Skateboarding For Dummies
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Skateboarding is a form of transportation, an extreme sport, a fun activity, a full-body workout, and a fascinating subculture all rolled into one, and it’s a community that welcomes everyone. If you’ve been thinking about skateboarding and don’t know how to get started, you’ve come to the right place. Here you’ll find skateboarding tips for beginners, instructions on how to adjust your skateboard to make it easier to keep your balance, techniques for stopping in an emergency, tips for getting sponsored, and a mini-glossary that’ll have you speaking like a skateboarder before you even lace up your first pair of skate shoes.

Keep it fun! Learning to skateboard requires time and effort, but it should be fun work, not the kind of work you dread doing. Keeping it fun means you’ll do it more and be more creative while building the confidence and coordination you need to excel.

Nine skateboarding tips for beginners

As with most challenging activities, getting started with skateboarding is often the most difficult part. Just standing on a skateboard without falling off can be a challenge. To ease into it and reduce the risk of suffering any serious injuries, follow these suggestions:

  • Buy your first skateboard at a reputable skate shop, and don’t go cheap. You want to start on a quality board that’s right for you: your age, height, weight, and shoe size and the style you plan to skate. For example, are you going to use the board mostly for transportation or to perform high-impact tricks? Do you want a lighter board that’s easier to flip?
  • Tighten the trucks. The trucks are the metal hardware that connect the wheels to the board. Each truck has a nut on it (called the kingpin nut) that you can tighten or loosen. Tighter trucks make the board less wobbly, which is generally best for beginners. As you build balance, you can gradually loosen the trucks. Looser trucks can make some tricks easier to perform. (Keep in mind that overtightening the kingpin nut can damage the rubber/plastic bushings that support the trucks while allowing them to pivot.) These are just general guidelines. Do what feels best for you. Plenty of professionals skate with very tight trucks.
  • Wear a helmet, elbow pads, and knee pads until you’re skilled at falling without breaking any bones, suffering a serious head injury, or almost killing yourself. Practice falling on the pads without your board in the mix and build a sense of awareness for the best ways to absorb impact in specific falling situations. At the very least, wear a helmet. If your board shoots out from under you and you fall backward (like slipping on a banana peel), your head will strike the pavement with a lot of force, and you won’t be able to do very much to break your fall. Stay alert. As you get more experienced, you gain more control over where and how you fall.
  • Hold on to something or someone. When you start putting your board in motion and whenever you’re learning a new trick, hold onto a level railing or have someone spot you as a guide until you feel comfortable enough to let go.
  • Master the basics first. Practice standing on your board, pushing (one foot on the board, one foot off to propel the board forward), turning, stopping, and doing tic-tacs (where you sort of wag the board’s nose while keeping the tail in place).
  • Pace yourself. Don’t push yourself to progress faster than you’re ready to. When you’re getting started, spend time just standing on your board before trying to ride it. Devote a lot of time to simply riding before trying any tricks. Your body and brain need to develop together over time to build balance and coordination and build new neural connections. Remember, you’re figuring out a whole new way to move.
  • Watch other people skate. You can watch videos online. Some videos are instructional while others are more like demonstrations, but both types are helpful. Visit your local skate park or wherever skateboarders go to ride. Just hold off on trying any fancy, death-defying stunts until you feel ready.
  • Fail fast and often. This motto from agile software development also applies to skateboarding. You improve gradually through a process of trial and error. Failure (falling or having to bail out when you’re losing control) is just a sign that you’re doing something outside your comfort zone — something that will ultimately make you better. The key is to stick with it. If you give up, you have no opportunity to improve.
  • Film yourself and watch the footage. Video gives you a different perspective that often reveals what you’re doing wrong or could be doing better. You don’t need a fancy video camera. Your smartphone camera is fine. You can even share your video with others to get their input.

Two ways to adjust the trucks on your skateboard

Trucks are the hardware that connect the wheels to the deck and allow the wheels to spin. When you shift your weight to one side of the board, the trucks turn slightly to move you in that direction. You can adjust them to make them looser or tighter, which is a personal preference. You may want to adjust your trucks every week at first to see what you like best.

You can tighten or loosen your trucks using two different methods alone or in combination (see the figure below):

  • Tighten or loosen the kingpin (nut) that secures the hanger and wheel assembly to the baseplate of the truck. Tighten it for tighter trucks (less play) or loosen it for looser trucks (more play).
  • Change the bushings. Softer bushings can make trucks looser, and harder bushings can make them tighter. However, regardless of whether the bushings are soft or hard, tightening the kingpin makes them tighter, and loosening the kingpin makes them looser. It’s just a cushioning effect, and it’s a matter of preference, like how hard or soft you like your mattress to be.

