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: longboarding is not hard if you’re looking to cruise around and enjoy relaxed riding at the beach or the park. You do have to work on your stance and balance, learn to push, lean to turn, and foot brake.
The longer answer is “it depends”. Many factors get into play in whether longboarding will be hard or easy for you to start. These include your age, fitness level and physical abilities, what you want to do with your longboard, the type of longboard you’ll be riding, and the kind of environment you’ll be riding in.
Longboarding difficulty: age
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? It of course 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 by 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.
Check out my in-depth post about being too old for longboarding.
Longboarding difficulty: fitness level
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 such as the highly popular Indo Board (Amazon link). A balance board is 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.
Check out my other post about longboarding as a workout.
Longboarding difficulty: rider weight
Is longboarding harder 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 my post how fast can you go on a longboard).
One thing you need to watch out for is to 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.
An example of a good strong board for heavier riders is the Landyachtz Switchblade (Amazon link), a solid 10-ply Canadian maple drop-through deck with a significant drop (lowered deck).
Heavy skaters also recommend the Bustin EQ, which has a beefy deck. The Nelson Manta Ray and the Comet Voodoo Doll are also sturdy longboards for bigger riders.
Riders with weight up to 280 lb also like the Santa Cruz Flying Eye and the Heads or Tails for their very sturdy drop decks.
UPDATE: some of the above models have been discontinued. If you’re a heavier rider looking for a strong board, you can’t go wrong with a Loaded, they make some of the strongest boards on the market. See this post for my guide.
Longboarding difficulty: riding style
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 requires lots of control and balance to perform street tricks such as nose rides, manuals, and kickflips, and to slash ramps and bowls at skateparks.
These require a lot of practice to not only train your muscles and joints, but also develop an intuition for popping your board or shifting your body weight by the right amount and with optimal timing, often involving extreme positions.
Freeriding and downhill speed boarding involve riding fast and require you to master effective speed control techniques beyond basic foot braking – which won’t work at those kinds of speeds. See how to stop on a longboard.
Carving (doing tight turns) and sliding are essential skills for speedboarding, albeit ones with a rather steep learning curve. You’ll need a fair amount of patience and determination – as well as some serious protective gear.
Longboarding difficulty: type of longboard
Another factor that affects how hard longboarding will likely be for you, is your board itself. It’s crucial that you pick the right board to start with.
As I mentioned with regards to 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 you to push or brake with less effort.
Go for a longer (38″+) and wider (9-10″) board – smaller boards require more balancing effort. Bigger decks give you more room to move and adjust your stance, they are great for beginners.
Once you build up your balancing skills, you may want to try a pintail (narrower and pointy in the back) which can also be fun for relaxed cruising, although topmounts are typically not as stable as a drop-through (that will also depend on the trucks).
Wider and softer wheels also make your life much easier by making your ride smoother over cracks and bumps, and grippier on pavement. A bigger board with larger wheels will thus help your longboarding at first, although at the expense of some agility and turnability.
Longboarding difficulty: riding environment
A final aspect that affects how easy or hard longboarding is for new riders, 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 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 smooth rural road, quiet car park or cul de sac.
Riding 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 may have fewer 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
Let’s look at how hard mastering these longboarding skills may be for you.
Stepping on your longboard while standing still
Difficulty : relatively low. First, you need to find out what your stance is, i.e. which foot goes forward and which goes in the back. More about footedness and stance here.
If you find this step difficult, You can try standing wider or narrower to find your most natural stance is. You can also get a balance board to practice your balancing skills.
Maintaining balance while the board rolls
Difficulty: medium. Place your front foot at about a 45º angle relative to your board, and your back foot at 90º (perpendicular). Keep your knees bent and your arms slightly open, and lower your center of gravity.
If maintaining your balance while moving seems difficult, you may want to try a longer and wider deck, preferably drop deck, with big and soft wheels.
Pushing with your foot
Difficulty: medium. Turn your front foot forward (facing towards your board nose) and flex your front knee to lower your rear foot until it touches the ground.
Try to keep your gravity center stable as you push, with both your feet facing forward. After the push, bring your rear foot back onto the board and turn both feet to their initial position.
If you find pushing hard, you can try pushing with your front foot (“mongo”, that works better for me). You can also get a lower riding board to reduce the distance your foot has to drop to touch the ground (less effort).
Turning left and right
Difficulty: harder. Turning requires good balancing, you need to shift your weight forward or backward and press into the longboard’s right edge or left edge with your toes or heels.
Again, a balance board can help you build your turning skill without risking crashing.
Difficulty: medium. Drop your back foot to the ground just like pushing, creating friction with your foot sole to slow down the longboard.
If you find this challenging, start on flat ground, push a little to gain some small momentum, then practice stopping at very low speed.
Check out my other post for important tips on beginner skills, and how to learn them.
Featured photo: “Dig Deep” by @ChristianRosillo – Rider: @camilocespedes – Courtesy Loaded Boards