Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Welcome Back: Starting Up Again After a Long Break, Part II.


This is the second installment of a four 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 is the second section, which 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). I recently added Part 4, as an epilogue to this series, which deals with skate-related anxiety.

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; ease of functionality. You may have a much easier time honing your ollie again on a modern deck (lighter, large upturned nose and shorter wheelbase) than with an old-school deck (super heavy, 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. A friend of mine who religiously rode shaped boards later gave a popsicle a try. He wrote a great article on the two, and what advantages and disadvantages each has. It is absolutely worth your time to read. That article can be found here: Popsicles vs. Shaped Decks. If you don't want a modern popsicle deck, no problem. But again, equipment evolved for a (damn good) reason. If you are looking for some functionality, but don't want a popsicle, I would strongly advise taking a hard look at modern shaped boards. These retain some of the old-school feel, with modern advances.

So, 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 (but a word of caution comes with that; Reissues often seem like the would be fun. However, people often get on them and realize, "Yeah. These things are horrible skateboards. I'm so glad equipment evolved"). 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, boards will now seem big to you. In contemporary times, the most common dimensions are:

Width: 8.0” – 8.75”
Length: 31.8” – 32.4”
Wheelbase: 14” – 14.75”
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 with your local scene to tap these options.

Grip Tape: The 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). However, Jessup is known to peel-up a bit on the sides after long use/wear. Any local shop, or on-line store, can put tape on for you if you don’t want to do it yourself.

Trucks & Bushings

Trucks: 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). Personally, I would say go with a set of Independent forged trucks if you're getting back into things. Why? Because you will never go wrong with Indy. Ace and Thunder are also very popular trucks. Ace trucks ride looser than Indys. Thunders ride tighter. Indy is a good happy medium to get you rolling again. Why the forged Indys? Again, aiming for the happy medium. Standard Indys are 55mm tall. These are among the tallest trucks on the market. Most trucks now range between 51mm and 53mm tall. Indy forged trucks are 53mm tall, so again, that happy medium. But what if you are setting up larger wheels? No problem. Just add a small riser pad. You can always make lower trucks taller (with a riser), but you can never make taller trucks lower. Plus, the forged Indys have a stronger baseplate than the standard (non-forged) ones. (NOTE: I would advise staying away from the Indy "Mids" (inverted kingpin, 52mm tall) which were released in 2021. I'll update why in the near future).

Bushings: You may be a bit, well, "larger" than you were when you last skated. This will impact how your trucks turn. A 200 pound adult male is going to put a lot more pressure on truck bushing than a 150 pound teenager. Where am I going with this? Your trucks might feel a lot looser than you want them to be. Part of this can be directly attributed to increased weight. But fear not. If you find your trucks are too loose, you can get harder bushings to replace the stock ones with. Usually bushing comes in two "shapes." One is a conical shape (e.g. the bottom one tapers) and the other is a standard cylinder shape (e.g. there is NO taper). The standard cylinder ones ride a tad "tighter" than their conical counterparts of the same hardness. It was on explained to me that, "conical bushings allow more turning range, while barrel bushing provide stability." This seems to make some sense.

Most trucks come with stock bushings that are in the 90a-92a range. After market bushing can go up to 100a hardness. If you decide to swap out your bushings, just make sure you get ones that are compatible with your trucks (not all bushing are interchangeable). Last, you may hear a lot about Bones Bushings. They are indeed great, take very, very little time to break-in, and give a very smooth turn. Note however, they are known for "blowing out" after awhile. They also blowout from the inside, so it can be difficult to visually tell they are toast. If you keep tightening them down, but they don't seem to get any tighter, that means they have blown out. Despite this problem, they do indeed have a large following because of how good they otherwise perform. One last note on Bones bushings--their "hard" bushing is a 96a (which is actually a mid-range hardness), and it rides MUCH "softer/looser" than almost all other 96a bushings. The "medium" Bones bushings come in at 91a, which actually on "soft" end of things, and they ride much softer than any other 91a bushing. Last the soft Bones bushing are 81a, which is incredibly soft. I have never met anyone who has those on their skateboard. Personally, I would avoid those.   

Three last notes on bushings:

First, if you skated in the late 1980s or early 1990s, then you remember how bad Indy stock bushing were. Well, a lot has changed in the last 30 years. However, the folklore around Indy bushings unfortunately remains. In the present day, Indy stock bushings are great. Moreover, if the stock ones are too soft/hard for you, Indy makes a ton of after-market bush in a whole range of hardnesses, in both cylinder and conical shapes. 

