You may not hear about longboard pumping all that often, yet it’s a hot and ongoing topic among those longboarders who’ve discovered it. Longboard pumpers are just as passionate about their discipline as are freeriders, downhill racers, longboard dancers, or freestylers.
Longboard pumping is an alternative to kick pushing for getting your longboard to move fast on flat ground, or even uphill, over both short and long distances. It involves swaying your body back and forth and shifting your weight in a way that makes your longboard perform quick small turns, gaining momentum by leveraging centripetal forces, without your feet ever touching the ground.
Long-distance pumpers can pump their longboard for miles on end at relatively high speed. The following points sum up longboard pumping :
- An addictive way of riding your longboard without push kicking
- A very technical body motion to learn and continuously refine
- An intense full-body workout and cardio training
- An effective and less demanding means of self-propulsion
- A nearly meditative experience revolving on motion and rhythm
- A constant quest to improve your pumping setup
In this post, we’ll take an in-depth look at longboard pumping, what it is and what’s so special about it, what are the techniques involved and how to learn them, and how to choose or build the best setup for pumping.
UPDATE: also check out my newer post on skateboard pump tracks
What is longboard pumping?
Longboard pumping is a subculture in and of itself. Pumpers are a highly committed bunch constantly exchanging on their experiences and knowledge. So what’s all this fuss about longboard pumping?
Most people getting into longboarding start by pushing for getting their board moving, and typically continue with this means of propulsion throughout their longboarding life, e.g. for cruising. In addition to pushing, most longboarders rely on downhill gravity for going fast.
An alternative approach
Pumping, or “skumping” (skating + pumping) is an alternative way of propelling yourself on your longboard. You use your weight as a propelling engine through synchronized swerving movements. Through slight weight shifts from left to right at the right times, you take your longboard into small zig-zags to pick up inertia and speed.
The maneuver is somewhat similar to “tic-tac”, which is when you gain speed on a board by slightly lifting up your front wheels off the ground (by pressing down on the tail) and swinging the front of your board alternately left and right (making a “tic-tac” sound).
When pumping, your wheels don’t leave the ground, but your body motion is somewhat similar.
Pumping vs carving
Pumping is related to carving, pulling successive “S” turns to control your speed namely when riding downhill. Pumping is a more intensive, propulsion-oriented version of it – carving is often used to reduce speed while pumping is for gaining speed.
Pumping (or carving) is not a new concept, other board sports such as ocean surfing have long used it (“rail shifting”) to pick up speed while riding.
Why pump on a longboard?
As Daniel Gesmer, a well-known longboard pumper, puts it: “propelling yourself with turns is an extremely subtle technique, based on very precise, balanced, and rhythmical weight shifts.”
Pushing, on the other hand, comes naturally after some practice. Once you learn to balance on your steering leg and keep your center of gravity stable while kicking with the other leg, pushing can be an effective way to get speed on your longboard.
So why would you want to learn to pump?
Efficient sustained riding
Although pumping is difficult to learn, once you master it you can keep your longboard going for miles with less energy than pushing, simply through a subtle wave-like movement centered around your hips. Pumping on the right setup can be much more efficient and less tiresome for long duration rides.
When done right, pumping is a fluid and powerful motion that can take your longboard faster than through normal pushing over longer rides. When using pushing, your longboard quickly loses momentum in between kicks, whereas with pumping, your continuous body motion maintains a stable momentum (little loss).
Full body workout
Another compelling reason for pumping is the intense full-body workout it provides. While pushing does work your core muscles – abs, lower back, psoas, legs, longboarders tend to push with the same leg, which tends to work the body in an asymmetrical fashion and can lead to muscle imbalances.
Long-distance pushers try to reduce this problem by “skogging“, that is, using both legs alternately for pushing, resulting in a more balanced and efficient approach.
Pumping, however, engages a broader range of muscles, from shoulders to feet. Like pushing, the pumping motion is centered around your core muscles, although in a different way. While pushing requires a strong impulse followed by a relative rest as you let your board glide, pumping requires your muscles to work continuously to get that ongoing motion.
Long-distance longboarding is a discipline of its own kind that can mix both pushing and pumping (see this post for more about long-distance longboarding).
Long-distance pumping (LDP) sessions range from casual 5-10 mile cruises on flat ground to 25+ mile marathons. Strong pumping skills can take your long-distance skating capability to the next level, allowing you to mix up highly efficient pushing and pumping techniques to achieve longer and faster slating sessions.
