Many people are attracted to longboarding because it feels so great being able to surf on land, be it for commuting or for more intense activities like carving or speed riding downhill.
A question that comes up very often, however, is : is longboarding hard ? My short answer : it’s is not hard if you’re looking to cruise around and enjoy relaxed riding at the beach or the park. You will just need to work on your stance and balance, your foot pushing, turning, and foot braking.
The longer answer, however, is “it depends”. Many factors get into play in whether longboarding will be hard or easy for you to start. These factors include your age, your fitness level and physical abilities, what you want to do with your longboard, the type of longboard you’ll ride, and the environment you’ll be riding in.
People often ask me how hard longboarding is for an older person – I’m in my forties, quite old by skateboarding standards. True, a large part of the longboarder population is composed of younger riders, college or high school students. But an increasing number of mature and even older people are now getting into the sport.
So how old is too old for longboarding ? Of course it depends on your physical condition, since longboarding is quite more demanding on the knees and muscles than, say, walking or golfing. Longboarding can be an extreme sport, and a potentially dangerous one when it comes to downhill speed.
However, longboarding for older guys (and girls) can also be a mellow, relaxing, low impact activity, simply focusing on riding smooth and carving nice curves. For this kind of riding, I like to compare it to Tai Chi on wheels. I’ve seen riders in their 60s ride around really nicely with minimal stress on their body.
Older people who want to start also worry they’ll look silly, since they’ll often find themselves surrounded with kids when riding. My view is, older riders who are fit enough to longboard won’t look anything silly.
Also, unlike traditional skateboarding, longboarding derives from the surf culture, in which kids, elderlies, and everyone in between mingle seamlessly in the ocean.
Contrary to what one may think, most young longboarders actually love seeing older riders around them.
So if you fear you’re too old to learn longboarding, but are in good enough shape for some easy riding, I suggest you get a large stable board (see below) and some protection pads, find a smooth surface, and give it a go.
Whatever your age, longboarding will be easier for you if you’re a generally fit person. Balance is of course a key aspect. Some people have great natural balancing skills, but even if that’s not your case, you can build up your balance skills quite fast by practicing on a balance board – a safe and fun way to prep for longboarding.
Another factor in determining how difficult it’ll be for you to start longboarding, is joint mobility, particularly knees, hips, and ankles. Maintaining your stance involves constant ankle and knee readjustments. Sharp turning will also put your joints to work – including your hips.
Foot pushing and braking require flexing your front knee to lower yourself and allow your rear foot to get to the ground.
The more mobility you have in your hips, shoulders and neck, the more comfortable you’ll be carving turns and changing directions.
The other sports you do (or have done) can help you a lot. People involved in board sports such as snowboarding, surfing or wakeboarding typically don’t find longboarding very hard, as the stance is similar. If you are – or have been – a bike rider, gymnast or martial artist, odds are you’ll be off to a head start in longboarding.
Is longboarding hard for a heavier rider ? It depends on how heavy and how agile he/she is. Some bigger riders are surprisingly swift moving. If that’s your case, your weight may actually come as an advantage in gaining momentum on your board, particularly when pushing or carving (see : how fast can you go on a longboard).
One thing you’ll need to do is pick a board strong enough to support your weight over time. You want a sturdy deck with at least 8 or 9 plies of maple wood, or better yet, with some bamboo layers. You may want a bit of flex for comfort and shock absorption, but not too much as it’ll make for a weaker deck.
Especially for someone over 200 lbs, having a low center of gravity on the longboard makes pushing, foot braking, and turning easier. Thus a drop deck (platform lower than the mounting holes at the ends) is a good choice as it’s lower to the ground.
Drop-through mounts (the trucks are mounted through a cutout in the deck), however, tend to weaken the deck structure and make it less resistant.
If you’re heavy, the pressure from your weight when turning is more likely to cause wheel bite (wheels touching the deck), so a longboard with cutouts (deck is cut where the wheels are) will facilitate turning for you.
Good strong boards for heavier riders include the Rayne Demonseed and Rayne Nemesis (stiff boards with concave). The Landyachtz Switch also has a solid 10-ply Canadian maple drop deck with a significant drop (low deck).
Heavy riders also recommend the Bustin IBack and Bustin EQ, which have beefy decks. The Nelson Manta Ray and the Comet Voodoo Doll are often mentioned as well.
