Skateboard Deck Buying Guide
It would be easy to make the mistake that all skateboards are the same. For those just starting out the distinctions between decks are difficult to identify without stepping on one and even harder at a first glance.
Boards generally adhere to a ‘popsicle’ shape but for seasoned skateboarders something so small as 1/8th of an inch in size or different concave can be enough make a board from their favourite skateboard brand feel completely foreign.
However, it is very unlikely that beginners will take immediate notice of the details of their first board as these sort of preferences develop over years of skateboarding. We recommend that anyone purchasing their first deck pays attention to two key factors - size and graphic.
Although the preferences affecting your choice of skateboard will develop a little further down the line, it’s important to have some understanding of the following terms and facts.
The majority of skateboard decks are made from Canadian Maple plywood. The manufacturing process involves gluing seven thin plies together by using a heat pressurised mould to ensure the layers form one solid board. Decks are cut, drilled, shaped then finished by applying a graphic to the underside of the board using a heat transfer, screen print or silk screen method.
The front and back of a board are called the nose and tail. Starting shortly after the relative bolts holes, each end is gradually raised up roughly an inch. Every brand has a slightly different level of how far the nose and tail are elevated which affects the board’s ‘pop’. This term refers to how a deck responds when pressure is applied to the nose/tail to make contact between the board and a surface when performing tricks.
There are a range of skateboard manufacturers but it isn't uncommon for different brands use the same woodshops albeit with their own custom shapes and concave. While Canadian Maple is the industry standard for deck production, the country of origin for boards can differ with major woodshops such as PS Stix and Generator working between Mexico and the United States, Pennswood and Chapman based out of the East Coast of America, while DSM have their own manufacturer’s in China.
Picking a size is the most important thing when buying your first skateboard. If a deck is too small then it is likely you will have a hard time finding your balance and if it’s too wide then you may struggle to flip the board when learning tricks, especially as a beginner.
Skateboard decks are measured in inches and generally range from 7.5” to 8.75” for standard popsicle shaped boards. Mini boards tend to come up at 7.3” or 7.4” and are intended for skateboarders of a younger age or smaller stature. Pool or ‘old school’ shapes, which echo the style of skateboards before popsicle shaped decks became prevalent tend to start around 9”. Santa Cruz continue to issue some of their classic shapes and graphics while Welcome Skateboards is a modern company that exclusively produces non-popsicle shaped decks.
At Black Sheep we consider an 8 inch board to be a good starting point. It is fairly worth considering that if you have big feet you may suit a wide board and vice versa. However, we truly believe that psychically standing on a variety of sizes before making your decision is paramount to choosing your ideal deck. Our customers are more than welcome to visit us in store and stand on any deck that catches their eye before making the final decision.
Skateboard length is far less varying than width. Boards up to 8.25 inches wide tend to measure at either 31 or 32 inches long. While decks that are 8.375 inches wide (and above) may measure at 33 inches, or more, lengthways. Although, this varies depending on brand and shape we can comfortably say that skateboard length is substantially less likely to affect you than width. Even those that have been skateboarding for a number years are unlikely to have a preference in length.
The length of a skateboard directly corresponds to the wheelbase which means the distance from one set of bolt holes to another. Skateboards generally have a 14 inch wheelbase, with some wider and longer decks going up half an inch. Vert skateboarders who generally ride wider decks may choose a slightly longer board with a larger wheelbase as it can allow for greater stability when skating ramps of great size. However, if choosing your first deck, we feel it is not necessary to consider and you should just focus on finding a board of a comfortable width.
Shape & Concave
Skateboards have evolved massively since our culture was born in the 1960s with the first shapes reflected a flat miniature surfboard. As ramp skating became popular boards would become much wider with tail and noses introduced due to the progression of tricks. By the early 1990s, what we now consider ‘popsicle’ shaped skateboarders became customary and fast forward twenty years later, remain the prominent skateboard shape.
Though the nose and tail of a skateboard may appear to mirror each other, one will usually have more pop than the other. The curve of the board towards the tip may also be more gradual or sharp from brand to brand. A good example is Quasi Skateboards, who offer a number of the latter and are often dubbed as ‘square’. While brands such as Girl and Chocolate Skateboards have a more conventionally gradual and round curve.
‘Concave’ refers to the curve of a skateboard is and it is a very rare that a deck would ever be completely flat (unless you bought it off a dodgy market stall). Some brands offer a shallower concave and others high across their whole range. Baker Skateboards offer a variety concaves and The National Skateboard Co release the majority of their decks with the option of medium or high. Once again, concave isn't something you are likely to take too much into account if you are just starting out skateboarding but if you are switching from a familiar brand to a new one, then we recommend standing on that board in store before deciding.
Most commonly, skateboard graphics are applied in the final stage of manufacturing via a heat transfer. However in some cases, generally for limited runs or special edition boards, print screening and silk screen methods are used. There are exceptions with a notable one being the UK company Lovenskate who hand screen all of their boards on home turf.
A skateboard graphic does not affect the way a board performs. Graphics are obviously the most important for shaping the art direction of a company and skateboarding has produced a number of artists who are also commercially successful.
Skateboard manufacturers are usually referred to as woodshops. As touched one before, many brands often come from the same source, an example being Generator Distribution who manufacture boards for the likes of Real, Anti-Hero and Krooked Skateboards alongside smaller companies Isle and Magenta. PS Stix, founded by Paul Schmitt follow a similar model, creating planks for the fairly new brand Quasi to more established such as Habitat with some boards being shaped in the USA which Professor Schmitt himself is still actively involved with.
Some companies also have their own woodshops which press both in house companies and handle production for other brands. DSM (Douglas Street Manufacturing) are a China-based woodshop owned by Dwindle Distribution, parent of Almost, Blind, Cliche and Darkstar. Alongside these in house brands DSM also makes boards for renowned UK brands Landscape and Palace Skateboards.
(Links to other guides here.)