I decided to write a few posts about specific setups for different styles and the first one is the best setup for skating in bowl or pools.
First I’ll dive a bit into what works and what doesn’t. I’ll explain what to look for when it comes to decks, trucks, wheels and a bit of tweaking to optimize your setup. Since you’re probably looking for setups, I’ll recommend a few wheels and trucks I use myself when riding bowls. Here’s a general setup that is great for bowl skateboarding.
- A wider deck, preferably 8.5″+
- 56-58mm wheels between 97 and 99A
- Independent (stage 11 – 149) or anything that matches your decks’ width. Avoid Krux.
- Trucks should be loose or consider Bones hardcore bushings
- Gritty grip tape
- Quality bearings for speed, so no standard Reds
- Consider 1/8″ riser or shock pads
Now let’s dive a bit into why this works and why it will help you to get the most out of your bowl skating experience. Keep in mind that this is a general guide, everyone has their personal preferences but I’m confident I can get you in the right direction.
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Setups for bowl and Pool Skateboarding
In order to skate efficiently in a bowl (or pool) you need a wider deck, loose trucks and relatively hard wheels with a diameter between 56 and 58mm. 58mm sounds huge but it really helps to gain speed and keep momentum.
You don’t want to drop in and immediately lose speed, you need some good equipment and it will make life easier. Skating bowls is all about timing, flow, knowing where and when to ‘push’, and not wasting too much energy.
This is my current setup:
- Independent Stage 11 149
- 1/8 shock pads
- 8.5″ Powell Peralta Flight deck (love the mellow concave and shape but it’s a bit over priced)
- Bones Swiss 6 bearings
- Spitfire Classics 56mm/99A / Spitfire Full Conical 56mm/99A / or Spitfire Classics 56mm 97A for concrete
- Mob grip tape (you’ll need some extra grippy tape!)
I personally love skating bowls, it requires a lot of focus but it’s just really satisfying. In order to be prepared and not to get frustrated, here are some recommendations that will make your ride easier.
Go for a Wider Deck
Since I already covered the exact setup you need I’ll dive a bit into why exactly you need a wider deck, larger wheels, and loose trucks. But just like photographers, the best setup for bowl skating is the skateboard you carry.
For real though. It’s not about brands, a good quality deck has more to do with where it’s made (woodshops) and how they are pressed. Some brands, even popular brands, press them 12 a time. You don’t want that, it leads to deformation and warped boards. You need a single pressed deck with a mellow concave. Mellow concaves are great for bowls, it means more stability but still lots of control.
Go with a deck that’s at least 8.5″ wide. This may sound crazy if you’re coming from a street background but it just works. A wider deck provides a lot of stability, I had a hard time adjusting coming from a 7.75″ and I had a hard time adjusting.
Once I learned how to ride that board I was in love. The awkwardness I felt skating it the first few times quickly went away and I noticed it behaved really different from what I was used to. Sure it’s a combination of the right trucks, deck, and wheels but it feels much more stable.
You can still do flips, shuvits etc but most of all ride that bowl with confidence. I have a friend who rides an old school deck. It’s big and bulky but I must admit it really feels stable, but not everyone likes old school decks. Fortunately, they aren’t hard to come by anymore and made a comeback a couple of years ago. So if you’re feeling nostalgic, it’s something to consider.
Trucks for Bowl Skating
I only ride Venture and Indys but indy trucks are my favorite. I used to ride Thunders which are great for street skating but arguably less suitable for bowls. Still, it’s a matter of personal preference. You’ll also need high trucks which makes it easier to turn.
If you ride your trucks tight it’s a good idea to loosen the kingpin nut a bit. This will help you carve the curbs of the bowl more efficiently. Your trucks need to be a bit more responsive to anticipate the curvature of your local bowl.
Make sure the trucks match the width of your deck. An 8.5″ deck requires trucks with an axle width of 8.5″. Independent stage 11 – 149mm (Amazon link), for example, fit perfectly.
