This is the second installment of a three part series on returning to skateboarding after a long break. The first section covers a mind/body “reality check,” and what you should, and should not, expect upon your return. Also covered in that section is common injuries with returning skaters, and how to minimize them. If you have not read that information yet, you are encouraged to do so. That post can be found here.
This section covers equipment in case you’ve been out of the industry-loop for a while. Part three covers navigating the skateboard social world, as a “returning” skater, so you don’t end up look like a total turboclown (hint: no one cares how good you used to be). Part three will be posted in the near future.
While this is a long post, it intended only to be a “quick” and general overview of equipment. It is certainly not exhaustive. I’m sure that others may have different views and perspectives on everything I cover here. Just remember this material is only intended to be a starting point, and it is not dogma. Only you can figure out what works best for you. I am just trying to help get the ball rolling. That said, on we go…
The most common question when returning to skating after a long break is, “What kind of deck should I get?” It’s a great question, and the truth is you have more options now than at any point in skateboard history. If you want a 1983 Madrid Explosion reissue, no problem. A late 1980s H-Street deck? Yup. That’s reissued, too. Early 1990s football shaped decks are also available, along with modern “shaped” decks. And of course, the now standard “popsicle” is widely available. If you want it, you can get it. The amount of variety available now is really astonishing. There is literally something for everyone, and that is how it should be.
So, what should you get? The short answer is get whatever resonates with you. That said, what worked for you as younger skater might not work as well for you now. The shape and size of boards evolved for a reason; functionality. You may have an easier time honing your ollie again on a modern deck (large upturned nose and shorter wheelbase) than with an old-school deck (no nose, and longer wheelbase). The upturned nose allows your front foot scoop the board up, and the shorter wheelbase helps with more effective vertical pop. But what if you don’t care about big ollies, or just really want an old-school reissue for nostalgia purposes? Then without any hesitation, you should unquestionably be riding that reissue.
The best path forward is to find a local shop, and stand on as many boards as you can. Stand on everything, 1980s reissues to popsicle-shaped decks. In doing so, start to develop an idea of what feels good under your feet. Most all, just figure out what seems like something you’d have the most fun with. Keep in mind that not all skate shops are the same. Some carry many different board styles. Others cater to only “popsicle” shaped boards. SoCal Skate Shop has a great web site and inventories of all kinds of decks. Browsing their stock can give you an idea about what options are out there.
Deck Dimensions: If you stopped skating in the 1980s, today most standard sized boards will seem small to you. Conversely, if you stopped in the early/mid 1990s, board will now seem big to you. In contemporary times, the most common dimensions are:
Width: 8.1” – 8.75”
Length: 31.8” – 32.4”
Wheelbase: 14” – 14.6”
Tail: 6.25” – 6.5”
Nose: 6.75” – 7.25”
Remember that these numbers are only the average, typical sizes. You can get boards that are much smaller, or much larger, in both popsicle and shaped decks. Again, stand on as many boards as you can, and just see what “feels right.”
Small Batch Brands: Everything I’ve said so far is about mass produced skateboard decks. There are other options. There are now a plethora of smaller, local, hand-made, brands available. You will have to connect to you local scene to tap into these options.
Grip Tape: The two most common grip tape companies are Jessup, MOB, and Grizzly. Jessup is a little less “grippy” than MOB (which can be a too coarse for some people). Any local shop, or on-line store, can put tape on for you if you don’t want to do it yourself.
The three big names in trucks these days are Independent, Thunder, and Ace. There are other options (Tracker, Gullwing, and Venture still exist!), but these three are the most common. The basic rule is to match the width of your trucks to the width of your deck. While you are absolutely free to ride trucks wider, or narrower, than your deck, matching-up width is a great place to start. Each company has their own truck size charts that can be viewed on their respective web sites. Each has their own different truck models, too (e.g. standards, hollow axle/king pin, titantiums, etc). In this post I will refrain from asserting my personal tastes, but you can read more about those here.