Different truck brands all feel and turn differently as well.

person loosening the kingpin and changing the bushings on their skateboard
Tighten or loosen the kingpin or change the bushings.

As you adjust your trucks, consider the following factors:

  • Tight trucks make the board more stable and less wobbly as your weight shifts from side to side, but they make it more prone to tipping if your weight shifts too much to one side. The wheels on the opposite side lift off the ground, which can throw off your balance and cause you to wipe out.
  • Loose trucks make the board less stable (wobblier), but they make it easier to turn by shifting your weight to one side of the board or the other. The board leans while the wheels maintain contact with the ground, so the board is less likely to tip over. Stabilizing yourself is tougher, but you start to manage your weight and have a little more play on each side.
  • Loose trucks are more prone to wheel bite, which happens when the board comes into contact with the wheels, stopping or slowing their rotation and throwing you off balance. Other factors can contribute to wheel bite, including your weight, the size of the wheels, and tricks that cause high impact or too much weight on one side of the board pressing against the wheel.
  • The front and back trucks don’t need to be the same tightness. You can go loose on the front and tighter on the back or vice versa to balance responsiveness with stability. Adjust as much as you need to feel your best.

A common saying among skateboarders is “Loose trucks save lives!” But if you don’t feel safe and stable riding loose, tighter trucks may save yours.

Five ways to stop a runaway skateboard

Before you go too far or too fast on your skateboard, you need to know how to stop it. Here are five tried and true techniques:

  • Use your rear foot as a brake. Pivot your front foot so it’s pointing forward; move your rear foot off the board to the ground (but not with all your weight); and let the sole of your shoe drag on the ground, increasing your downward pressure, until your board comes to a stop (see the figure below). This technique puts a lot of wear and tear on your braking shoe.
  • Use your board as a brake. Press your rear foot down on the tail while shifting your weight toward the back of the board and bending your front knee. This move drives the tail into the ground and damages the board over time (causing a condition called razor tail), but it’s a fast, safe way to stop.
  • Do a power slide. Ease your weight off your board with a slight hop (with just your upper body, leaving your feet safely planted to the board) while rotating your upper body sharply to turn the board 90 degrees and slide to a stop on the wheels. Note that the power slide is an advanced maneuver that can create flat spots on wheels.
  • Perform the old faithful: “Run, Forrest, run!” Jump off your board and hit the ground running. This method is always a safe way to abort your mission or jump ship when you’ve run out of more appealing options or you’re in panic mode and can’t think straight. Just be sure you have a clear runway and you’re not jumping off into traffic.
  • Make an emergency stop (only for when you’re traveling slowly). If you need to stop suddenly, step off the board with your rear foot, lift your front foot so it’s hovering slightly over the board, allow the board to roll forward, and then catch the tail with your front foot and drive it into the ground. This technique sounds fancy, but it becomes second nature with time. You can also just step off with your front foot and press down on the tail with your back foot already there. Remember: This stop works at a slow or moderate speed only. Trying to step off your board casually at a high speed is similar to stepping off a high-speed train, and you can imagine how that story ends.

If you’re performing a potentially dangerous trick or maneuver, you can always bail without stopping. You just step off or jump off your board and let it go.

person loosening the kingpin and changing the bushings on their skateboard
One way to stop is to use your rear foot as a brake.

Eight steps to getting sponsored and going pro (experienced skateboarders only)

What you do on and off your skateboard can significantly affect whether you get sponsored and eventually turn pro. Here are eight ways to make your case to potential sponsors:

  1. Hone your skills.

Focus on improving continuously.

  1. Build an online presence.

Put together your own website or blog (or create content for popular, respectable skating sites) and promote that content through your social media accounts. Focus on the three most popular social media platforms at first.

  1. Participate in skateboarding contests, demos, and other events, and network with organizers, other riders, and attendees.

Start locally and branch out from there.

  1. Create quality skateboarding videos and share them through your personal network; on social media; and on any major skateboarding sites that let unsponsored riders share videos.
  2. Submit your skateboarding videos to the companies you want to sponsor you.

Wait till you’re ready; don’t waste their time by sending them bad skate videos.

  1. Engage positively with the skateboarding community online and offline.

Comment on other skaters’ content, answer questions, and be supportive. Engaging with others keeps you focused on what’s relevant, can make you better informed about the history of skateboarding, and give you even more positive exposure.

  1. Shop your local skate shops and inquire at your favorites about potential sponsorship opportunities.
  2. Be patient and persistent.

You want to be doing something at least every other day to become a better skater and promote yourself, but don’t forget to keep it fun.

