Longboard Design – Features that Matter
Longboards vary in all sizes, shapes, flexes, materials used, and pricing. We can go on and on about the nuance, but we’ll try to be concise. We are going to hammer down on a short list of longboard design features, try to speak about the things we think matter the most, and clear up some things that skaters, both beginners and hype-heavy enthusiasts, might get fooled into thinking matter.
Longboard Design Elements
- Length – The length of the board is one of the first longboard design features most new riders will look at. Most longboards are likely anywhere from 24 to 60 inches. Smaller boards are obviously easier to transport, especially if you are carrying them. They are lighter, take up less space, and often cost less. Longer length boards offer more foot space and often times a longer wheelbase. Other than that, length does not matter. Don’t be fooled.A 42 inch pintail may only have 24 inches of useable foot space when you take into account that the rear trucks mount on a space that’s 6 inches wide and you would never stand there purposefully. In our opinion, the pintail longboard is seriously outdated and doesn’t conform to our brand’s mantra of minimalism and functionalism. If it doesn’t have function, it doesn’t belong! If pure rootsy style is what you’re after, the pintail might be right up your alley, but utilitarian, it is not.What matters about length is foot space, otherwise known as standing platform. This consists of area on the board where you would want to stand. For example, we make a drop shape that is prevalent on many of our boards. In classically dropped boards, you will have a certain amount of foot space on the deck before your foot is wedged uncomfortably against a steep drop of a platform. In our crescent drop, you can actually curl your foot around the drop, and since most of the time when you are skating forward, your front foot will be at an angle, this actually increases the available foot space on our drop boards, which allows us to make them shorter in length without really feeling too small.
- Wheelbase – Wheelbase is one of the most crucial elements of longboard design that will define the way your board rides. Shorter wheelbase = tighter turning radius. Longer wheelbase = larger turning radius. Wheelbase will also affect stability at speed, as shorter wheelbases are more reactive, and this becomes especially noticeable as your speed increases. Meanwhile, shorter wheelbases will often times feel more lively at lower speeds, but can feel more dangerous at higher speeds. Cue the video of the street deck hill bomb death wobbles (and of course the hero makes it, except when he doesn’t).Here’s a great example of how wheelbase, and not necessarily length, will affect how the board rides. Our Pantheon Ember Mini Commuter Longboard, for example, is just over 32 inches long. Actually shorter by a quarter inch than our pool and transition deck, the Pantheon Bankroller, and just longer than your typical 32-inch street deck. The Ember, as a dedicated commuter board, bypasses large tails for popping ollies and puts that length in the middle of the deck, throwing the wheels and trucks mounts out at the very edges. This gives the Ember a 25-inch compared to a street deck’s typical 14 to 14 1/2 inch wheelbase.Now, everyone will have different comfort levels with stability based on their experience, but using me as a yardstick, I might start to feel nervous around 18-20 mph on a 14 1/2 inch wheelbase and around 30-35 mph on a 25 inch wheelbase, both boards having 149mm Paris street trucks with stock bushings. Just so we’re comparing apples to apples. I took the Ember to about 45mph before it started wobbling on me and I shut it down, and I would never take a Bankroller over 30mph, personally.
In general, wheelbases under about 20 inches will be very touchy. Wheelbases between 20 and 27 inches will fall somewhere in the middle spectrum–lively but fairly stable. And wheelbases over 28 inches will be stable and a little bit more sluggish at lower speeds. This is all adjustable with bushing setups and truck angles, especially, but on a stock setup, these are great baseline generalities.
Wheelbase will also affect grip. The more you can physically stand on the wheels, the more you are going to be able to put direct downward force into deforming that flexible lip on the wheel, which will add to your grip. This affects when you’re gripping a corner, and it also affects the level of grip you have when releasing into or gripping up from a slide. The longer wheelbase you have, the more grip release and grip-up will happen slowly. Think of a sports car slipping out compared to a semi-truck. Our grippiest downhill deck, for example, is the one you stand the highest on and the closest to the wheels–the Seed Downhill Slalom deck. Our least grippy deck is the one with the longest wheelbase and lowest center of gravity, and flex–the Quest LDP longboard.
- Shape – Often times an aesthetic choice for basic boards, shape becomes an ever more important part the longboard design as a board’s purpose becomes more defined. We are listing the word “shape” here, but what really matters is foot space. If you can’t put your feet on a part of this deck, it really ought to serve an important functional purpose, or it shouldn’t be there.The inclusion of a kicktail is an obvious important element of shape. A tail may be an important consideration for many beginner longboarders, who will think that they need a tail to kickturn. This is true, IF you are, indeed, going to kickturn! But what many will soon realize is that longboard trucks on a board with cutouts will turn way harder than expected, and kickturns on large boards can feel very clunky and uncoordinated and will rarely if ever get used.What tails will totally get used for is for freestyle tricks, ollies, and just general kookery that feels good and isn’t taken seriously. If you are the type of rider who doesn’t mind demolishing their board and wants to play all day, a tail is probably a must. If you are more of a utilitarian type or concerned about keeping your board fresh, a tail will probably almost never get used enough to justify its existence. At Pantheon, we tend to put tails on boards to play on and avoid them on utilitarian setups.
