Grip tape on your longboard provides a textured surface that prevents your feet from slipping off the deck. The grippy surface helps you maintain a secure footing on your board.
Grip tape is made of a layer of coarse-grit, sandpaper-like material – often from aluminum oxide or silicon carbide – applied to a sticky backing. The material is durable and can withstand the wear and tear of skateboarding.
Some riders choose to go grip-free to let the beauty of their deck show through, or due to their style of riding (see section below).
Riding your longboard without grip tape is definitely possible but it can challenging or even risky as you have much less foot grip. If you have good skills, you may choose to go grip-less for aesthetics or for certain riding styles. There are also alternatives to coarse grip tape you can opt for.
Why longboard without grip tape?
One common motivation for removing the grip tape on your longboard decks is looks. If your deck has a beautiful top layer of bamboo, cork, basalt, or some other noble material, you may want it to expose it to everyone’s eyes.
The other main reason for considering removing grip tape from your longboard deck is riding feel and freedom of movement. Some advanced longboarders like to have little or no grip tape so their feet can move more freely around the board and for more direct contact with the deck.
Longboard dancing, for example, is best done on partially grip-free decks. Some LDP longboarders and surf skaters may also prefer less grip on their decks (see below).
While street skaters (on traditional street decks) and longboard freestylers typically need grip tape for doing kick and flip tricks, rail grinds, transitions etc, some longboarders choose to go grip-free or use a more mellow alternative to coarse grip tape.
Longboarding without grip tape, however, requires more advanced skills to avoid slipping and hurting yourself. It’s not a good idea for beginner riders, as their deck will be too slippery.
Let’s briefly look at the main longboard riding styles and whether removing the grip tape is a good idea for each style
Do you need grip tape for longboard dancing?
Longboard dancing involves a lot of board walking, cross-stepping, and spinning on a large dancer deck. As a result, you need a balance between grip and smooth foot sliding for transitions between steps and foot repositioning.
Generally, dancing boards only need grip along the rails for continuous carving, and on the kicks for nose riding and pop tricks. The center of the deck should be left largely ungripped for freely moving and performing your dance moves.
Grip tape for cruising and distance pushing?
For general cruising you just need some grip around where your feet are when you’re pushing and carving. You don’t really need grip anywhere else, so you might cut out some grip tape for your deck color and texture to show through.
When pushing long distances, especially on varied terrain, having good traction can be beneficial. Grip tape gives you better control over the board.
Long-distance pushing requires a stable platform to gain speed efficiently. Grip tape helps ensure that your feet remain securely planted on the deck, giving you better stability and control while pushing. It helps prevent foot slippage and makes for more efficient energy transfer during each push.
With proper grip on the board, you also need less effort to keep your feet in place when distance pushing, which helps minimize foot fatigue and gives you a more comfortable pushing experience over extended periods.
Grip tape for freeride?
Freeride longboarding involves slides, tricks, and tech maneuvers while riding down hills at moderate speeds.
Advanced freeriders sometimes prefer less grip on their boards for smooth and controlled slides. If you have the skills, you can rely on body positioning and weight distribution (and gloves) instead of grip tape.
On the other hand, aggressive carving, quick turns, and freeride tricks typically require a locked-in foot position. Grip tape gives you the necessary traction to keep your feet securely in place and reduce the risk of slipping off the board.
In general, grip tape is a personal preference thing when it comes to freeride, Some riders prefer a full grip tape setup for maximum traction and stability, while others opt for a partial grip tape setup that allows for a more “slip-and-slide” feel.
Note, however, that grip tape is essential for freeriding when in a wet or damp environment. If you primarily ride in dry conditions and on smooth pavement, the need for grip tape is debatable.
Also, if you like to do manuals, shuvits, and other tricks when freeriding, you will need precise foot placement and tactile feedback for board control, so you’ll definitely want grip tape on your deck.
Grip tape for freestyle?
Grip tape is essential for freestyle longboarding. Freestyle tricks require precise foot placement and control. Grip tape helps you maintain a secure footing during tricks.
Grip is crucial for landing aerials, flips, and spins, it helps absorb the impact and keeps your feet in place, reducing the chance of slipping upon landing.
Freestyle tricks require you to maintain a solid connection between your feet and the board. Grip tape allows you to better control the pressure on the deck for manuals, board flips, grabs, board spins etc.
