Skateboarding has waxed and waned in popularity over the decades, but the solitary demands of Covid-19 have oxymoronically created another golden age for the sport. Parks and spots are packed with new youngsters and returning old-timers (tons of us!) riding alongside the die-hards that never left. The best part? It's a lovefest out there—the cross-community skate support has never shone brighter, with hand-holding, tip-sharing, encouragement, and celebration happening by all.
If you've thought about starting skateboarding, or maybe haven't stepped on a board since that old Kamikaze you used to ride in middle school, there's no time like the present. Here are our suggestions on solid supplies to get you going.
A piece of advice: Do what you can to buy from your neighborhood skate shop—they're the main ones keeping the skate scene in your town alive, stocked up, and totally stoked. If they don't have what you're looking for, they can likely order it for you. We'll provide some links here in case that doesn't work out. Now get out and skate!
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Get on Board
Most decks today are popsicle-stick shapes, manufactured by just a few different factories for hundreds of different board companies. Under the feet of a newcomer, any of these decks are essentially going to feel and ride the same. People, especially when starting, generally select a board based on the graphics they like, which is fine if the deck is coming from a reputable brand or manufacturer.
The real difference between boards—and this is something that doesn't get talked about much—is who benefits from the proceeds of their sales. Who runs the company? Who are the sponsored riders? The sport is more diverse than it was in the ’70s and ’80s, but skate teams are still pretty homogenous. However, with little effort and no price difference for the same seven-ply wooden board, you can help broaden the skateboarding community by buying from a company that focuses on skaters who have historically been on the periphery.
Spread the Shred and Proper Gnar are both Black-owned skate companies with sick decks. There Skateboards is a Queer-owned/sponsoring company that's distributed by industry fave Deluxe. These boards ride exactly the same as any “mainstream” brand's deck, because they basically are the same, and their riders shred and deserve to be supported. Just something to chew on.
As for board width, a new, adult skater will feel pretty comfortable starting on an 8.25-inch-wide deck. It's the size I've been riding for the past decade. A 7.5- to 8-inch width is good for younger skaters. If you have big feet—like if you wear a men’s size 12 or 13 shoe—try a board width of 8.5 or 9 inches, though those can be harder to find in stock. Even a quarter-inch change in width makes a noticeable difference in how a board feels, but these are good starting points.
A Note About Completes
A “complete” is a skateboard that comes fully assembled and ready to ride when you buy it, with wheels and trucks already mounted on the deck. Buying a complete is often cheaper than buying the pieces individually, for a reason: Completes usually use lower-quality components. If you do get a complete, be sure to aim for something from a known company. Definitely avoid those dirt-cheap boards you can buy online or at a convenience store. Completes are not necessarily a bad way to get started, but even with name-brand ones you'll end up upgrading sooner.
Now that you have a deck, let's pull together the rest of the parts needed to build out your skateboard. Start with the trucks, the Y-shaped metal pieces that the wheels attach to.
Go with the standard here: Independent trucks have been synonymous with skateboarding for over 40 years. They have great turning geometry, handle long grinds on ramps and curbs like a champ, and, while not the absolute lightest, won't bog you down with excessive weight. I've been rocking a set since 2014 and they're still going strong. Get them for $47 a pair at Amazon.
One tip: Swap the stock bushings—the rubbery ring in the center of each truck—for a pair of medium-hardness Bones bushings (and leave the top washer off) for even smoother turns. I'm fond of Thunder trucks as well. Beginners might also consider saving 10 or 12 bucks by getting a set of surprisingly effective Mini Logo trucks.
Buy your trucks in the 149-mm size to match the above 8.25-inch deck. (Get 129-mm to 139-mm trucks for smaller 7.5- to 8.5-inch boards, or 159 mm for an 8.5- to 9-inch board.) Forego the risers and grab a set of ⅞-inch hardware for clean installation.
After years of listening to my friends champion Spitfire's Formula Four wheels, I finally got myself a set and was blown away by how good they felt. They're smoooooth, grippy, and yet great for powerslides, reverts, and other wheel-sliding maneuvers ($40 at Amazon). Non-scientific observations from my skate crew seem to show that they're more resistant to flat spots than many other wheels as well. Spitfire is apparently dabbling with some form of urethane alchemy here.
I like bigger, 56-mm wheels, but a good general starting size is 54 mm. If you're riding on a variety of surfaces (skate parks, ramps, parking lots), 99a hardness will do you right. You can go softer if you ride on bumpy streets, like 87a. Generally 101a wheels (pretty much the hardest available) are reserved for high-speed skating at high-quality skate parks, but are not useful beyond that.
Bearings slot inside the wheels, allowing the wheels to freely spin while staying attached to the trucks. Despite being the most intricate part of a skateboard, the bearings I prefer, Bones Reds, are also my cheapest component. They cost $18 on Amazon, are available at skate shops everywhere, and if you take care of them (i.e., don't get them wet, don't bury them in sand), they will make your wheels spin smoothly for ages.