Lastly, in regards to shape, wheel clearance can be a deciding factor due to the board’s brick-ish figure or more slender nose and tail known as wheel cutouts. Wheel cutouts are pretty obvious in function, but one thing of note from Pantheon’s longboard design perspective is that large wheel cutouts drive us nuts. Basically when you provide wheel relief with your shape, you are giving up foot space. What that means, as a rule for us as board designers, is that you should minimize the size of your cutout to the absolute minimum in order to get your feet as close to the wheels as possible, allowing a more direct connection between your feet, your trucks and wheels, and therefore the road.
The further back you are from the front trucks–and this is especially true for a deck with any flex–the less control you have. This means you are more likely you are to get those infamous death wobbles. Equally important, traction will be reduced. We are a big believer in traction and control, and that’s why we tend to produce fairly “hard” cutouts, which provide just enough space for a large wheel and nothing more.
A great example of utilitarian wheel cutouts in longboard design is our Pantheon Trip Double Drop Longboard, which can fit 150mm Paris trucks and 85mm Seismic Speed Vents, but where you’re really only standing slightly back from the truck mounting position when compared to many other double dropped decks on the market. And equally as impressive, the Pantheon Ember Commuter Longboard actually is designed around street-style or TKP trucks vs. your typical longboard for RKP trucks. This is significant in that the axle placement between these two style trucks if very different, and the TKP trucks lean a lot more than RKP style trucks, which means that you can build the standing platform out further on a deck built around TKPs and make more use of the available space on the board.
You can actually fit 85mm offset wheels on the Ember with 149mm street trucks (the same trucks you might have on your pool deck) with no bite! What a use of space! This is partially due to our crescent drop design that we created and equally a result of just being extremely diligent in testing and putting as much board as possible in the design and stopping right before wheelbite becomes a real problem. We speak more about the importance of truly custom longboard design in another blog.
- Construction – Skateboard companies are sometimes going to entice you will really fancy constructions. Once you start mixing composites into your skate construction, it will likely last a bit longer, may be less prone to warping, and it may be stiffer (or even provide for a great range of flexibility!). It all depends on how you make it. It will also be more expensive, because composite material and the resin that is used to infuse into the material and bond to the core is quite expensive. We’ve seen companies put several layers of carbon in their deck and several layers of fiberglass as well, but did you know that almost all of the strength and stiffness in your longboard deck comes from the outermost layers? So if those layers are anywhere but the outer layer of your construction, there is likely very little reason for them to be there and generally shows that they don’t really understand what they’re doing with the composites.Generally speaking, composites can assist in skateboard construction by allowing you to create a more lightweight core without sacrificing strength. But because they can be significantly more expensive, we don’t always recommend expensive constructions for beginners or people that tend to change their boards often. If you are the type of rider that prefers to try out a lot of different shapes or is always being enticed by the newest shape on the market, or if you’re a beginner that doesn’t really have a feel for what you like in a skateboard yet, spending extra money while you’re finding this out is really unnecessary.As a maker, like Pantheon, we generally don’t want to start investing in composite construction until we feel like our shape is 100% crystallized. PERFECTED. If you’ve been following us over the past five years, you may have noticed that we make small modifications to our molds almost yearly, with few exceptions. NOTHING is perfect. So as a result, we have focused efforts on our molds and shapes and often times, less effort on creating a fancy construction. Riding a wood board never stopped James Kelly from winning downhill races. The most important thing, we’ve always found, is feel.
- Concave and Mold Features – This has always been the most important part of the longboard design process for Pantheon. The interface between your feet and the road has a huge impact on how you feel on your skateboard. Concave will affect leverage from how your trucks will react to reference and leverage points when sliding your skateboard, and it will also greatly affect stiffness! Concaves range widely, but we are big believers in concaves that are ergonomic. There are three basic concave shapes, including radial, elliptical / progressive, and tub concave.
Quickly outlined, radial or taco concave is a constant curve, elliptical or progressive concave is a little bit more flat in the center and increases in aggressiveness toward the edges, and tub tends to be flat in the center with most or all of the concave on the outer edges of the board.
We, at Pantheon, tend to focus our longboard design attention toward progressive concaves, and while we have made mildly tubby concaves in the past, over time we have gradually become less tubby and slightly more radial, while always leaving most of the bend around about a 4 inch stripe down the middle that will have a very slight but not aggressive concave. This is to help provide comfort for your feet, as your foot is not concave, so aggressive concave in the center will either leave a gap underneath your foot (literally, we have seen sunlight between the foot and the board at some sessions).
