You may have stopped to watch these boys and girls 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 other dimension while they pull turn after turn in an endless curve.
This fluid riding style is called carving. But 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 ?
The word “carving” invovlves the idea of carving lines and curves into whatever you’re riding on – water, snow, street. Surfers and snowboarders also carve !
Longboard carving is one of several popular disciplines, which also include :
- 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 – something that can bring a great feeling of pleasure, motion, and freedom. Carving is about curves and speed.
Carving sometimes also refers to controlling speed by making sharp successive turns, which help slow you down.
To me however, the true spirit of carving lies in mellow riding and allowing a swinging body motion to impulse momentum into your longboard through series of turns.
You maintain speed in a natural way without having to push even when riding on flat ground or down mild slopes. The same way surfers gain speed on a wave.
How to do basic carving on a longboard
Your goal when carving is to draw beautiful virtual curbs – as if riding in powdery snow – by chaining turns sharp or wide depending on your style and speed.
The way you initiate these turns is by shifting your weight onto one edge of the board, pressing your toes (or heels) into the board’s rail (edge), then transitioning to the other edge (rail shifting).
By pressing into the rail, you make the deck lean to the side and the wheels rotate in that same direction, causing the longboard to turn.
Toeside and heelside carving turns
The direction you turn when pressing with your toes or heels depends on your stance – that is, which foot is forward when riding.
Everyone has a natural surf/skate stance. To determine yours, stand with your feet close together and ask someone to push you forward from the back, forcing you to 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 footers will therefore face towards the right side of the longboard when riding, whereas Goofy footers will be facing left.
If you’re Regular (left foot forward), leaning forward and pressing your toes into the right rail (toe-side turn) will make the longboard turn right. Leaning backwards on your heels (heelside turn) will steer your longboard to the left.
If you’re Goofy, it’s the other way around : you’re facing towards the left of the board when riding, so toe-side turns will steer your board left, while heelside turns will steer it to the right.
Weight shifting : fluid carving motion
So, 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.
You want the shifting to be flowing as naturally and smoothly as possible, so the board will carve nice “S” curves. To achieve this goal, you have to move your entire body.
Beginners tend to use only their ankles to push into the rails with their toes and heels. Conversely, snowboarders tend to move only their shoulders and forget about their feet, being used to foot straps.
To perform a nice effective carve on your longboard, you need to build a fluid transition between toeside and heelside positions involving your head, your shoulders, hips and feet in a wave-like motion.
When turning toeside, start by turning your head and looking in your target direction (toward the right if you’re a regular, the left if you’re goofy).
At the same time, you rotate your shoulders, pushing your front shoulder toward the turning direction. The rotation spreads to your hips, and your toes naturally press into the rail, causing your board to turn.
You then prepare to get into your next turn, a heelside turn, so as to complete the S curve. You turn your head so as to look behind you in the new direction, and rotate your shoulders in that direction, opening your chest when transitioning.
Your hips follow naturally, and your heels press down onto the longboard rail, making the board turn.
Keep your knees bent and your arms slightly open for better balance. Keep your lower back braced to avoid back pain.
Important carving tips
The weight shifting I’ve just described takes some practice. Many new riders tend to lean too strongly forward or backward and push too hard into the rails.
If you do, depending on how responsive your longboard is and how fast it turns, you may lose balance and tip off your board as your body is leaning harder than the longboard turns.
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.
Once you start mastering the basics of carving on your longboard, you’ll get this amazing feeling of flowing and natural riding. Your body motion gets in tune with your board, which you get to know better, and you acquire greater control of your shoulder, hip, and foot moves.
You can then make your carving more powerful by lowering your center of gravity and diving low as you enter each turn (squatting lower), then lightening up after the turn by standing taller.
Using this more advanced technique, you’re adding power to your impulse into the turn, and then dramatically releasing the pressure after the turn, spring like, generating more momentum and speed.
Believe me, that’s a fantastic and effective way of riding. After some practice, you’ll be surfing on your longboard on flat ground without the need to push much.
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 deep.
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.
For carving we want trucks that really turn ! What makes a truck more “turny” than another ? Trucks are actually quite complex, but let’s look at a few things :
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)
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 (lean refers to how much the deck can lean to the sides). More lean means the deck can lean more without the wheels turning, so more stability. More turn means the wheels can turn more with less deck lean : more responsiveness.
Higher angles (50+) provide for more turn and less lean, and so are 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 angles 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, let’s just say round seats are best suited for a good carving feel.
This is the height between the deck (actually the baseplate) and the axle holding the wheels. The higher, the more “surfy”, turning feel we get. Also, higher trucks allow for trucks to be loosened up without causing wheelbite. Therefore higher trucks are better 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 :
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 actually go through the deck (the 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 since higher.
Many riders prefer top mount for carving, even if that means more height and so 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 can turn.
Carver longboard decks should have 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.
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 ? Similar effect to lower your gravity center going into the turn.
Concave, on the other hand, is the curvature of the deck along its width. Carving longboards usually have decks with deeper concave than other board types (e.g. pure cruisers) for secure and comfortable foot placement during the 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 avoiding wheel bite.
Carving wheels and bearings
For carving on a longboard we want wheels that are wide for better grip and soft for shock absorption
We preferably choose square-lipped (aka race-shaped) as opposed to round edged for example, so we get better feedback and grip in turns.
Ideally we should look for good ABEC 9 bearings for smooth friction-less rolling.
Some examples of good carving longboards
A well known and well liked carving board is the Sector 9 Sidewinder II Chamber (or any Sidewinder series board) at around 175$.
Another good board for carving – although definitely on the longer side – is the Surf One Robert August II, with its beautiful Endless Summer looks.
Finally, a setup that’s often recommended in the carving community is the Rayne Timeline with Paris 50 trucks, and 78a wheels with Abec 11 ZigZag bearings.
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 !