Longboard pumping technique
Now that we know what longboard pumping is and why it’s a great skill to learn, let’s move on to understanding the actual technique it involves.
Explaining pumping is not easy. Many experts have tried to put it in words, yet descriptions remain abstract until you actually experiment on your longboard. That is, any written explanations can only be useful after you try doing the technique yourself.
Of course, watching videos will also help a lot. But many times, videos alone will not be enough to fully understand the movement. You’ll also need key tips to catch that very special energy-generating motion.
A great resource focusing on long-distance longboarding and pumping is Paved Wave. The site has compiled some of the best longboard pumpers’ explanations and tips about pumping. In this section, I will recap what I find the most important advice, adding my own experience along the way.
The pumping movement
As Paved Wave puts it, “you can think of an S-turn motion starting high in your chest and core, and continuing through your lower body, all the way down through your board, the trucks, and finally the wheels”.
In the following 10-second video clip, you can see a broad, exaggerated version of the pumping body motion :
In the above video, the rider is skating on a special surf skateboard and is actually pumping uphill! Performing such ample body rotations can be exhausting pretty quickly if done for a long time, but it is useful to observe as it highlights the movement quite well.
Long-distance pumpers skating on targeted pumping setups use similar body motions but in an optimized, energy-saving fashion.
Upper body and middle section
The pumping motion starts by initiating a left or right turn through weight shifting and heelside or toeside pressure on the rail. While you turn, you sway your back arm forward, all the way up to your shoulders, a little faster than your turn.
Your arm acts as a rudder to initiate the rotation, making continuous circles which then propagate to your shoulders and torso while turning. That rotation is what gets the pumping going.
The real power, however, comes from your midsection, particularly the muscles below your abs such as the PSOAS which supports your middle and lower back motions. Pumping is all about hip movement. A side-to-side roll of your hips speeds up your turn and adds momentum to your board.
The upper body plays a role in keeping your hips rolling. “Your upper body and arms are always moving ahead of the lower portion of your body as if your lower half is constantly playing catch-up.” (source: Paved Waves). That lateral motion translates into forward motion and speed on your longboard.
Legs and feet
Just like your midsection plays catch-up with your arms, shoulders and upper torso, your feet and legs keep catching up with your midsection. For every pumping turn, you “commit your upper body’s movement and constantly keep your lower body chasing after it”.
So your body is like a big twisting coil, each twist starting with your hands and arms as you enter the turn, then propagating up your upper, middle, then lower body.
As the “rotation wave” in your body reaches your feet (twisting down from your hips, knees and ankles), both your feet push simultaneously on your deck laterally in opposite directions. So assuming you’re doing a frontside (toeside) turn, the ball of your front foot and toes push toward the front rail of your the deck as if trying to smear off the grip tape.
Meanwhile, your back heel pushes the back of the deck backward (opposite the front foot push), again as if trying to smear off the grip tape but towards the back side of the board, potentially making your back wheels lose grip and slide slightly backward.
As you complete your carve, e.g. a toeside carve as illustrated here, you enter the next one, in this case a heelside carve. The foot movement is reversed: your front heel pushes backward toward the back rail while your rear foot toes push forward.
Note that, while you’re still learning, your back foot may initially do little more than help you balance throughout the pump. The back push will likely come naturally after some practice, as you’ll feel it helps add efficiency to your pumping.
Watch the following 15 seconds to see the foot action (only the lower body is shown here) :
To get the most energy out your pumping in this “surf” stance, keep your front foot just behind your truck. Note that there are other, less commonly used pumping stances, such as ski stance and parallel stance, but these are used primarily in slalom racing but not often in cruising / long-distance pumping.
Weighting and unweighting
Another critical aspect of effective pumping is weighting and unweighting, or compression and decompression.
Daniel Gesner explains the concept pretty well. Weighting (or compressing) means putting more weight on your longboard than your actual weight. This is done by pushing and getting low while getting into the turn.
For example, in a toeside turn you compress by pressing hard on your front rail and letting your body weight drop into it. This increases wheel traction and steering speed, helping you gain momentum.
Then as you’re exiting the turn, you “catch yourself and quickly push back upward” to decompress, taking as much of your weight as possible off the board. Imagine being on a mechanical bathroom scale, and lifting yourself up to get the needle down toward zero, without actually jumping and your feet leaving the scale. That’s what unweighting is.
