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What Makes a Good Skateboard? Not All Boards Are Equal

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Skateboard Decks come in all shapes and sizes, all kinds of colors and widths, and can be made of different kinds of materials.  Basically, a good skateboard is made of 7 ply Canadian Rock Maple wood, by a reputable manufacturer.  Let’s have a look at what makes a good skateboard.

In short, any skateboard from a reputable company, made from 7 ply maple wood, that fits your personal skating style, feels comfortable to ride, is in good condition, and showcases your personality is a good skateboard.  The board, you ride is all about personal preference.  Let your style show with a board you love!

Let’s have a look at different brands, construction materials, shapes, and woodshops and why it matters. Lastly, in order to get the right board, you also need to know what makes a bad skateboard.

Brand Names Sometimes Matter

different skateboard shapes and sizes

Despite what your friends and the people on the Slap Message Board say, if you buy a skateboard manufactured by a reputable skateboarding brand, it will be a good skateboard.  Companies like Santa Cruz, Real, Enjoi, Girl, Baker, Toy Machine, Birdhouse, WKND, etc, all offer top-quality, professional-level boards.

They are usually all the same price (with a few exceptions).  If you buy one of these brands you can be assured you are getting a quality deck.

That is not to say that some of the smaller brands don’t also offer top quality skateboards.  Brands like Stereo, April, Skull Skates, Visit, Welcome, Theories of Atlantis, Hockey, Polar, etc all sell boards that are of the same high quality as the bigger companies.  

This is because there are only a handful of woodshops that produce skateboards.  That means the big guys and the little guys all get their boards manufactured at the same place.  (More on woodshops in a bit)  I personally like to buy my boards from some of the smaller companies so that I have a somewhat unique deck that stands out from everyone else at the skatepark.

A quick search of any of these companies on Amazon will give you a plethora of options to choose from.

Construction Materials

A good skateboard is constructed of 7-ply Canadian Rock Maple.  It is that simple.  If you are looking at a skateboard and it is made of something else, or the seller cannot tell you what it is made out of, STEER CLEAR.  Some really cheap boards can be made of lower quality materials such as plastic, balsa wood, and pine.  

These materials do not make for a skateboard that will last you or be safe to ride and are a waste of money.  For about $10-20 more you will get a board that shouldn’t snap on your first day riding it.  

Some high-quality boards are made of other materials than Canadian Maple.  Many of the big skateboard companies offer boards with carbon fiber inserted in between the ply’s of maple. 

If you want to learn more check our post outlining different board constructions)  These boards will cost you a fair bit more than a Maple wood board but they have many benefits including durability.

If you are on a budget, it might be worth your money to buy a bit more expensive board that will last you twice as long as a 7Ply Maple board.

A proper maple board is better for doing tricks, skating bowls, street skating, and ramps.  While it is probably possible to boardslide a rail with a plastic Penny Board, it is going to be really hard to do and there will be a very high potential for injury.

Board Shape

skateboard tail shapes

As mentioned earlier, boards come in all shapes and sizes.  A good skateboard has the shape you prefer and suits your style of skating.  A longboard is not good for skating ledges.  

A penny board is not good for skating big drops.  A 7.5″ narrow popsicle shape skateboard is good for doing flip tricks, but not so good for skating bowls or vert.  

A fishtail board is great for cruising, but not so great if you want to do noseslides.  The shape of board you pick should both work for your style of skating and allow you to express your personality.

Skateboard shapes can be both extreme or subtle.  On the extreme side, Alltimers was making skateboards in bizarre shapes, such as water coolers, cars, Rhianna, Glo-Worms, etc.  Welcome Skateboards make boards with flat parts cut off the nose and tail, so the nose and tail are not rounded, but more polygonal.  

The Powell Andy Anderson Flight Deck is shaped to Andy’s specifications so it allows him to land in primo and do freestyle type tricks easier.  A few companies also make symmetrical boards where the nose and tail are the same size and dimensions.

For the most part board shape refers to the width, the concave, and the taper.  A wider board with a mellow concave and little taper is preferable for skating drops, parks, ramps, vert, and bowls.  A narrower board with deep concave, that tapers at the tail is often preferred for technical street skating.  

