If you’re interested in starting to skate, one of the first questions you may have is : should I go for a skateboard or longboard, a very commonly asked and relevant question for a beginner getting into the sport.
The short answer :
Get a classic “popsicle” skateboard if you want to :
- Learn street moves and skatepark tricks
- Move around quickly and with agility in crowded urban areas
- Have something that’s easy to carry and store
On the other hand, get a longboard if you want to :
- Chill ride in the park
- Commute long distances
- Ride really fast
- Learn old style tricks
Now, if your objectives are a bit of a mix between the 2 groups above, you have two other options :
- Get a regular skateboard with big longboard wheels wheels mounted on it.
- Get a “hybrid” longboard or small cruiser
In this post, we look at common skating goals, and based on these goals, which of a skateboard or longboard (or one of the other options) is your best bet.
But first, let’s briefly talk about what distinguishes a skateboard from a longboard.
See also: Do skateboarders hate longboarders?
Skateboard vs longboard characteristics
I think we can safely say – without offending anyone, although some skateboarders are touchy on the subject – that longboards are a special type of skateboard. Neverthless, for the purpose of this topic I’ll use “skateboard” to refer to the classic, 32″ popsicle-shaped boards we often see ridden by kids jumping off curbs or flying around in skateparks.
Longboards are generally bigger than skateboards. Length varies a lot, but even a short longboard will usually be wider and have bigger trucks and bigger softer wheels than a skateboard. There are exceptions, however, such as “hybrid” and “mini cruiser” longboards (read on for more about them)
With respect to length, while most skateboard decks are a little over 30″ , longboards can range from 24″ to 48″.
Longboards often have a longer wheelbase, which measures the distance between the trucks. Having the wheels further apart plays a big role in stability when riding fast.
Longboard deck shapes also vary enormously – while skateboards pretty much all have the same classic 8″ to 30″ wide popsicle shape. Longboards can be symmetrical or directional, drop platform, pintail, have wheel cutouts, rocker, camber, more or less concave … The combinations are endless.
These are in short, the main distinguishing features between skateboards and longboards. With that out of the way, let’s turn our attention to which works best for the kind of riding you plan to do.
1. Easy riding : skateboard or longboard ?
If your primary goal is to cruise leisurely around town and parkways, a longboard will probably be a better choice than a skateboard.
If you’re a beginner, learning to stand on a regular skateboard will be harder for you than on a longboard because of the small deck and shorter wheelbase, which again makes a skateboard less stable.
Even once you manage to work out your balance, you’ll have to cope with a very bumpy and loud ride due to the smaller and harder wheels of the skateboard.
A longboard will be more accessible – chances are you’ll be able to ride within a couple of hours. The big soft wheels will give you a smooth ride, easily rolling over cracks and small rocks, where a skateboard would come to a full stop and send you flying in the air.
The longer your deck and wheelbase, the more comfortable your chill ride will be. If you expect to be doing a lot of pushing and big wide turns, go with a full-size drop-through cruiser, or a pintail even though the deck is higher up.
You can read more about cruising here.
Also check out What is the best skateboard for cruising?
2. Transportation : skateboard or longboard ?
If you plan to use your board mainly for long distance transportation (several miles each way), you’ll need a fast board, easy to push on, and further off a push.
A skateboard tyically will go up to bicyle speed but not car speed. You’ll also have to push really hard to maintain speed, which will exhaust you over large distances.
A drop-through or drop deck longboard will be the most comfortable. Long wheelbase, big wheels, and efficient bearings will help you ride low, push efficiently, and go fast.
Once your build up the right skills, a longboard will also allow you to “long distance pump”, impulsing momentum and speed without actually pushing (see carving on a longboard).
3. Urban commuting : skateboard or longboard ?
If you’re going to be riding in tight, crowded urban areas, slaloming between cars, people and obstacles, you’ll need a more nimble, maneuverable board with a short turning radius. For such usage a skateboard may be better suited than a bigger, slower turning longboard.
When city cruising, you’ll need to pick up and carry your board frequently, both during and after your ride. You can easily shove a regular skateboard into a backpack or stash it under your arm, and store it in a locker. A standard longboard is more cumbersome to handle.
A skateboard will also let you easily ollie over small street obstacles, or kick your board onto / off sidewalks.