When you unweight, aka decompress, after pumping a turn, you offload your board and allow it to use all the energy accumulated during the compression and translate it into speed. It works like a spring: compressing into the tight turn builds up energy, and uncompressing as you get out of the turn releases that energy and translates it into momentum.
The following 14-second excerpt provides a very good example of a weighting-unweighting technique in longboard pumping :
Notice how the rider almost jumps off his board to decompress, but without his feet actually leaving the deck. Also note how low his deck drops when he compresses and puts all his weight down into it – he’s using a flexy deck, which helps a lot with the bouncing but may also lead to loss of energy depending on how the pumping is done.
How does weighting / unweighting when pumping speed you up?
When you push or pull on any object that is turning in a circle, its velocity will increase as a result of the centripetal forces generated. Each time you weight and unweight, you basically push / “unpush” your longboard towards / from the ground, with your grippy wheels pushing you back with an opposing force. The accrued speed results from these forces.
The video examples we’ve seen so far – namely the surf skate excerpt and the weighting-unweighting excerpt – involve very ample, exaggerated pumping movements for transferring energy into the longboard and gaining speed.
For distance skating, however, such broad and intense motion would be hard to sustain over long periods of time. Distance pumping requires more subtle, narrow, yet efficient movements in the upper body and the hips in order to manage your effort level over time and save energy.
To achieve this, distance skaters alternate wide and narrow turns, strong and light pumping impulses, and broad and tight hip thrusts across carves. The following 24-second video excerpt shows an example of such energy-saving pumping technique :
Diversifying your pumping turns this way can help postpone fatigue and injuries from performing the same repetitive movements during very long rides.
For an in-depth look into long-distance longboarding in general, see my article on distance skating.
How to learn longboard pumping
It’s no secret: learning how to pump on your longboard requires practice, practice, practice. Many longboarders start to physically get a feel for the right mechanics after 15 or 20 miles of going at it.
Depending on your skills and riding frequency, it may take weeks of practicing and building the right muscles before you really get your longboard to pump, particularly if you’re using a typical beginner board, that is a drop deck board on the longer side with both trucks equally turny. See the section on pumping setups further below.
Although pumping can be demanding during the learning phase as you’re trying to pin down the right motion, once you get the movement you should be able to easily pump for miles, as long as you’re reasonably fit – e.g. you’re able to walk 5 miles without any problem.
Here’s a series of steps described by John Gilmour, another famous pumper, which may help you speed up your learning curve :
- If you have access to a regular skateboard, start by learning to tic-tac on it, using the kicktail to lift off your front wheels slightly and shifting your board’s nose left and right with your front foot in order to gain momentum. Tic-tacking will get you familiar with the back arm motion and torso twisting required to pick up speed.
- Once you’re comfortable tic-tacking, your next step will be to get your hands on a short longboard, as short as possible with very loose and turny trucks (e.g. Seismic trucks) and soft bushings – regular trucks with hard bushings would prevent you from learning the technique.
- Start practicing pumping on a surface with very good grip (no slippery spots). Give your board a small push to get some initial momentum, then turn the board by pressing hard on your rail with your front foot to make your trucks turn while pushing back laterally with your back foot. Keep practicing turns left and right, just like tic-tacking but without lifting your front wheels.
- If your longboard is not gaining any speed as you carve these turns, you probably don’t have the right timing down just yet. Is so, try getting on a slight incline that’s not steep enough for your board to roll on its own. Try the pumping carves again on it: if you get your board moving, it means you’re learning to pump.
- Once you’re capable of keeping going on a very soft incline just through pumping, it’s time for you to move back on flat ground and perfect your carves until you get that longboard rolling without halting. After a while, you may even try pumping slightly uphill – although that may be a bit of a stretch on a regular longboard – again, see the setup section.
- If you’re still unable to keep going on your longboard by doing these carves, try pumping around in a large circle, always in the same direction, to practice carving on one side. Make sure you do that on a surface with lots of traction since you’re going to be doing a lot of turning! When pumping in circles, you’ll naturally find it easier to circle front side, that is by doing toeside carves. If you’re a regular footer, that means riding in a clockwise circle, and if you’re goofy, counterclockwise. On each carve, the hard pushing onto your front rail eventually combines with the centripetal turning force to speed up your board.
