How does a skateboard work?

skateboard components

Everything you wanted to know about your skateboard but were afraid to ask.

It’s that time of year when you may have got a skateboard for Christmas. We’re going to show you around your new skateboard, and discuss how the skateboard works. Knowing the components of your skateboard, and how these work together is key to learning to skate. We’re going to highlight some quality issues that you might have with your board that affect your ability to skateboard.

One of the biggest starting barriers to learning to skateboard is poor components. There might be an opportunity to upgrade parts of your board to fix these issues.

Identifying your skateboard

Do you have a popsicle, a cruiser, a longboard or surf-skate? Today we are going to look at a popsicle, which is probably the most generic type of skateboard. It is the most common because it is the most versatile, with a kicktail on each end. Whilst we talk about the popsicle here, much of what we discuss about components applies to other types of boards. Read more about different skateboard types.

The quick skateboard test

The biggest barrier to learning to skate, is getting a fit for purpose skateboard, and the bushings in the trucks are a key component.

Let’s use the push bike as analogy. If you were learning to ride a bike and the handlebars didn’t turn, you’d fall off. This is because before intentionally steering, handlebars are used to correct your centre of gravity and keep you from falling over. The trucks on a skateboard are like the handlebars on a bike.

We can do a quick bushings test.

  1. Hold your board with the trucks facing you.
  2. Take a wheel in the palm of each hand, and place the fingers on the grip of the skateboard.
  3. Squeeze one hand,
  4. then the other.
  5. alternate the flexing of the trucks

The hangar should flex smoothly. If it is flexing is smoothly, then the board will turn smoothly.

Steering is vital, as this is what helps you correct your balance, staying upright, and to avoid danger.

The bushings are often neglected in cheap skateboards. Cheap bushings are the reason many people have failed to learn to skateboard, because it is far harder to correct your balance with cheap bushings.

The skateboard deck

Does a skateboard have a front and a back? We often get asked this question so we wrote a post about it.

The concave of the skateboard deck

Firstly, the skateboard should have a concave. The centre of the board is lower and there is a camber, or curve up to the edges. Cheap boards may not have a concave and may be an indication that the equipment you have lacks quality and may make it difficult to learn on. Check out our beginner skateboard buying guide.

What is the purpose of the concave?

The design of the skateboard has changed over the years to make it perform better. The design of the skateboard has changed to make it better at staying under your feet. I’ve been asked a few times but people, ‘how do you make the skateboard stick to your feet. Well, it’s a combination of the grip tape, kicktails, and the concave that achieve this.

The fact the skateboard is designed to stay under your feet can lead to accidents if you don’t know how to use it.  We encourage students not to jump off their boards for this reason.

The kicktail

Most skateboards have a kicktail on the tail. The popsicle has a kicktail on the nose and tail for versatility. Kicktails are what revolutionised skateboarding, as it permitted a whole new gamut of tricks, including the kickturn and the ollie. The kicktail is also a key factor in keeping that board under your feet.

Key dimensions of the deck

You should have the right size skateboard for you. For your:

  • body size/shape
  • style of skateboarding

Please check out our board sizing tool.

The wheelbase

The wheelbase is arguably the most important dimension. The wheelbase is the distance between the trucks.

The wider the wheelbase, the more stable you will be. There is a trade off here though. The longer the wheelbase, the less manouverable the board is. At skate school we want to learn some basic tricks, so we want versatility. When you are skateboarding you want your feet to be shoulder width apart, so as a general rule, the wheelbase should be a similar width.

Take away here is, if you want to prioritise stability, get a longer wheelbase. If you want tricky, get a shorter wheelbase.

See our board sizing tool which is broadly based on finding the right wheelbase.

The width of the skateboard

The width of the board isn’t the most important factor in turning, or carving the board – bushings and how tight they are more important. We’ll come to that later. As a general rule however, you toes and heels should hang off the edge of the board by a centremetre or two. This usually isn’t the case with small children. Unfortunately there isn’t many off the shelf options for kids of around 5 and under.