Equally important is providing appropriate leverage points for control, and this is why we have moved our longboard design away from tubby concave (imagine a bathtub with ample concave at the edges and very flat across the middle), as the flatness across the width of the deck often provides very little control until your feet are completely in “snowboard stance.” Most of our riding is not in this stance, so through experience, we have moved away from tub-style concave. Radial concave is something we have never been a huge fan of either, as the center of your foot can get cramped up pretty easily when trying to conform in the center, where your foot doesn’t flex to fit. We like progressive concave because it cups at the heel and cups at the toe and fits your foot more anatomically.
Concave that has a bump in the middle of it is called W-concave. The raised hump in the middle of the concave is a leverage point and can be very useful for downhill specific boards, where pushing is minimal and leverage for toeside slides is necessary. W-concave can also provide a nice reference point when in tuck, full steaming down a hill where the last thing you want to do is look down at your feet. Eyes on the road, mister!
Where W-concave is useful for downhill, it is the opposite for pushing and cruising, when most of your time is going to be in forward stance and balance is crucial. Standing on top of W-concave is literally like standing on a ball. Firstly, it can cause foot cramping. Additionally, the leverage points you would like to be using for balance and light steering on one foot are not there, and it’s almost like you’re standing on a ball. I have heard riders say, “It doesn’t really bother me,” and, “You get used to it,” and they may be right. You just might get used to it! I believe in empirical evidence. If you push two boards for a mile–one with W-concave and one with gentle radial–all other things being the same, you will push faster on the board without W-concave every single time. This is because you are focusing your attention on moving forward and producing power in the forward direction, and on W-concave, your energy will be more focused on keeping your balance. The idea is to make balance an afterthought and focus attention toward whatever you want!
The other two main longboard design features you will see outside of concave styles, when it comes to the mold, are 3D concaves / wheel flares and drops.
Wheel flares are a significant increase in concave around the wheel wells that provide a leverage point as well as increase wheel clearance, so you can run larger wheels without wheel bite. These are useful but REALLY need to be in the right place. On a pure downhill board, you can sit in tuck stance with your toe jammed up against a wheel flare and your front foot at around a 45 degree angle. That’s fine. But if the board is designed in such a way that you are going to be free riding with your foot 90 degree across the board and your foot on that flare, it’s going to be very uncomfortable. Your foot can’t make those bends, and it will result in less surface area of your foot actually touching the board. For comfort’s sake, you might find that your stance gets jammed forward in the flare is too heavy toward the back, or you will just have a really uncomfortable back foot.
This biggest disadvantage with uncomfortable bends, even if they provide for decent leverage, is that you should be thinking about what you’re doing on your skateboard, the road, and your surroundings. Not trying to figure out how to get comfortable! That is a good way to lose focus and end up in a guardrail. We like leverage points, but we really want them to be anatomical and ergonomic.
Drops are an awesome longboard design feature that lower the standing platform of the deck on the Z-axis below where the trucks mount to the board. We really specialize in dropped shapes with our crescent drop. We have written an entire blog about the benefits of the crescent drop, so you can get deeper into it if you desire. Drops, in general, lower your center of gravity on the board and make the deck inherently more stable. They also provide heavy leverage points for sliding. And nothing does it like the crescent drop!
A drop will also make pushing and foot braking significantly easier. For this reason, we often recommend our double dropped longboards for beginners or skaters looking for a dedicated commuter or distance skateboard. There truly is nothing like the efficiency of a double drop (a dropped platform with drop-through truck mounting) for pushing and easy freeriding.
While the drop feature may sound like nothing but a win from our description, which is certainly is in many ways, it is important to note that lowering the center of gravity in relation to the trucks will also lower your leverage and grip. This is why you will almost always find modern downhill racers and many high speed freeriders riding full top mounts or micro-drops. More grip means more feedback when the board is sideways, and riders depend on feedback and grip when you’re blasting turns at break-neck speeds.
This makes the dropped platform especially ideal sell for pushers and commuters and also great for novice freeriders that are learning slides or advanced riders who want to slide easily with little effort, but as riders turn up the intensity of their hill riding, they will want to be higher off the ground and putting down-force into the wheels. This is part of what makes the micro-dropped deck so popular for today’s freeriders, as many riders enjoy the sliding leverage and reference points that a drop provides without losing too much turning leverage and grip.
Wrap It Up, Jeff!
Alright, we’ve been through a lot of longboard design features in this blog, and there is certainly more nuance to be covered, but I think we are managing to cover just about everything there is to cover in regards to the basics of designing a longboard. Be sure to check out our longboard deck page to see all these concepts manifested in real life! We will most assuredly cover more longboard design elements in the future, especially in regards to setups. The deck is only a piece of the puzzle! But for the purposes of Pantheon, this is where we put our design focus, and we focus our energy toward the rest of the setup within the confines of products made by other companies. That means you have some recommendations coming! Stay tuned, bookmark us, sign up for our mailing list, and come see us again at Pantheon Longboards.