In the 1980s wheels averaged around 60mm in size, and about a 95a hardness. In the early 1990s the size dropped down to 40mm, and hardness went up to 103a. Things have since stabilized. Standard size wheels now range 51-54mm for street, and 55mm-58mm for bigger transition. Again, all of this is somewhat subjective. Like decks, if you want reissue Rat Bones or Slimeballs, you can get them. Most modern wheels are 99a or 101a. There are, however, many companies that make softer wheels, even down 85a. Again, if you want it, you can get it.
For most of this post I will steer clear of advocating for specific brands or products, because I want people to make up their own minds about what works best for them. I will make two exceptions to that rule (well, maybe three). Wheels is the first of those two of those expectations.
In my humble opinion, the best wheels made today are Spitfire Formula Four wheels. There are few reasons why I think they are the best. First, they are among the most flat-spot resistant wheels on the market. There are several YouTube clips of people TRYING to flat-spot them with long power slides, and they are unable to do it. Yes, ALL wheels will go out-of-round with time and use, but Formula Four Spitfires seem to be far more durable than anything else. The second reason I am big fan of Spitfires is that they come in a lot of sizes and shapes. The performance of wheel shape is a subjective thing. Which is the best? That is your call. A wheel with a rounder edge will roll into and out of grinds easier, and will initiate power slides easier than a more squared-off wheel. Conversely, a squared-off edge will “lock-in” to grinds better. Spitfire makes a variety of different shapes to choose from.
IMPORTANT: DO NOT buy “regular” Spitfire wheels. They suck, and flatspot quickly. ONLY BUY THE FORMULA FOUR Spitfires.
Other popular wheel companies are Bones (Powell), Speedlab, Mini Logo, Ricta, and OJs. Yes, OJs. Note that some of Bones wheels are graded on a different durometer scale (the B-Scale), and might be a bit confusing at first. Their web site will explain it.
Bearings are the second place where I will advocate for a specific product. But first, a note about bearing technology. Historically bearings contain seven 5/32 inch balls within each bearing ring. Powell came up with a new system. They now produce a bearing that has six, larger, 3/16 inch balls instead of the smaller seven-ball version. In the six-ball version, the balls are 20% larger, and thus roll fewer times to go the same distance. The six-ball version accelerate quicker, have a higher top speed/roll faster, and resist the impact of landings better than the standard seven-ball design. The six-ball version is most likely the future for bearings. So, what should you get? If you want to go the six-ball route, there are two options. First, is Bones Big Balls Reds. These are the “price point” version. They run about $25 bucks for a set. Second is Bones Super Swiss Six. These, IMHO, are the best bearings on the market. They run about $60 a set. Yeah, they are more expensive, but they are absolutely worth it. If you don’t want to go the six-ball route, Powell still makes standard seven-ball versions. Those are the Bones Red ($18 a set), Super Reds ($30 set), and Bones Swiss ($55 a set). Remember that you get what you pay for, and half the fun of skateboarding is the ability to roll. Bearings are what makes that happen. Choose wisely. There are number of other decent bearings out there, but you will never go wrong with Powell/Bones.
IMPORTANT: Never buy bearings (esp. Bones bearings) from Amazon. Never. There are many counterfeit, fake, cheaply made versions of Bones bearings out there. Powell is aware of this, and has even issued some public statements about the issue. If you are going to buy Bones bearings ONLY get them from a reputable skate shop.
CLEAN YOUR BALLS: Bones bearings can easily be cleaned, provided that you so according to manufacture specs. You should do this when needed, esp., if you get one of the more expensive versions. Cleaning them will make them last longer, and keep you rolling at top speed with minimal effort.