Bushings for Bowl Skating
Every time I go bowl skating I need to tweak my trucks and it takes a long time before they feel just right. I know on flat this is less of an issue and even though I’m not a super great skater, I feel it really matters.
To get rid of that problem you could consider Bones hardcore bushings. They require less tweaking (almost none) and save me a lot of frustration. It’s not just me, one of my friends had the same issue bit is convinced this works. If you experience the same, this might be a solution. Sorry for the low quality image by the way.
Bearings for Bowl Skating
Since we already are geeking out, you might want to consider some quality bearings. I recently tested the Bronson ceramics and they guys are fast. Skated Super Swiss for a while but somehow they don’t perform well after a few months. I guess the dust makes them slower. I can’t be sure just yet and need more time to make a convincing argument to buy these expensive bearings. Will update as soon as the parks re-open over here.
Get Large Wheels
If you’re a dedicated bowl rider or aspire to be one go with Bones or Spitfire. You need 56 or 58mm wheels with a durometer of 97-99A . I personally ride 56mm Spitfire 99D Classics. I used to ride my mini ramp wheels (Bones SPF P5 56mm) but they tend to lose grip.
Most 56mm/99A wheels will work, they are a bit more grippy but still super fast. It works for me, I get way less slams these days!
Please not that if you ride a concrete bowl or anything that tends to get dusty you want more grip. go with 97A wheels instead of 99A! It’s a huge difference.
I’m way more confident riding bigger wheels and basic stuff like hangups, 50-50’s, axle-stalls, etc just feel more natural. I don’t get stuck behind copings, when I mess up a hangup or it feels a bit sketchy, my board just follows instead of my lying at the bottom, well most of the time.
Mob Grip Tape
I usually skate Jessup but I noticed my feet didn’t really stick to my deck, causing some minor slams. It might be my shoes but ever since I tried Mob, I seem to have more grip.
Jessup griptape is great though, just not for bowls. This is just anecdotal but I do notice a difference.
I wish shops would sell these kind of setups so I could ad it to my best skateboards article, but alas, the best skateboard is the one you setup yourself. No complete will work so you really have to do your homework.
Let’s start with something wide, stable, and turny. This setup consists of a 9.0″ wide deck (Santa Cruz VX) but I’ll leave it up to you which brand you pick. Just make sure the concave isn’t too steep. I personally like medium/mellow concaves because there is more room for your feet.
Get Independent Stage 11 169 trucks, Bones Super Reds (plus spacers), 9.0″ Grip tape of your choice (grittier is better), and Spitfire Full Conicals (99A/56mm). The full conicals work great, super stable and grippy because of the large contact patch.
Indy trucks turn well so it’s easier to carve your local bowl. Bones Super Reds are slightly more expensive than the standard reds but I think it’s worth it (super fast and durable).
The Second setup is almost the same but this one is 8.5″ wide. It consists of Independent 149 stage 11 trucks, Bones Super Reds (and spacers). 1/8″ shock pads, 1″ hardware, and Spitfire Classics 56mm/99A wheels.
The Classics are great for both park and bowl skating but the contact patch is a bit smaller compared to the full conicals. I don’t notice much difference but if I had to choose I would go for the Spitfire 99A/56mm full Conical.
Both setups work great for bowls. If you want a very stable ride go with the 9.0″, if you want stability and something more nimble go with an 8.5″.
By the way, I ditched the Plan B deck because it was a bit longer than average and couldn’t get used to it. I now ride a Powell Peralta Flight deck and really like its mellow concave.
What Doesn’t Work
Let’s talk a bit about what doesn’t work when skating a pool or bowl. You might just need a few tweaks to your current setup instead of getting a whole bunch of expensive stuff. If you already ride a wider deck, maybe you just need a new set of wheels. Buying a completely new custom setup can be expensive and isn’t always necessary.
