Carving on a longboard

What is Carving on a Longboard ? A Closer Look at Street Surfing

You may have stopped to watch these guys and gals moving on their longboards in a fluid and flowy ride, maintaining rhythm and speed without their foot even touching ground for pushing, looking like their mind is out in some far away dimension while they pull turn after turn in an endless curve.

This fluid riding style is called carving.  What exactly does carving on a longboard mean ?  Carving is a surf-like riding style that involves chaining quick successive turns back and forth in an S-like shape trajectory, in order to build and maintain momentum and speed.  

If you’ve never experienced the amazing feeling of carving, be it on waves, mountain snow, or pavement, be prepared for an incredibly addictive experience.

What is the purpose of carving ?

This riding style revolves around “carving” lines and curves into whatever you’re riding on – water, snow, street.  Longboarders, surfers and snowboarders alike, they all carve.

Carving is one of the popular longboarding disciplines, the others being :

  • Cruising : just moving around pushing on a longboard, or using it as transportation
  • Freeriding : riding downhill at controlled speed while doing slides and maneuvers
  • Freestyling : creative riding not focused on speed but rather on technical tricks
  • Dancing : moving around on your board, crossing feet to perform figures
  • Downhill : search for sheer speed, racing, slalom

Carving on a longboard really mimics ocean surfing, it’s both technical and somewhat artistic, bringing a great feeling of pleasure, motion, and freedom.  Carving is about curves and speed.

Carving is also used in downhill speed boarding to control speed by making sharp turns, which help slow you down.

However, carving has turned into a longboard style of its own, involving mellow riding with a continuous swinging motion to impulse momentum into the longboard through each powerful turn.

As a carver you maintain speed in a natural way, without having to push even when riding on flat ground.  The same way surfers gain speed on a wave.

How to do basic carving on a longboard

Your goal when carving on your longboard is to draw nice imaginary curves into the asphalt – as if riding in powdery snow – by making powerful successive turns which may be as wide or sharp as desired.

You initiate these turns by shifting your weight alternatively into each edge of your board, pressing your toes, then  your heels, into a board rail, then transitioning to the other rail.  This is called rail shifting.

Watch the following 14 seconds of video :

By pressing into your longboard rail, you make the deck lean to the side and the wheels rotate to an angle from the deck, causing your board to turn.  The more weight and pressure you put into the rail, the more the wheels rotate, and the sharper the turn.

Toeside and heelside carving turns

The direction in which you turn when pressing your toes or heels into a rail depends on your stance, that is which foot you put forward when riding.

Everyone has a natural surf/skate stance.  To determine yours, just stand with your feet close together and ask someone to push you forward from the back, forcing you to step forward to make you lose balance.  Which one of your feet naturally steps forward ?

If it’s the left foot, you’re a “Regular” rider. If it’s the right one, you’re “Goofy”.  Regular riders face toward the right side of the board when riding (since the left foot is in front), whereas Goofy footers are facing left.

If you’re Regular (again, left foot forward), leaning forward and pressing your toes into the rail, aka toeside turning, will make your longboard turn right.

Leaning backwards onto your heels, aka heelside turning, will steer your longboard to the left.

If you’re Goofy, it’s the other way around : you’re facing left when riding (right foot forward), so pressing with your toes (toeside turn) will press on your left rail, steering your board left, while heelside turns will steer your board to the right.

Weight shifting : fluid carving motion

Again, when carving on a longboard, you shift your weight back and forth between your toes (leaning forward) and your heels (leaning backwards) to take your board into successive turns.

However, you want these turns to not only flow naturally and beautifully, but also generate energy to keep your longboard moving as it’s carving these nice “S” curves.

To achieve this, merely pressing on your toes then heels is not enough, you need to build full body motion.  Beginners tend to use only their ankles to get their toes and heels pushing into rails.  At the other end, snowboarders, tend to focus only on shoulders and forget about their feet, being used to strapped riding.

To perform an effective and powerful carve on your longboard, you have to engage your head, shoulders, hips, and legs in a wave-like motion, achieving a fluid transition between toe-side and heelside positions.

Watch these 11 seconds for another awesome example of carving :

When turning toeside, start by turning your head and looking in your target direction (toward the right if you’re regular, toward the left if you’re goofy).

At the same time, start rotating your shoulders, pushing your front shoulder toward the turning direction, throwing your body into the turn.  Your shoulder rotation naturally spreads to your hips, knees, and ankles, and your toes press into the rail causing your board to turn.

You then prepare to transition into your next turn, a heelside turn, to continue drawing the S curve. You first turn your head to look behind you in the new direction, and rotate your shoulders back towards that direction, opening your chest during the transition.

Here again, your shoulder rotation drives your hips and lower body to also rotate toward the new direction, with your heels pressing down onto the rail, making your longboard turn backside.

Keep your knees bent and your arms slightly open for better balance. Also, make sure to keep your lower back braced to avoid flexing your spine and causing lumbar issues.

Important carving tips

The weight shifting I’ve just described takes a bit of practice.  Many new riders at first tend to lean too much forward or backward into turns and push too hard into the rails.  Depending on how responsive your longboard, if you lean harder than your board can turn, you’ll lose your balance and fall off the board.

Here’s a key tip : when pressing on your toes, try not to let your heels come off the deck too much.  Conversely, when pressing heelside try to keep your toes in touch with the deck.  This will help you find the right amount of pressure to put into the rail for turning.

Once you start mastering the basics of carving on your longboard, you’ll get this amazing feeling of flowing and natural movement.  Your body motion gets in sync with your board, and you gain better control over your shoulder, hip, and lower body movement.