The grip tape

The grip tape is essentially sandpaper. The grip tape helps keep the skateboard under your feet. You can customise your grip tape, cutting shapes out of it, or get coloured or see through grip, if you want your board to be more individual like you.

You can change grip, by peeling it off using a hairdryer, but this is a pain. Usually put new grip on when you change your deck:

Changing your skateboard deck

The deck wears out much faster than the trucks & wheels. When you first buy a skateboard you probably bought a complete skateboard. You don’t need to buy another complete, just change the deck.

The trucks

The trucks are what connects your skateboard deck with the wheels, and the bushings (rubbers) permit the board to turn. You have

  • the baseplate
  • The hangar & axle
  • The kingpin
  • The bushings

Mounting the trucks

The trucks are attached to the deck via the baseplate with bolts. The deck is drilled with 8 holes which the bolts go through. The bolts are usually allen key bolts. Ensure all 8 bolts are done up tight. Note that the kingpins are facing inwards, not outwards. The surfskate is the exception to this rule. You can get a skate tool which is a special tool to make it easy to do up/undo your trucks.

The size of the trucks in relation to the skateboard deck

Different truck manufacturers have different sizings for trucks, which makes it a bit complicated. We’re not going to go into that. All that you need to know now is the the length of the axles should broadly correspond to the width of the board. Usually the board is slightly wider than the trucks by a few mm on each side.

The bushings & kingpin

The bushings are probably the most important component in the skateboard.  The bushings are a pair of rubbers that go on each kingpin. These are what permits the hangar to flex and for the skateboard to turn smoothly. Steering is vital, as this is what helps you correct your balance, staying upright, and to avoid danger.

The bushings are often neglected in cheap skateboards. Cheap bushings are the reason many people have failed to learn to skateboard, because it is far harder to correct your balance with cheap bushings.

To test your bushings, hold your board with the trucks facing you. Take a wheel in the palm of each hand, and place the fingers on the grip tape. Squeeze one hand, then the other. The hangar should flex smoothly.

There should be no play in the truck when you touch it gently.

You can tighten or loosen the nut on the kingpin to make the truck flex more easily. Learn more about adjusting your trucks.

If you do not get the desired flex when you loosen or tighten your trucks you can change the bushings. Bushing are rated in hardness. Usually:

  • Super-soft
  • Soft
  • Medium
  • Hard

You can change your bushings if you have cheap bushings, but there may be deeper problems with your trucks, and this is not a fix-all.

The axles

The axles run through the truck hangar and the wheels are mounted on the ends of the axles.

The wheels & bearings

Your skateboard has four wheels, and 8 bearings. Two in each wheel. The bearings are what allow the wheels to turn smoothly. Make sure the bearings are seated securely inside the wheel.

Skateboard wheels

A correctly mounted wheel shouldn’t have any play. i.e. it shouldn’t move up and down the axle.

Do not over-tighten the wheel. Tighten the axle nut until it touches the wheel, then unscrew it by a quarter turn.

Skateboard wheel softness

Skateboard wheels come with different softness ratings. Softer wheels are faster and stickier, and are better for commuting. Harder wheels are slower in comparison. A typical rating for a street or skatepark wheel is 99.

Some completes come with slower, softer wheels for safety purposes. You may wish to upgrade these after learning the basics so you can work on tricks in our progressing class that involve the wheel sliding, like powerslides.

Skateboard wheel size

Bigger wheels = going faster. Smaller wheels = slower.

Around 51mm is an average street-type setup, going up to 55mm/56mm for cruising, and vert and bowl riding.

Skateboard bearings

You can remove your bearings by placing the bearing over the very end of the axle, and twisting the wheel. This take a lot of strength in the hand.

Complete skateboards often come with slower bearings for safety purposes, and you may wish to upgrade when you’ve learned the basics.

What next?

We have complete skateboards at Copeland Park which come with a free skateboard lesson. Collect your skateboard at the lesson.

See our practical guide to starting skateboarding.

Read about getting ready to skateboard.

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