- One last thing you may do to help you learn pumping is finding a longboard with a large and very flexy deck. The bouncing will help your pumping, although on the flip side you will be losing more energy and speed through that vertical bouncing momentum.
Choosing the right pumping longboard setup
Choosing or assembling a good longboard setup for optimal pumping is a much-discussed topic and an astonishingly passionate one.
As is the case with most longboarding styles, with enough practice and skills you can pump on pretty much any longboard. A dedicated setup, however, will be much easier to learn and pump on.
What are the main characteristics of a good pumping setup? Let’s take a look.
Pumping longboard decks
UPDATE (12/2019): the brand new Loaded Omakase, compact and super-wide at 33.5″ x 10″, hybrid bamboo and fiberglass construction, uplifted rails for max leverage, effective wheelflares for zero wheelbite, a short and beefy kicktail, is an amazing deck for pumping despite its stiffer flex. It’s very reasonably priced for such a high-quality deck. See my review of the Omakase here.
While the most important part of a pumping setup is the trucks (see below), choosing the right deck can be a very important factor in a longboard’s ability to be pumped on.
The main things to look at in a pumping deck are wheelbase, deck flex, mount type and concave.
- Wheelbase: shorter wheelbase decks are easier to get pumping than longer ones. It’s worth noting, though, that I for one learned to pump on a 36″ pintail deck with a 26.5″ wheelbase (quite long) thanks to my very pumpable trucks. Even a 30″ wheelbase deck can be made into a pumping board using the right trucks (keep reading). As a rule of thumb, a smaller deck will allow you to start pumping at a lower speed, while a larger deck will let you pump faster once at higher speeds.
- Flex: a deck with some amount of flex helps generate power by driving your carves deeper. Too much flex, however, can result in loss of power from the deck bend. Try to pick a deck with bamboo or fiberglass in it. I don’t regret choosing the bamboo version of my Landyachtz Chief pintail as it’s just springy enough flex to help my pumping.
- Mount type: decks that ride higher work better for pumping. Topmounts are much easier to pump on than drop-throughs because of better leverage over the trucks. The lower pivot point in a drop-through hinders your ability to pump effectively.
- Since you’ll be doing powerful lateral and downward thrusts with your feet, look for a deck with slight concave pockets (and perhaps a kicktail) to hug both your feet throughout the pump pushes. You may also want a deck wide enough for your feet sideways for more leverage and comfort while pumping.
There is a very broad range of decks matching the above characteristics that you can use for a pumping setup. An example of an outstanding deck for pumping is the astonishing Loaded Icarus – see my in-depth review here.
Longboarders who are really serious about long-distance pumping often go for a Gbomb or Bossa deck which are high-end, pricier decks specifically designed for long-distance skating. With the right setup, these decks offer the best possible long distance pumping capabilities.
Long-distance pumping trucks
As I mentioned, the trucks are going to make a huge difference in how pumpable your longboard is. The following are some essential considerations to keep in mind :
- The easiest trucks for learning to pump are loose trucks with a high turning angle (in the front). Stiffer trucks will require more effort for pumping.
- Pumping trucks are typically TKP (traditional kingpin) and narrower than typical longboard trucks.
- Softer bushings make the board more maneuverable and allow you to better gain momentum through pumping, however, harder bushings will let you get more speed once the board gained momentum. Start with softer bushings (and smaller wheelbase) for learning, then move towards harder bushings and longer decks as you master the technique.
- For greater “pumpability” your rear truck should be more stable than your front – see wedging below.
While longboarders in general use Reverse Kingpin (RKP trucks), the best trucks for pumping are TKP trucks such as Bennett, Tracker, Seismic, Original, and Revenge trucks, which are thinner and have a very tight turning radius. I personally find Bear trucks (Polar Bears namely) to be quite pumpable as well.
If you’re on a budget, a classical
If you can afford them, Don’t Trip Poppy TKP trucks are the cream of the cream, a higher-end ($150+), highly customizable precision trucks that dedicated longboard pumpers worldwide consider the gold standard for long-distance pumping.
As mentioned, good pumping truck setups require a front truck with small turning radius and a more stable truck in the back. To try to achieve optimal combinations, longboard pumpers add wedging to their trucks to tweak their truck angles, affecting turnability vs stability.
