Longboard Downhill: The Art of the Speedy, Stable Descent
- The development of downhill longboarding
- The downhill deck
- Downhill trucks
- Downhill wheels
- Downhill bearings
The development of downhill longboarding
Downhill riding has been a permanent fixture of skateboard and longboard culture ever since their beginnings in the 1950’s. It was an insatiable thirst for adrenaline that first pushed riders to race each other down mountains on their longboards. After a few years some smart cookies developed longer decks, soft urethane wheels and more sophisticated trucks. New materials have made longboard racing safer than ever by giving you more control over your board and plenty of longboarding brands have got behind this trend in recent years, helping to push the sport even further.
The downhill deck
Many different longboards can be used for downhill riding, though drop-through and top-mount longboard decks are the best choice for a wild ride down into the valley. A drop through deck will give you more stability, but the best of the best swear by top-mount decks.
The downhill deck for beginners
If you’re new to downhill longboarding, a drop-through deck is probably your best bet. This kind of longboard construction gives you a lower centre of gravity, making you more stable on your board. Just what you need at high speeds. What’s more, any drop-through longboard can be set up as a top-mount by simply mounting the trucks on the underside.
The downhill deck for experts and advanced riders
Top-mount longboard decks are recommended for more advanced riders. This kind of setup will give you more grip through your turns and is relatively stable in straight lines provided you’re stood nice and steady on top. Slides are a breeze on sharp turns as long as you have the requisite skills to pull them off. But before you hop on your top-mount board and bomb the nearest hill, try it a few times with other board types. Not everyone is a born racer, after all.
The right deck dimensions
The ideal longboard deck length is around 37” and 43”. Shorter decks are less stable, while longer decks are less responsive. As a beginner, it’s worth choosing a longer board to make the most of that extra stability. The width is generally not that important as it tends to increase with the length of the longboard. People with larger feet will need a wider deck and those with smaller feet, a narrower one.
“Longboard trucks”, or, reverse kingpin trucks, are perfectly suited to downhill riding. They behave reliably and are nice and easy to control. They’re also ideal for drop-through or top-mount decks. The angle of the baseplate decides how easily the longboard can be controlled by shifting your weight. A steeper angle will give you a quicker response, while a flatter angle will give you more stability. To avoid any complications when it comes to the gap between your wheels and your deck we recommend an angle of 50 degrees. The width of your trucks should also match up with the width of your longboard. If you ARE all about the speed though, a lower angle is going to be best for you.
Wheels with a sharp lipped profile are best for downhill longboarding. This type of wheel will give you plenty of grip, while still letting you slide about as much as you want.
The ideal diameter
Longboard wheel size varies between 70 and 75 millimetres. Smaller wheels accelerate faster, and larger ones could potentially lead to wheel bite – where your wheels rub against your deck. The larger your longboard wheels, the more grip you will have.
Durometer: The right hardness for high speeds
You may find you have to make a compromise between grip (soft wheels) and durability (hard wheels) when deciding on wheel hardness. 80a is a good balance of soft and hard. Using this as a basis you can then adjust your wheel hardness according to personal preference.
The Contact Surface of your Wheels
For beginners we recommend longboard wheels with a width over 50 millimetres. Sliding will be slightly harder, but you will find you’re much more stable. The smaller the wheels, the easier it is to slide out on corners.
Core placement: the wheel core
Another important factor is the wheel’s core placement, which will influence slide initiation. There are three different ways the wheel can be attached to the truck:
- Centre set (in the middle)
- Side set (to the side)
- Offset (somewhere in between)
Expensive bearings won’t improve the feel of your ride. They will last longer, but they won’t give you any real advantage when longboarding. Be sure to use the proper spacers though, as they protect your bearings from lateral forces when sliding. The same goes for downhill as for all other areas: the cleaner you keep your bearings the longer they’ll last you and the more you’ll get out of them!
If you want to know more about longboard bearings, check out our bearings guide!