Don’t ride anything smaller than 54mm (still arguable) anything below that requires you to push hard. Sure, it’s not a bad thing if you’re fit and in shape but it requires much more effort and you get tired much faster.
It also means you have less time to focus on your next step. If you’re going for a pivot grind you’ll have less time to focus. This happened to me often because I was still a bit out of balance from pumping hard. 56mm to 58mm is recommended (and quality bearings).
Not only do smaller wheels require you to push harder, but it also means less focus on your next trick and increasing the chance of eating sh*t.
Soft Wheels (Under 92A)
I don’t think I need to explain this but just in case you didn’t know you won’t get far on softer wheels. Sure an experienced skater won’t have a lot of problems but I bet lots of those guys will agree: soft wheels are not made for bowl skating.
The reason for this is more friction (they stick to the surface) and it costs a tremendous amount of effort to gain and maintain speed. Seriously don’t ride bowls with very soft wheels.
I do have a friend who sometimes rides Bones 80A ATF rough riders which are relatively soft wheels for bowl skating. This is also because he likes to do some technical street stuff on rough terrain, sometimes you need to compromise a little.
Still I think your best bet is Spitfire, the Full Conicals (99A or 97A at 56mm) perform great and if you ride softer smaller wheels you have to pump really hard to get speed.
Narrow Decks (Arguably)
Not the best choice. Sure if you’re used to a deck below 8.25″ it’s hard to see why you would go bigger. The thing is I only see bowl skaters riding wider decks (with a few exceptions) and they all tell me it provides much more stability. It’s your choice of course, what works for you may not work for others and vice versa.
Tight trucks are bad, why? I already explained a bit but in order to flow a bowl, you need a responsive skateboard. This is where you loosen your trucks in order to ride efficiently and get the most out of the curves.
Finding your ideal tightness may take a couple of tries but you’ll know when it feels right for you. Tight trucks just don’t respond as well in bowls and pools.
Just the other day I tried my friends board and he warned me that his trucks are rather tight. I dropped in and approached the transition and tried to turn. Well that didn’t happen and I kept going straight because of the tight trucks and had to bail. I guess I looked a bit silly and my friend had a good laugh (as did I).
My Personal Experience Riding Bowls
Bowl skating is awesome! It’s just such a great experience and it’s challenging. It requires experience in knowing how and when to push and finding the right spot to keep your momentum.
To be honest I haven’t really mastered this myself, mainly due to a lack of bowls/pools in my area.
Update: I now have access to a bowl and it is awesome, only a 23 minute drive. I finally learned how to properly ride a bowl and it’s the best feeling. Here’s my first time riding this bowl (and my first 50-50), I’m planning on going as often as I can:
I still am practicing and slowly getting better, glad I can finally nail those 50-50’s. It’s pretty intense and a great workout, I usually feel a bit sore the next day but I’m an old man ;). Think I need to get some elbow pads though.
Skating Bowls Is Perfect for Older Skaters
When you get older you’ll notice it takes a lot more time to recover from impacts. I speak for myself here but street skating isn’t an option anymore. You got a lot more responsibilities than a 20-year-old (work, family, etc). Even though there’s always a risk of falling, riding a bowl is a great experience without even doing any technical stuff.
You can either just ride a bit when your muscles decided to have a day off and do more technical stuff at moments when everything just feels right. Protective gear is recommended of course. I mainly skate mini ramp nowadays and focus on technique instead of risky stuff. Just take it slow and don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with. Stretch a bit before and after you ride.
Here is some recommended gear for bowls, use it as a guide because everyone has their own preference.
I personally really dig the large Bones wheels and Indy trucks, it improved my style and tricks tremendously. I don’t need to pump hard to maintain speed and hardly ever get stuck behind the coping anymore. I came from a 7.75 setup so it took me some time to adjust. Once I got used to this wider setup I never looked back.
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