Pumpers often increase the baseplate angle of their front truck to make it more turny by adding inclined pads (wedging). And since the rear truck needs to be more stable, they often use a wider truck and lower its angle – sometimes as low as 0º.
A common configuration I mentioned earlier, using normal trucks as opposed to pricier dedicated pumping trucks, is to have a Bennett truck in the front wedged 15º and a Tracker RaceTrack slalom truck for the rear dewedged 7º.
Note that the more you dewedge your back truck, the higher the deck, and so the faster the initial speed required to start pumping effectively.
An alternative to wedging / dewedging to make a setup more pumpable is to use a bracket setup, e.g. using Gbomb or Bossa brackets. Brackets extend your deck and support the trucks, allowing you to do a lot of customization (truck angles, distance to deck etc). They are the ultimate setup for long distance pumpers but are also a pricer alternative to using dewedged regular trucks.
Another, distinct style of trucks designed specifically for pumping are so-called surfskate trucks. Surfskate trucks have a surf feel that’s very different from LDP trucks like the Don’t Trip Poppy.
When using surfskate trucks, your pumping motion involves more of a full-body shoulder-to-core twist, vs. a more subtle hip and heel-toe movement when riding on LDP trucks. To see the difference again between these two pump styles, go back up to the beginning of this post and check out the first video I included (LDP) vs the second one (surfskate).
Leading surfskate trucks include the renowned Gullwing Sidewinder, the Carver C7 and CX, and the SwellTech truck. The goal of these trucks is to replicate the pumping feel of a surfboard, where the surfer gains speed through full-body rotations and rail shifting. See my in-depth post about surf skateboards here.
These trucks have amazing turning capabilities, are very easy to pump on and smooth carving. They actually allow you to start moving uphill from a still position without any pushing!
However, because they have much more lean than a pure LDP truck such as a Poppy, a more ample body twist (surf style) is required to keep moving. Such motion is hard to sustain over long distances. Surfskate trucks also don’t maintain speed very well – although some do better than others.
Pure LDP trucks like DT Poppys, on the other hand, have more of a conventional truck geometry and are harder to get moving from a slow speed. However, once it’s moving an LDP truck will have better pumping ability with less effort and at higher speeds.
Because they are so much fun to ride on the sidewalk, in parking lots and driveways, some longboarders (like myself) are big fans of these surfskate trucks. Some riders successfully use these trucks for long(er) distance pumping by using longer decks (35-40″) and playing on bushing durometer and size.
Pumping longboard wheels
For pumping, you want wheels with high rebound and size relative to your deck (bigger wheels for long decks). Stability is key when carving, so you generally want softer, grippier wheels with a wide contact patch (60mm +) and square lips.
For long-distance pumping, a diameter of 75-78 mm is good, but if riding on bad roads you can even go bigger e.g. 80-85 mm provided your setup allows it without wheelbite – *cough* bracket setup.
Choose a 78A – 80A durometer for your wheels, optionally with a lower durometer for the back wheels than the front for improved traction. Prefer wheels with an offset core.
The best wheels for long-distance pumping include Kegels, Sidewinders, and the pricier but super-fast Seismic Speedvents (Amazon). Many pumpers consider the ABEC-11 Re-Flys as being the best wheels for a pumping setup, although they are quite costly. If you’re a beginner and don’t want to invest in expensive wheels though, a set of 75mm Orangatang In Heats can work quite well for a pumping setup.
If you’re new to longboard pumping, this is a whole new world for you to discover. To me, pumping has been somewhat of a revelation, ever since I learned about it it has been my main focus in longboarding.
Of course, getting into longboard pumping doesn’t prevent you from other riding styles as well. For example, many long distance skaters combine pushing and pumping to achieve the longest and most efficient rides – specialized brands such as Gbomb offer longboards optimized for both styles.
With the right setup, you can combine pumping and carving with cruising or freestyling, be it on a pintail cruiser or a kicktailed street hybrid. Or, you may decide to surf the boardwalk on a surfskate, and perhaps tweak its bushings to make it more of a long-distance rider.
Overall, the secret of pumping is in the turny trucks, the deck flex, and the soft wheels. And of course, the right body motion and rhythm. For a deeper dive into the world of pumping, check out this Facebook community.
Final warning : once you get pumping, there’s no going back!
Featured photo courtesy of Gbomb Longboards