A gripped deck surface is also essential for bowls, ramps, and transitions. It provides a secure footing and traction for power, speed, and control in transitions. It’s even more necessary in the skatepark if the surface is dusty or slick.
Grip tape for downhill?
Grip tape is unavoidable for downhill longboarding. In high-speed descents, you need maximum control and stability, and grip tape provides the grip you need to maintain control over the board during tight turns and corners.
The grip helps you make precise adjustments without your feet slipping. It keeps your feet firmly in place and provides a secure connection with the board across vibrations and bumps.
With grip tape, you also feel the board underfoot more precisely and get better foot feedback, which helps with adjusting your body position faster.
Grip tape for surf skate?
When doing surf-style carving and pumping on a surf skate, you generally need grip tape for decent foot grip, control, and stability.
Grip tape on a surf skate helps emulate the feel of surf wax on a surfboard, and the feeling of pushing against water. It helps you generate power during pumping motions, sharp turns, and aggressive carving like on a surfboard.
Grip tape helps your feet remain firmly planted on the board and enhances your ability to dig into the board to gain speed in turns.
That said, some surf skaters like riding barefoot like on a surfboard. Grip tape is generally too harsh for such riding. That’s the reason skateboards in the 1970s often didn’t have grip tape (carpet was sometimes used).
Barefoot riders often prefer rubberized or foam grip tape alternatives, which provide a softer and more cushioned grip surface while still offering traction and control. Surf skates like Swelltech or Smoothstar come with comfy foam pads (surf-style) for barefoot riding.
When you might definitely need grip tape on your longboard
As I mentioned earlier, grip tape is typically required for freestyle tricks, street riding, or park. It’s also highly recommended for high-speed downhill.
For other longboard styles, if your level allows it, you can ride partially or completely grip-free to get a different feel.
If you do however, make sure your shoes and deck always stay free from moisture, dust, sand, grass, soda, water, dog poo, and anything greasy or slippery.
Your feet should have more traction on your board than your wheels have on pavement! You can probably deal with an unexpected slide of your wheels, but not with your feet slipping off.
Riding grip-free is more dangerous than you may realize as you really have a lot less grip. If riding completely tape-free, be careful when doing really sharp turns.
Another good reason to run (or replace) grip tape is that it helps preserve your longboard deck’s top layer. When your grip rubs off, your feet often end up scrubbing off some of the artwork or color. The wood will get dirty quickly and will be hard to clean. Grip tape is easy to put on and remove.
A good compromise is to use clear grip (e.g. Lucid Grip) or another alternative to traditional coarse grip tape. Finer grip also won’t ruin your shoes as quickly.
Just make sure that, before applying grip, the exposed wood is sealed with paint or varnish. Otherwise, dirt will get ingrained and the deck will remain grubby-looking.
Alternatives to grip tape
As mentioned, a popular alternative to traditional coarse grip tape on a longboard is to use clear grip, which usually comes in the form of a spray bottle and clear glass grit that you sprinkle on top of the spayed liquid.
You can add clear grip dots or small clear patches where your feet are positioned most of the time.
The advantage of clear grip is that it reveals the wood/bamboo top layer of your deck and lets the design show through. The grip it provides is more mellow than traditional grip tape, so make sure it’s adequate for the kind of riding you do (see above).
Note that in some cases, clear grip may end up looking ugly as the dirt might show even more after some time. You can try to clean it with a razor blade but it won’t always work.
Spray grip, paint additives, marine grips, adhesive pads
Spray grip is another good option. While not as durable as real grip tape, it’s super easy to apply, including on longboard decks with lots of curvature.
Other options include slip-resistant paint additives (e.g. Sharkskin) or marine grips used on boat decks and jetskis. The latter work better than standard grip tape in wet or muddy conditions.
Adhesive grip pads are another alternative to grip tape. They are pre-cut, self-adhesive pads that can be applied to the deck of a longboard. They have a textured surface that enhances grip.
Deck refinishing, grip tape cutout
You can also opt for deck refinishing, which involves sanding or scoring the surface of your deck to create texture and improve grip with sandpaper and abrasive tools. You do need to be an experienced rider and have woodworking skills, though.
Another option is to cut the grip tape on your longboard to reveal part of your deck.
If you choose to go grip-free, wear shoes with grippy soles. Good skate shoes like Vans have specialized rubber soles and patterned treads designed to provide solid grip.
Be aware, however, that even the grippiest of shoes will end up slipping on a bare deck, especially with damp soles.