Ok, shoes. This topic could be it’s own post. Shoes are a huge market, and there are many, many options. Shoes are actually a somewhat controversial topic. Some very Big Name Sporting Companies have developed a strong presence in skateboarding. Nike. Adidas. New Balance. Converse. Etc. And as I am sure you know, Vans is no longer a tiny company that takes out tiny ¼ page ads in back of skate magazines. They now have retail outlet stores at almost every large mall in America. Things have really changed. Before I get into specific brands, there are two basic models of skate shoes. One is “vulcanized.” The other is “cupsole.” These terms refer to the way the sole of the shoe is manufactured. They feel, and skate, radically different from each other. Vulcanized give you much more “board feel” but can also provide a lot less “cushion” for your feet. Cupsoles are the exact opposite. Cupsoles can make it more difficult to “feel” the board, but they provide a lot more impact cushion. I’ll go an extreme to illuminate the point: vulcanized shoes are like skating in socks, while cupsoles are like skating in moonboots. What to get? Go somewhere and try on lots of shoes (and stand on a deck if you can), and see what feels best to you. Usually people fall squarely into one these camps (vulcs v. cups) and despise the other. It is very rare to find someone who likes both vulcanized and cupsole shoes.
VANS: Vans have been around forever. They have supported skateboarding since Day One. Their shoes have changed a bit over the years, but mostly remain the same (quality is not quite the same as it once was). The vast majority of Vans shoes are vulcanized. Some older skaters say that their feet and knees will no longer allow them to skate in Vans. Some of those exact people have changed their opinion on Vans after reading this.
NIKE / ADIDAS / NEW BALANCE / CONVERSE: These are all big name sports companies that have deep pockets for research and development department. And it shows. Contrary to vans, some older skaters claim that Nike (or other Big Name company) shoes are the only reason they can KEEP skateboarding (but have they read this??). These shoes can be surprisingly expensive. Moreover, all of these companies can be somewhat controversial in skateboarding. I’ll cover that more in Part Three.
OTHER BRANDS: I’ll be honest, I cannot speak from too much personal experience on other brands. I skate in Vans with Kingfoams. I have tried other brands (inc. Adidas), and I just didn’t like the board feel and fit. There a ton of other brands, and each offer lots of different shoes. Other big companies are Emerica, Etnies, and eS (all owned by same company), DC, Fallen, Lakai, and Supra. If you want any more detailed reviews of these, check out the SLAP Forum.
Ok, maybe I lied. I said you could gat anything you want these days. Well, that may not be true. I am not sure if you can get skid plates anymore (aside from ones for freestyle boards) or nose bones for that matter. That said, rails, coopers, and even lappers are still available! Moreover, side rails have made somewhat of a comeback. While they never really went away for big transitions skaters, for a long time you never saw side rails used by street skaters. That is no longer true. While they are not the standard for street skating, you absolutely see some street using them again. In some contexts rails have a huge advantage. They can be really fun to play around with.
I talked about a bit about pads in part one of this series. I have also written a lot about pads elsewhere in this blog (which can be seen here, here, and here).
This section will not go into per se discussion about the merit of pads. It will, however, provide information for anyone who may want to get pads, so they can make some educated shopping decisions. One thing is quite true with pads, you get what you pay for. If you are seriously looking for protection, drop the money for it. If something seems expensive, ask yourself, is the ability to walk worth $150?
ELBOW / KNEE: There are several options. First, is to determine the level of protection, and mobility you want. If you want serious impact protection, you will want something different than a pad that just protects against simple abrasions. Terrain is also something to consider. Will you mostly be hitting curbs near your house? Will you mostly be hitting a local park that has lots of transition and banks (e.g. greater chance of actually needing to knee slide, or falling from something higher than a curb)? Consider what you will be skating, and adjust accordingly. Below are few comments on different brands/options/etc.
Pro-Tec: Pro-tec has been around awhile, but their quality is not what it used to be. If you want a pad that is lightweight, and serves to protect against minor bumps and scrapes (rather than serious impact protection), check out Pro-Tec street pads. Again, quality is not the best, and neither is the protection, but they are better than nothing, and they are pretty easy to move in. They are a little on the thin side, so I would not recommend anyone do serious knee slides/impact with these. Also note that fit-wise, they tend to run on the smaller side. Maybe order a size up.