Second, Ace trucks ride very "loose." They come stock with quite soft bushings. Ace bushing are not standard sizes, meaning they can be difficult to swap-out without changing the intended turn geometry of the trucks. Ace has recently announced that they will be making harder after-market bushings for people who may think the Ace stock bushings are too soft/lose, but I don't think these have hit the market yet. Moreover, the "harder" Ace bushings are still quite soft by industry standards.

Third, and this one is important. When you are riding a new set of trucks, with new bushings, the bushing will often feel a bit "mushy" at first. Avoid really cranking down the kingpin nut if you want to tighten them up. Yes, you can tighten it, a bit, but don't go crazy. Instead, just keep skating. They will break-in, and once they do, they will start to ride a bit stiffer (stock Indy bushings take me about 20-30 min for this to happen). If you crank down that kingpin nut before the bushings are really broken in, you run a much greater chance of blowing-out the bushing. Also, if your kingpin nut is showing a lot of kingpin threads sticking out over the top of the nut (e.g. you've got the nut cranked down pretty hard to tighten your trucks up), it means you need harder bushings. Your kingpin nut should, more or less, sit close to flush with the top of the kingpin bolt.          


In the 1980s wheels averaged around 60mm in size, and about a 95a hardness. In the early 1990s the size dropped down to sub-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, however, make a few exceptions to that rule. Wheels is one 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. This video does a GREAT job of explaining all the technical difference between rounder edged wheels and square edged wheels. I would strongly advise you watch it. 

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, Slimeballs, and 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.  

A Note About Ratios: My friend Bob made this remark in the comment section below. It is so important that I am adding it to the main body of this post. I can't believe I over looked this. Bob's comments are spot on;

 "If you are going to ride a modern board, set it up as a 100% modern board. Setting up a modern street deck (popsicle) with massive old school wheels really doesn't work. The proportions aren't right. And proportions are everything." Following Bob's comments, here is someone's account of an epiphany they had about their ratios being way off. Dude's board was set-up in a way that not only negatively impacting his skating, but it also having adverse effects on his body (board height was aggravating an Achilles problems). Dude changed his equipment, and things got much better, almost instantly. His story is well worth your time to read, because it illuminates and important point about "proper" ratios with your set-up. 


Bearings are another 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/eBay. 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 its own post. Hell, it could be its own blog. 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. 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. Usually that is because they are wearing the "classic" Vans. Note that Vans has two lines of shoes, Classic and Skate. The "classics" are designed for people that hang out in the food court at the mall. The "Skate" version is designed for, well, skateboarding. I often see people rail against Vans and complain that their feet hurt after skating...only to realize they wear the Classics and not the Skate version. To this end, however, there are some skaters who prefer the Classics...but not many. The "pop cush" insoles that come with the Skate version is top-notch, and can do a lot to help those old feet and knees. That said, some may need the added cushioning of a cupsole shoe.

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. These shoes can be surprisingly expensive. Moreover, all of these companies can be somewhat controversial in skateboarding. Some people are really against the idea of "outsiders" trying to play the "carpetbagger" role. I will not take any sides on that issue here, other than to point out that such controversy exsits.

OTHER BRANDS: I’ll be honest, I cannot speak from too much personal experience on other brands. I skate in Vans. I have tried other brands (inc. Adidas), and I just didn’t like the board feel, the fit, or the looks. 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 get 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 totally went away for 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 skaters using them again. In some contexts rails have a huge advantage, and they can be really fun to play around with. What are those huge advantages? Watch this clip and you will see it all explained in great detail. 


Pads, Helmets, Etc.

I talked a bit about pads in part one of this series. I have also written about pads elsewhere on this blog (this one is definitely worth your time to read). 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 $100? I recently wrote a much more extensive safety gear Buyer's Guide, which can be found here. That Buyer's Guide is a deep-dive into pads, so I will let that post do the talking, and not say much else about pads here. 


  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, but remember that equipment evolved for a reason (e.g. don't unduly let nostalgia for past hinder your ability/equipment choices in the present). That said, follow your own path to happiness, no matter what deck, truck, or wheel that may be. Your Stoke does not have to meet anyone else's standards.

Part Three covers navigating the skate shop, the skate park, and skateboard social media without making a fool of yourself.