Shape ultimately comes down to personal preference and skating style.  I have a couple friends that exclusively skate bowls and never do nose tricks, so they ride really wide fishtail boards with very little nose on them.

I personally prefer a  board that is 8.25″ wide with a wider nose and tapered tail with a mellow concave for street skating.  For mini Ramp and bowl skating, I have an 8.5″ wide Deathwish Neen Williams twin nose deck.

 It has a mellow concave and the tail is the same length as the nose (normally the tail is slightly shorter and less steep than the nose).  It makes the board about 1/2″ longer than other boards, but I don’t have to worry about the direction my board is facing and nose and tail tricks feel the same.

Know Your Woodshops

As mentioned earlier, there are only a handful of woodshops that manufacture skateboards for big and small companies, and there is no shortage of debate as to which shop makes the best decks. Some people will argue that PS Stixx makes the best boards, while others swear by Generator/BBS, and others still prefer boards from Chapman Woodshop.  

Each woodshop has its own processes and their boards all have their own unique subtleties.  Pro skaters often have a preference and maybe over time, you will too.

The process for pressing skateboards can vary from woodshop to woodshop.  Some shops use a single board press.  Other shops will press up to 5 boards at a time.  Some skaters claim they can tell a difference in quality from a single press to a 5 board press, but I would argue that it would be very hard to tell how a board was pressed just by riding it.  

There is a difference in concave though.  The bottom board in a multi-board press will have a more mellow concave than the board at the top of the stack.  

The way graphics are transferred to the deck also varies among the wood shops.  Some shops use a heat transfer system where heat is applied to the graphic to make it stick (kinda like an iron on transfer for a T-Shirt), others use a cold transfer system, and other still hand silk screen.  

Hand silk screening is by far the rarest as it is extremely time-consuming and not as cost-effective as the other methods.   Some people claim that the heat transfer damages the glue holding the ply’s together and makes the board weaker.  Again, I would argue that a person would not likely be able to tell how a graphic was applied just by riding the board.

As long as your board is manufactured by a reputable woodshop, you will be purchasing a good quality product.  If you are looking at a board but aren’t sure, a quick Google search can show you which woodshop manufactures that brand.  If you cannot find the woodshop, might be best to avoid buying the board.

Trucks, Wheels, Bearings, and grip tape

skateboard brands decks trucks wheels

This post is mainly about decks but there’s more to a skateboard than just a 2×4. Trucks are equally important and our advice is to pick trucks from a reputable brand. Thunder Trucks, Venture, Independent, and Grind King all produce the best skateboard trucks you can get. Trucks last for ages and are the heart and soul of your setup, stay away from the cheaper brands if you can.

As for wheels, both Bones and Spitfire offer the best on the market. Depending on your personal preference you can go with hard wheels or softer wheels. Cheap wheels flat spot but Bones and Spitfire won’t.

Bearings are quite easy to pick, Bronson or Bones Reds are the top choices. You don’t have to get expensive bearings, a set of bones bearings shouldn’t cost more than 15-20 bucks.

So what about grip tape? It really doesn’t matter actually, unless you want a fancy graphic. That will be a bit more expensive.

What Makes a Bad Skateboard?

The list of things that make a bad skateboard could be endless.  Lets just hit on a few of the high notes to help you figure out what to avoid.

Avoid buying off-brands- If you are looking at a skateboard to buy, and you haven’t heard of the brand, do a google search and see if they have a proper website.  If they don’t, don’t buy it.  Avoid buying boards from department stores and eBay, unless you are sure they are quality.  

Some of the big names sell department store price point boards.  I’m not sure if the Darkstar and World Industry completes you can buy at department stores are legit or not, but I’m not going to take the chance.

Beware of warped or damaged boards- Inspect before you buy.  You might not notice the warp if it is very slight.  If it is badly warped, you are going to have a bad time.  I also check for cracks before I buy a board.  The board might not be damaged, per se, but I do not take it as a positive sign if the bottom graphic has cracks in the paint.  

Maybe that board has been sitting at the shop for a while or experienced some major changes in temperature.  Either way, I steer clear from cracked graphics.

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