However, a skateboard won’t give you a comfortable ride on rough pavement and cracked sidewalks – you’ll feel every single bump, making it hard on your knees.
One way around this is to fit longboard wheels (e.g. 70mm 80A) on your regular skateboard deck. You’ll need to add riser pads (1/4 or 1/2) to reduce wheelbite when turning because of the big cruiser wheels touching the street deck.
Using this kind of setup, though, you may be able to maneuver better than on a longboard on crowded sidewalks and alleys. So that settles it, right ? just get a skateboard with bigger wheels and risers.
Not so fast !
You should also consider the small / mini cruiser longboard option. About the size of a skateboard (or even slightly smaller), these boards typically have big wheels, a deck designed to reduce wheelbites, a kicktail, and some mild concave – like the highly regarded Landyachtz Dinghy (Amazon link).
For city riding, a mini cruiser remains a strong contender and a serious alternative to a street skateboard.
4. Freestyle tricks : skateboard or longboard ?
This is where the skateboard choice shines the most. Skateparks, half pipes, verts, bowls, street tricks and rail grinds, that’s all part of the DNA of the popsicle skateboard, with its kicktails, hard wheels, and full length concave.
There is, however, a longboard version of freestyling. Small cruiser longboards such as the Loaded Coyote are like giant street decks with one or two kicktails, with lengths similar to a skateboard but often a bit wider and with a pointier nose (directional).
Slightly different, hybrid longboards like the Landyachtz ATVs or specific Sector 9 cruisers are basically modified skateboards designed to both go nicely on cruiser wheels and perform well in street tricks – ollies, kickflips, boardslides – and in skatepark ramps and bowls.
These boards make classic freestyle tricks such as manuals, shove-its, pivots and cavemans much easier to pull than on other longboards. More about freestyle longboarding.
The advantage of choosing a mini longboard over a regular skateboard is that you can go cruising when not doing tricks, more comfortably than on a skateboard without having to swap wheels.
5. Freeriding and downhill: skateboard or longboard ?
If your aim is to ride fast and/or do slides, then there’s not much to discuss here : go for a full size longboard. Most longboards are designed to provide much better control at greater speed than skateboards, again because of their big wheels, longer wheelbase, and low decks.
A regular skateboard, even with cruiser wheels on, will probably never give you the stability and comfort you need to zoom downhill (although it’s been done).
I’m not going to discuss in detail here the kind of longboard you need for freeriding or downhill . This will greatly depend on how fast you want to go, how much / how technical you want to slide, your body size, experience, and so on.
Such factors will determine whether your longboard should be longer or shorter, higher or lower off the ground, flexier or stiffer, with larger or smaller / harder or softer wheels etc.
7. Dancing : skateboard or longboard ?
If your main interest is in the stylish and elegant discipline of dancing, again it’s a no brainer : get a dancer longboard, one of those really big, somewhat flexy, usually topmounted, mild concaved symmetrical boards.
Such a board will give you the room and stability you need for cross stepping and spinning, and maneuvreability for carving on flat ground.
A skateboard’s deck will likely be way too short and stiff, the wheels too small and hard, and the trucks too tight for this style of riding.
Bringing it all together
The dilemna of whether to choose a skateboard or longboard as your first (or next) board really comes into play if you intend to use it for tight urban communiting, street carving, ollies and kick tricks or skatepark riding.
If you plan to do any of these, a regular skateboard can be a versatile, nimble and portable solution. You can alternate riding with a set of regular skateboard wheels (smaller and harder) for practicing tricks, and a set of longboard wheels (larger and softer) for cruising and transport.
Be aware that mounting big wheels on a street deck will likely cause wheelbite in tight turns. Fitting risers can reduce the problem. Some riders also tighten their trucks to prevent excessive turning, but this also hinders their board’s ability to carve.
Another good option that can give you both the ability to do tricks and the agility and portability for urban cruising, is a small / mini cruiser. These “longboards” are natively designed to run well with cruiser wheels, providing good comfort while remaining nimble and “kickable”.
At the freestyle end of the spectrum are “hybrid” longboards, closer to skateboards in shape and size, but with added versatility in every day riding.
For most other types of usage, including long distance cruising, freeriding, downhill speed and old style dancing, your best bet is to go for a “real” longboard with enough wheelbase, bigger trucks, and the right amount of flex for your goals.