Riders weighing around 280 lb also ride the Santa Cruz Flying Eye and Heads or Tails comfortably, and like these boards for their very sturdy drop decks. Bigger guys also often rave about the Earthwing Big Hoopt topmount longboard with cutaways.
We’ve talked about how mellow cruising on a longboard is not hard to learn for most riders, including older and heavier riders. How easy or hard longboarding is also depends on the riding style you plan to pursue.
Freestyle, for example, requires a lot of control and balance to perform street tricks such as nose rides or manuals, or jumps on ramps.
Freeriding and downhill involve riding at speed, and require you to master braking techniques beyond basic foot stomping – won’t work at high speeds. Carving (pulling successive S turns) and sliding are essential advanced skills to have for speed control, and these are not easy to master – expect some crashing in the process !
Another factor that will determine how hard longboarding is for you is the board itself. Therefore, it’s crucial you pick the right board to start with.
As I mentioned for heavier riders, a drop deck longboard is a good choice to start with because the lower center of gravity makes for better stability and better grip. Your foot is closer to the ground which allows pushing with less effort.
Go for a longer (38″+) and wider (9-10″) board – smaller boards require more effort for balance. Bigger decks give you more room for moving and adjusting your stance, they are great for beginners.
A pintail shape (pointy in the back) is a good and stable choice for relaxed cruising. Once you build your skills, you can change for a symmetrical freeride board.
Wider and softer wheels also help you by making your ride smoother over cracks and bumps, and grippier on the ground. A bigger board with larger wheels will make longboarding easier for you at first – even though it’ll typically be less agile and harder to turn.
A final aspect that affects how easy or hard longboarding is for you as a new rider, is where you ride. Riding on a smooth, even surface is easier than riding on bumpy or cracked ground, such as streets full of potholes or gravel alleys.
As I mentioned, a larger longboard with big soft wheels can help absorb shocks and roll smoother over small obstacles. Still, the easiest way to learn is to find a nice even road such as a rural road, quiet car park or cul de sac.
Longboarding on busy city streets with lots of traffic, or on broken sidewalks, will make your life as a beginner longboarder much harder – although streets with more traffic sometimes have less potholes because they are better maintained.
If you can find a shallow hill that tapers off at the bottom, you can ease into the sport by practicing your stance and balance while rolling gently with minimal push and without having to brake.
Let’s finish with a quick look at the actual skills you’ll need to master and their difficulty.
Longboarding skills you’ll need
The basic skills you’ll need to acquire initially are :
- Stepping on the longboard
- Maintaining balance while rolling
- Pushing with your foot
- Turning left and right
- Foot braking
How hard is it to master these longboarding skills ?
Step on your longboard at rest
Difficulty : relatively easy. First you need to find out what your stance is, i.e. which foot goes forward and which goes in the back. Have someone push you from behind while you are standing, and see which foot you natural put forward to keep your balance.
If you find this step difficult, try getting a balance board to work on your balancing skills. You can also try standing wider or narrower so as to find the best stance for you.
Maintain balance with the board rolling
Difficulty : medium. Place your feet at about a 45º angle relative to your board – somewhere in between perpendicular to the deck, and facing forward. Keep your knees bent and your arms slightly open. Look in the direction you’re going.
If maintaining balance while moving feels challenging for you, make sure your longboard deck is long and wide enough, preferably low hanging (drop deck) with concave, and your wheels are wide, square shaped, and soft.
Try to lower your center of gravity by bending your knees more.
Pushing with your foot
Difficulty : medium. Face your front foot forward (towards your board nose) and flex your front knee so as to lower yourself such that your rear foot touches the ground.
Try to keep your gravity center stable as you push, with your back straight and both your feet facing forward. After the push bring your rear foot back onto the board, and rotate both feet so they’re again at a 45º with the deck.
If pushing is hard for you, you can try pushing with your front foot instead (works better for me). You can also try with a lower deck board, reducing the distance your foot has to drop to hit the ground (less effort).
Turning left and right
Difficulty : harder. Turning requires good balance in motion and a good feel for how the board reacts. Shift your weight forward or backward and press into the longboard right or left edge with either your toes or heels.
A balance board can greatly help you build your turning skill without risk of crashing.
Difficulty : medium. Drop your back foot to the ground just like for pushing, and create friction with your foot sole to slow down the longboard.
If you find this challenging to do, start on flat ground, push a little to gain some small momentum, then practice stopping at very low speed.