Triple 8 / Smith: I am lumping these two brands together. I do not consider them to be as “cheap” as Pro-Tec, nor very high-end. Both companies make a something akin to the Pro-Tec street pads mentioned above (e.g. just protect against simple dings and abrasions but not offer serious impact protection), and pads that are a much higher quality and would be suitable for almost any terrain. For Triple 8, check out their Knee Savers, Street Pads, KP 22, and KP Pro (cheapest to most expensive). For Smith, check out their Scabs and Elite Scabs.
187 Killer: These are very popular with big tranny skaters. You can get these in a lot of custom colors off their web site. I am not a fan of 187s. I just don’t like the way the look, and they seem to stick way out from your knee (e.g. very bulky, high-profile, etc., esp on their higher-end pads). That said, they are popular for a reason—they are a quality product. 187 also makes a full range of pads, from a thin “street” pad, to the very bulky “Pro” pads. They recently introduced a “slim” pad, but I know next to nothing about it.
Pro-Designed: Pro-Designed pads are really, really, really good. They are expensive, but they are worth every cent. I would not ride tranny with anything but PDs. They make both Mini Ramp/Street pads (lower profile), and the Super Single pads for bigger/full-sized bowls/ramps/etc. I own a set of each. Pro-Designeds are on the bigger side of pads (e.g. they are not “slim flitting”), but they are within acceptable range, at least for me. I’d take them over 187s any day. For street skating, these are a mixed. I only wear pads when skating transition. But on occasion I do stray over to the “street” area of my local park after skating transition (e.g. while still wearing my mini ramp pads). I definitely notice some difference in mobility (esp. on big ollies and more technical tricks), but it’s not a deal breaker (e.g. there is nothing I cannot do because I’m wearing them). Yes, it’s a little more cumbersome, but I’m sure if I wore them regularly on street I wouldn’t notice them anymore. PDs might be overkill for just street skating, unless you need/want serious impact protection.
|Me falling, with my PDs saving my ass.|
An internet friend added these comments. "I will say that Smith Scabs Elite 2 knee pads are of exceptional functional and protection. The padding can be removed from the outer shell/sleeve prior to washing to reduce degradation, and they are much more capable to achieve a fine-tuned fit than 187s. Also the Elite 2 pads have removeable and replaceable caps. A great improvement on the whole over the earlier Elite Scabs style. 187s are robust, but they repeatedly SLIP on me, so I won’t use them. Lots of people have good success with 187s, but not me." -Bryan Chuck
WRIST GUARDS: I hardly ever wear wrist guards, but every older skater should own a set. Why? Because when you fall, and hurt/sprain your wrist (and you will), wearing a wrist guard will help prevent it from getting worse. Fortunately I don’t do this that often, but when I do, having wrist guards available is a god-send. With these, there is no debate. Pro-Designed makes the best ones. Period. End of story. Nothing better.
HELMETS: There are number of different manufactures that produce good, quality, certified helmets. Pro-Tec, Triple 8, S-One, 187 Killer, and Bell are all good. All of these fit differently, and people’s heads come in vastly different shapes and sizes. So, if you want a helmet, go try them on somewhere. A good fitting helmet you will hardly notice. An ill-fitting one will either give you a pounding headache in 10 minutes (because it’s too tight), or provide inadequate protection (because it’s too loose). Can’t find the exact style and color you want? Simple, just go try helmets on somewhere, and determine the brand/size that most comfortably fits. Once you have that info, just order the exact one you want on-line somewhere. Make sure to cover it with stickers.
IMPORTANT: ONLY BUY A CERTIFIED HELMET. REPEAT. ONLY BUY A CERTIFIED HELMET. Non-certified helmets are useless, and do almost nothing for actual protection. They should be banned from sale due to their misleading nature (in fact, they are banned in California). If you have a non-certified helmet (or your kid does), throw it out, and get a real helmet. Below are a few links to more information about certified helmets.
On to the Next
So, that about covers it for equipment. Remember that skateboarding is supposed to be fun, and it has no rules. With those considerations, when putting together a new board, go for what you are going to have the most fun with. Follow your own path to happiness, no matter what deck, truck, or wheel that may be.
In the next section we are going to cover navigating the skate shop, the skate park, and skateboard social media without making a fool of yourself.