If you want to upgrade, maybe consider the slightly more expensive Super Reds (made from higher-quality steel), but you really don't need to drop $60 or $70 on a set of ceramic bearings, especially when starting. Just take care of your board and buy a new set of Reds when yours get noisy and stop spinning freely.
You'll also want to get a set of spacers and speed washers for installation. You can go cheap on these. Some bearing sets even include them.
That's it for your board, so it's now time to consider some other essentials. A skate tool is pretty indispensable. Keep one in your bag for quick tune-ups at the park. The newest skate tools have convenient ratcheting on the hardware socket and include a built-in file to taper down grip tape, plus a thread-die to repair banged-up truck axles. I like this one for $25.
Like with all shoes, it's important to try on a few brands of skate kicks before buying—not just to find the right look, but also because feet are just plain weird. A few key things to look for in a good set of shoes: firm bottom, not too much cushioning, good grip, and suede or leather construction. Definitely avoid canvas skate shoes; your grip tape will shred them in a day of ollie practice.
I've been sticking with State Footwear, an independent skater-owned company that makes the best-feeling shoes of all shoes I own. State changes its catalog each season, but when I need new ones, I try to grab a pair of whatever style of suede high-tops it currently offers (to keep wayward boards from bashing my ankle). This year's winner is the Bushwick ($70 on Amazon, $70 on State Footwear).
Check Your Head
There's been a growing movement of professional skaters donning helmets anytime they step on a board. Wunderkind Andy Anderson swears by them. Certified badass Mike Vallely does too. Youtubers like George Polous and Josh Katz (the skaters your kids watch) have championed the benefits of a helmet for years.
You might think wearing a helmet will make you look like a poser, but the reality is skaters don't actually care if you've got one on. There's honestly no reason to be self-conscious about this. Get a skate helmet from Triple Eight, which fits oval-shaped heads best ($60 on Amazon, $70 from Triple Eight). For rounder heads like mine, try a helmet from Pro-Tec or S1. Make a point to put it on anytime you go out for a session, have fun, and keep yourself from a possible traumatic brain injury. Pay the small extra fee to get an ASTM 1492-certified model, which ANSI designates specifically for skateboarding safety.
If you're a new skater, you're going to fall … and if you're an experienced skater, you're going to fall. Like helmets, a set of pads can help keep you out of urgent care. If you have a day job using your hands (even as a keyboard jockey), it's wise to slip on your elbow pads and, maybe even more importantly, wrist guards. Knee pads are key too. It feels great to pull myself off the ground after a failed trick attempt (or five) and walk away with no throbbing in my hands or joints. 187 Killer Pads makes a great pad set. Get it for $59 from 187 Killer Pads, or for $73 from Amazon. Pro-Tec's $43 option is good too, and a little cheaper for kids.
Beginners may also want to sport a set of padded shorts ($50 and up) under their pants; they'll literally save your ass.
A quarter-pipe (even a small one that's not quite a full quarter) is a lot of fun for all skaters. My advice is to dig up some plans, ask nicely for wood scraps at a construction site, and get building. But if you want to ensure you've got a quality setup, you might opt for a ramp kit that supplies CNC-cut, predrilled plywood and lumber, metal coping, a steel sheet for the threshold, and all the necessary fasteners—you just need a driver to pop it all together.
OC Ramps offers a lot of kit options; I have their 3-foot quarter-pipe ramp ($389) and my own DIY micro-quarter ramp connected together with some masonite in my garage to make a funky, mismatched mini ramp that's a ton of fun to skate on rainy days. Keen Ramps is another quality ramp kit manufacturer to consider.
The Skatepark Project app by the Tony Hawk Foundation (iPhone only, Android users can use the functionally similar Smap app) offers a nearly complete listing of parks with user photos, 3D aerial maps, and iconography for park features. Don't see a fave spot on the app? The database is user generated, so you can add it yourself. I just did exactly that with a park near my folks' house, in fact.
If cruising street spots is more to your liking, the ShredSpots app covers the stairs, curbs, ditches, and ledges that many skaters consider skateboarding's natural terrain.
When you do head out to skate different places, you'll probably just toss your board and helmet in the trunk of your car. Add your pads and stuff and it's nice to have a bag to carry everything. I use one of those big blue Ikea bags for my gear—it's huge, has hand and shoulder straps, and costs only 99 cents. Requires no thinking, just toss things in and go.
When I'm doing something a little fancier, I use a $60 skateboard carry bag by OID. I can wear it like a backpack, as a sling, or carry it like a duffel bag. There are some cheaper versions on Amazon, but the ones I've tried tend to be undersize and prone to snagging. In truth, however, you don't see many skaters using these.
Vacation/business travel tip: Most airlines will actually let you carry on your board and store it in the overhead compartment. I find it more convenient to stash mine in my oversize suitcase as checked luggage. The board fits diagonally (I wrap it in an old towel or use that OID bag to keep the grip tape from scuffing my slacks); my helmet and skate shoes go next to that, and there's still plenty of room for my day-to-day clothes. Use your skate park app to scout out some spots near your destination and plan for an early morning or later-evening session. So much tidier than lugging your golf clubs with you—and so much cooler too.