What you’re really doing is promoting yourself. Building a strong brand around yourself is what opens the doors to all other opportunities.

20-plus must-know skateboarding terms defined

When experienced skateboarders talk shop, they sound like they’re speaking a foreign language. You don’t have to memorize a comprehensive glossary of terms, but here are some of the more common-but-interesting terms you’re likely to encounter:

ABD: Abbreviation for “already been done,” as in a trick that’s not original.

Acid drop: To skate off the end of an object without doing an ollie or touching the board with your hands.

Bail: To step off or jump off the board when you can feel that the situation isn’t going to end well. You bail to reduce the likelihood or severity of injury. It’s like an airplane pilot pressing the eject button when the plane seems destined to crash.

Banger: A very, very good trick — the cream of the crop.

Bonk: A quick tap of the front truck (the metal piece that connects the wheels to the board) or the front wheels on an obstacle.

Brain bucket: A helmet.

Carve: To turn your board gradually by leaning to one side or the other.

Catch: To have the board essentially suction to your feet as you’re about to land a trick. For example, as the board rotates under you, you hope it magnetizes to your feet while in the air — after it finishes its flips and rotation but before landing on the ground.

Circus tricks: Skateboarding tricks that are a little wilder, more outside the box, or just plain weirder that most of skateboarding doesn’t seem to embrace but many love watching.

Crook: Abbreviation for a crooked grind, in which one truck on either end is grinding across a ledge slightly crooked and angled while the nose or tail is being dragged along the way slightly on either side.

Fakie: Riding backward.

Goofy foot: Your right foot. Most people ride with their left foot (regular foot) toward the front of the board. If you ride with your right foot forward, you’re said to ride goofy foot. Nothing is wrong with riding goofy foot; it’s like throwing or batting lefty in baseball.

Grind: To slide along a narrow surface or edge on the metal trucks bolted to the bottom of your board, between the wheels mounted to the trucks.

Hesh: Gnarly, raw, aggressive.

Hill bomb: Riding down a steep hill as fast as possible; not a style recommended for beginners.

Hot pocket: An injury that occurs when your foot rapidly and forcefully bends back toward your shin bone, causing pain to the front of your ankle joint that can linger for quite some time. It usually occurs off higher-impact tricks when your weight shifts forward and damages that ankle joint.

Mongo: To push your skateboard forward with your front foot rather than your rear foot. Skating mongo is considered bad form, but in skateboarding, who cares? You may be criticized, but keep doing it if it feels comfortable.

Pop over: A trick that you start on one side of an obstacle and finish by hopping over to the other side (usually with noseslides, crooked grinds, and boardslides). Skateboarder Paul Shier popularized the pop over.

Pump: To shift your body weight to build momentum without pushing with a foot. It’s usually used in transition (from a level surface to a ramp or vice versa) but occasionally in the streets to accelerate off certain inclines.

Sesh: A skateboarding session with friend or alone; just getting out there and putting in some work.

Sketchy: Messy or scary. If you perform a trick and you land slightly unstable, the landing can be described as sketchy. Also, when you try a trick and it feels scary, almost like how you’d feel taking a bad spill, you may say something like, “Whoa, that felt sketchy!”

Slam: A hard fall.

Snake: To intentionally cut off another skater or steal their line, meaning you see where they’re going and get there before they do.

Steezy: A combination of the words style and easy; used to praise a stylish and smoothly executed trick or maneuver.

Streets: Urban environments— no skate parks, ramps, or artificial surfaces or obstacles. Being “in the streets” is the rawest form of skateboarding. Most street skaters film only in the streets for major company videos. Street skaters don’t film themselves in skate parks unless they need to film a trick on an obstacle, such as a big bowl, that they can’t find in the streets.

Thrasher: An avid, enthusiastic skater.

Transition: Any surface that’s not flat and level, specifically bowls, mini-ramps, walls, and other steep surfaces with good curvature for riding up and down.

Trucks: The metal hardware that connects the board (deck) to the wheels and provides the means to turn.

Wheel bite: What happens when one or more wheels come into contact with the board, usually when carving (turning) or when landing a trick. Wheel rotation can slow or stop, throwing you off balance. Wheel bite is more common with loose trucks or hard landings, and it can leave a mark or start a burned indentation on the bottom of the board.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Daewon Song is an American professional skateboarder. He was named the 2006 “Skater of the Year” by Thrasher magazine, one of the most significant honors in skateboarding. In 2011, Transworld SKATEboarding named Daewon the 29th most influential skateboarder of all time. Daewon co-owns Thank You Skateboards with fellow skater Torey Pudwill.

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