Longboards: Summertime Fun in Calgary
Skating on a longboard might not be the best hobby for life in Canada, where winters can take up about 5 months of the year, but it's as good as any other summer-time hobby. I first tried long-boarding in 2014, thinking it's “kind of like skateboarding, but without the tricks and the skate parks.” I did not know much about it, nor did I do much research prior to buying a board. The experience turned out lacklustre. I sold the board and filed the whole experience in the “not for me” folder.
Fast forward to 2021. Social life had taken a hit after the COVID lockdowns, and something like long-boarding around the city pathways seemed like a good idea. I figured it's as good a time as any to revisit this hobby. This time around, I did do more research and went into the hobby with a bit more knowledge. I had no plans to learn tricks or to go downhill like you see in many videos online. I always felt attracted to skateboards, but at the ripe age of 30-something, I don't want any injuries.
Back in the 90s, I did have a penny board when I was a kid, and I did enjoy it quite a bit. I don't know what happened to it. I think it stayed behind when my family moved to Canada. A penny board is a plastic skateboard with larger wheels, as opposed to the traditional ones made for tricks.
Speaking of terminology, I won't bore you with too much detail, but here are some of the basics that you can skip if you are already familiar with the lingo. Remember, I am still learning too, so this is a pretty generic overview:
this is the board itself, usually made of several layers of wood, or sometimes other materials that might be stiffer and lighter. The drop-through decks will get you closer to the ground, which in turn makes pushing easier. Pushing is how you make the board move. Decks that are not drop-through look more like regular skateboards, but longer. The difference in ride hight comes from how the truck's baseplate is mounted. On a drop-through deck, the baseplate sites above the board, contrary to traditional skateboard decks, where the baseplate is under the deck.
This is the metal part that connects your deck to the wheels. At first sight, these may look all the same, but there are two main types: TKP (traditional kingpin) and RKP (reverse kingpin). The kingpin is the big metal bolt that keeps everything together, linking the baseplate to the hanger. The hanger is the T-shaped axle. TKP trucks are traditionally used in regular skateboards (the ones for tricks). RKP trucks are the most common longboard trucks: the kingpin faces outwards, so it would make tricks difficult. In exchange, RKP trucks offer better stability. You can still put TKP trucks on a longboard in order to achieve certain handling preferences, or to make smaller longboards more skate-trick-friendly so to speak.
There are so many wheels to choose from. The main considerations are size and hardness. The larger the wheels, the farther they will roll. Big wheels are great if you're taking longer rides on your longboard, and like to cruise with ease. On the other hand, smaller wheels might be better for a more nimble board. Wheel hardness will dictate how grippy the board is. A harder wheel can help you slide, but you'll also feel more of the little debris on the pathways. What I found was that for my area of the city, softer wheels are best. Most pathways are in good shape, but not nearly top notch smooth asphalt. Soft wheels will lose less momentum when going over debris and cracks in the pavement.
These are the little rubber cylinders that are part of the trucks. Hard bushings will make for a more steady ride at the expense of turn radius. Softer bushings will make the ride feel more responsive. Expert riders also note that different bushings have different rebound properties that help with certain styles of riding. For cruising around, I've been pretty happy with medium bushings, but I do change them and experiment with different hardness levels. The choice in bushings also depends on your body weight. What is a good medium bushing for me may be too soft for a heavier rider, for example.
Now that we went over some skateboard terminology, let's have a look at the boards that kept me busy these last two summers!
First up is the Ripper, made by Landyachtz – a Vancouver-based manufacturer. This turned out to be a good choice for me. It is a good all-around board. It was great for me to practice and I was able to learn and understand more of the longboard technicalities as I kept cruising the pathways and reading online posts from others who share the hobby.
The kick-tail offers the option to get the nose off the ground if I ever do want to learn some basic tricks. This board came with TKP trucks, which make the Ripper feel very responsive. The bushings that came with it are a bit hard, but I chose not to change them. I'm keeping this board as is. The wheels are a little small for cruising. With a diameter of 63mm, they are on the smaller side as far as longboard wheels go. The hardness rating of 78A makes them pretty soft, which I was happy with on the older segments of the pathways. The Ripper is a fun board, but the smaller wheels demand a bit more pushing than some of the boards I built later on.
Sector 9 Bintang Fox
After riding the Ripper for a while, my curiosity drove me to explore a drop-through board. I chose the Sector 9 Bintang Fox because I immediately loved the graphics on it, and the slogan: “never worried, never hurried.” I felt it described my relaxed approach to skating, my focus on safety and my lack of desire to learn any dangerous tricks or to go fast down a hill.
This board turned out to be a good contrast to the Ripper. Its wide RKP trucks offered a steady ride, but once again the smaller wheels left me pushing quite a bit, feeling like it's just not rolling far or smooth enough. Of all my boards, I think this is the one that saw the most changes in wheels. I did make it work for me eventually, when I put on some 70mm Orangatang Stimulus wheels. But by then, I had moved on to better cruising options. Long story short, this deck ended up on my wall, stripped of its parts. I just love the graphics too much to sell it, and it makes for good wall art.
Zenit Marble 38
After the Ripper and the Fox, I had this idea that the best board would be one that's larger than the Ripper, something wider and stiffer. Zenit Boards had a sale around this time and I picked up something from their blemish section. These are heavily discounted decks due to small visual issues, such as the graphics not being printed properly. I did not want to spend a lot of money, but I was craving more variety and this was the first board I assembled myself, with parts bought from Zenit. The trucks I got were also blemished – they had a small scratch. The wheels were the only mint component here.