The next stage will be to make your carving more powerful by lowering your center of gravity, diving low (squatting) as you enter each turn, standing tall and lightening up as you exit the turn.

Using this more advanced technique, you’ll add impulse into the turn, and release pressure after it, like a spring, generating strong momentum and speed.

This is a fantastic and effective way of riding.  After some practice, you’ll be able to surf on your longboard on flat ground without ever setting foot on the ground.

So we’ve discussed basic carving technique. Now let’s turn our attention to the choice of a carving longboard.

How to choose a longboard for carving ?

You can use pretty much any longboard for carving, however you’ll have a much better carving experience on a longboard that responds to slight shifts as opposed to one that require you to push down hard.

So what determines a longboard’s turning feel ?  Let’s briefly review some important characteristics for trucks, deck, and wheel in regards to carving ability.

Carving trucks

For carving we want trucks that really turn ! What makes a truck more “turny” than another ? Trucks are actually quite complex, but here are a few simple tips :

Truck width

This is measured through axle or hanger width.  The tradeoff is, more width means more stability and less wheelbite (wheels touching the deck), less width means better turn and more grip.

Most longboards have 180mm hanger width, a standard which works well all-around including for carving.  Decent responsiveness albeit with stability.  Riders who want more nimble boards, such as slalom racers, use smaller trucks (e.g. 150 mm)

Baseplate angle

That’s the truck’s angle, the angle between the baseplate (screwed onto the deck) and the pivot axis. For most trucks it’s either 50+ or 40+ degrees.

The tradeoff is between lean and turn. More lean means the deck can lean more without the wheels turning, so more stability.  More turn means the wheels turn more with less deck lean : more responsiveness.

Higher angles (50+) provide for more turn and less lean, hence better suited for carving.

Bushing and bushing seats

Bushings are small rubber pads in the truck that also affect riding.  In general, we want soft bushings to facilitate turning when carving.

Bushing seats are the places in the trucks in which the bushings are fitted.  Depending on the shape of the seats (round, flat, or stepped), the bushings will be more or less able to compress.  This much affects the truck’s riding feel.

Without getting into too much mechanical detail, just be aware round seats are best suited for a good carving feel.

Truck height

This is the height between the deck (i.e. the baseplate) and the axle holding the wheels.  The higher, the more “surfy”, turning feel we get. Also, higher trucks can be be loosened up for more turning without causing wheelbite.  This makes higher trucks good for carving.

Note that longboards with higher trucks are also less stable and harder to push on, but that’s the price to pay for better carving ability.

Longboard decks for carving

There is actually a broad range of decks that are appropriate for a carving longboard, a lot depends on personal preference.  Here are some of the things to take into account :

Mount type

This refers to how the trucks are mounted onto the deck.  Two common types for carver boards are top mount- whereby the trucks are simply screwed under the deck – and drop-through, whereby the trucks go through the deck (the truck baseplate sits on top of the deck).

A major difference between these two mount types is how high the deck lies above the ground : higher in top mount, lower in drop-through.  Lower is more stable and facilitates impulses. Top mount makes for a more reactive board – but is less stable.

Many riders prefer top mount for carving, even at the price of more height and less stability.

Deck length and flex

Carving decks are typically 35” to 40” long, shorter that typical cruiser longboards (40+).  The shorter the deck, the faster the board turns.

Carver longboard decks should have some flex, which adds power to your carving impulses (toeside or heelside pushes).  Bamboo or bamboo hybrid decks are therefore a good choice for carving.

Deck concave / camber, wheel wells

Camber refers to the deck’s lengthwise curvature, with a higher point in the middle than at the mounting holes.

Camber - longboard types

Longboards with camber are often designed for carving : when weight and pressure is applied as you get into a turn, the deck acts like a spring and loads energy which is then released at the peak of the turn.  Sounds familiar ? This is similar to lowering your gravity center as you go into the turn.

Concave - longboard typeConcave, on the other hand, is the curvature of the deck along its width. Carving longboards usually have decks with deeper concave than pure cruisers for secure and comfortable foot placement during deep turns.

Wheel wells are channels in the deck that allow more space for the wheels.  Carving board decks often have them to allow for hard leaning into turns while minimizing wheel bite.

Longboard wheel well

Carving wheels and bearings

For carving on a longboard you want wheels that are wide for better grip and soft for shock absorption.

Choose square-lipped (aka race-shaped) over round edged for better feedback and grip in turns.

Go for good ABEC 7 or 9 bearings for smooth friction-less rolling.

Carving longboard example

If you’re not sure what to pick, the 34″ Loaded Poke, although a bit pricey, is an awesome board for carving and urban commuting.

Somewhat less expensive and with a significantly different style, the SurfSkate Jamie O’brien Tahiti (Amazon link) is another fantastic carver, due to its special carving trucks and surf-style feel.

Concluding remarks

I hope you now have a pretty precise idea of what carving on a longboard is, what kind of techniques and skills it involves, and what kind of equipment you need.

More than just a technical riding style, carving can be an art form which inherits the mellow lifestyle and easy living philosophy of freeride surfers and snowboarders.  Instead of seeking radical stunts, carvers want to be in tune with the world and draw beautiful curves.

Hope you join the carving lifestyle !

Photo credits :
Featured photo : “longboard 111” (CC BY 2.0) by S Pallavicini

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About me

Big Kahuna

Hi I'm Jesse. I'm a board sports enthusiast. All my life I've been passionate about the board riding lifestyle. My goal is to help you get on a board and get hooked forever. Whether on land, ocean, or snow. No matter how old and how fit you are, or where you live. Aloha !