converting your skateboard/longboard into a surf skate.
Yow’s surf skateboards have been improving and are gaining traction in Europe, namely among longboard skateboarders.
What’s unique about Yow is that all parts of their surf skates are manufactured locally by HLC, one of the biggest skateboarding factories in Europe that’s located in the Basque Country.
Yow’s Surf skate System v3 comes in two versions, S4 (thinner resistance spring, for lighter riders) and S5 (thicker spring, for heavy riders).
While the riding feel on a Yow mounted truck is closely inspired from the Smoothstar and C7, Yow has the added advantage of coming with a locking pin, which lets you instantly turn your board back into a regular skate/longboard.
In addition to their surf skate adapter, the brand offers an attractive line of complete surf skateboards.
hopefully, this overview of the surf skateboarding landscape has helped you get a clear idea of what surf skating is, who it is for, and what the main brands and products on the market are.
If you’re a seasoned surfer, you may go for a surf skate complete from Carver (with a C7), Swelltech or Smoothstar. If you’re more of a traditional skater/longboarder, you may prefer to replace your current front truck with a surf skate truck or slap a surf skate adapter between your truck and deck to turn your longboard into a surf skate.
If your goal is to get into surfing or use your skate as cross training before hitting the waves, you’ll opt for a free moving truck with lots of turning. If you also ride your board for transportation and cruising around the city, however, you may look at a less extreme, more stable truck such as a Carver CX or a lockable Yow front truck.
Finally, if you’re a new rider and are not willing to fork out the big bucks for one of these expensive little guys, you may choose a less expensive alternative like Slide to familiarize yourself with surf skateboarding and learn the basics of rail to rail carving, back foot driven surf turns, and effective pumping for speed.