Sadly, the overall ride quality was not great, but it taught me a lot of things! With this board, I learned that smaller, harder wheels are not great for cruising, especially on concrete that's not smooth. I also leaned that a very stiff board may feel solid, but to me it also felt less fun. I learned just how enjoyable the flex in the Ripper really is. I believe the Marble 38 is a very good board, but maybe not the best for my own needs. Most importantly, the process of building this one from parts gave me the confidence boost I needed to start assembling my own boards rather than buying complete ones, which can be pricy. Like the very first longboard from 2014, the Marble had a meeting with the second hand market on Kijiji, and off it went to a better owner.
By this point in time, I had a good idea of what constitutes a good cruiser and what doesn't. I had time to ride the boards I already had, and I had learned more and more from online forums about different setups and combinations. I was ready to build something new from parts. Since I was fairly sure by now that I won't be doing tricks, I chose a pintail deck: the Landyachtz Dipper.
This is the Ripper's cousin: almost the same deck, without the kick tail. The graphics were also from the same series as the dipper, only in blue rather than orange. For trucks, contrary to expectations, I went with a TKP option: regular skateboard trucks, Venture brand. This worked well thanks to the Dipper not being too wide at the front and back. The wheel choice made up for that width anyway: Orangatang 4President wheels, 70mm. That size, with a durometer of 77a (really soft), made for a huge upgrade in ride quality, smoothness and speed. These bigger, softer wheels had no issues with the less-than-perfect pavement in my area. Small stones? Leaves? Cracks in the asphalt? Small sticks? Didn't matter! Moreover, The TKP trucks made the ride pretty responsive and the flexible deck made it a lot of fun. The Dipper became my go-to board for most of the summer. I was happy with my creation! Eventually, I did take this board apart, and a friend of mine gave it a new home, but with a different configuration.
Did I need anymore boards? No. Did I stop experimenting and trying out new setups? Also no. By now, I was trying to aim for variety; to have a few different boards that each rode differently and gave me a different experience. I thought the Omakase would be a good addition to my quiver. A quiver is a collection of skateboards.
This board was the one that made me think I went too far. Loaded is one of the high-end brands, so I wanted to buy the board as complete rather than experiment with my own parts. What I realized is that for someone who's only cruising around, a board like the Omakase was simply overkill. I do not have the skill to truly appreciate the finer points of this board. I tried changing the wheels and even the trucks, but ultimately this board didn't bring me something that justified the price tag. So, before putting anymore wear on it, I introduced it to my old friend, the second hand market, to recover as much cash as I could. I later learned that the Omakase was designed with the option of adding an electric motor to it, which is something I would not have done anyway.
Zenit AB Maze
Thanks to the longboard community, I made a friend in town. One day, I got to try out his Loaded Pantheon Trip Collab board. It's similar to the much loved and very popular Pantheon Pranayama, a board that makes long distance pushing easy by being low to the ground. Paired with big wheels – 85 mm diameter an up – you get a very comfortable board that you can ride for many kilometres without getting too tired. The big wheels will roll a lot longer than small ones and your knees don't tire as fast thanks to the low ride height of the drop-through design.
One day, my friend told me there was a sale on the Zenit AB Maze deck, which is similar in design to the Trip Collab and Pranayama. My quiver did not have any decks like this. Paired with the very good sale price, I couldn't say no. I already had trucks for it, and wheels. Indeed, this board rides very nicely! Even a beginner like myself was able to do 12 km on it without feeling sore in the knees. I ended up ordering larger wheels – 86 mm McFly wheels from 88wheels. I took this board on a weekend trip to a nearby city – Lethbridge – where I had the chance to ride it several hours each day. It's great, and I finally understood why people loved other similar boards so much. It's just effortless and fun, without getting tired as easily or having to push so often. The wheels are soft, and with the extra-large size, debris or cracks in the pavement don't matter at all.
Landyachtz Big Dipper
Most normal people would have probably stopped at this point, but when I really get into a hobby, I want to keep exploring and trying different setups, customizing, experimenting. Having spare parts also makes it a lot cheaper to continue playing around with new setups. Landyachtz released a larger version of the Dipper. If you recall from earlier, this was the cruiser I assembled from individual parts that I was very happy with it. The thought of a longer, more flexible version of the Dipper intrigued me. As mentioned before, no need for me to waste money on completes now that I have spare parts and I know what I want to assemble: I just buy the deck. I paired the Big Dipper with Gullwing RPK trucks. Funny enough, I got the trucks at half price due to an end of season sales. I used the soft 4President wheels I already owned. Initial thoughts: it's fun and very flexible due to its length – 42.2 inches long! And then, winter came. I'll be riding this board next season.
One of the great things about any hobby is sharing it with others. When my parents visited this summer, it was fun to show them some of the boards and talk to them about the hobby. When I met my new friend for a few rides along the pathways, I learned a lot from him and got to try new boards. And when my old friend and neighbour down the street showed interest, I was happy to go skateboarding with him and his two boys, and to help him customize his boards with new wheels. I leave you with this shot from a quick ride around the neighbourhood, with a stop at 7-Eleven. Looking forward to next summer, when the longboard fun can continue!