Imagine this: your kid (or grandkid) looks deep into your eyes, clasps their hands over their heart, and tells you—all they want for their birthday is a skateboard.
Awesome! Exciting times ahead.
Except...you’ve never skateboarded. (Or if you did, it’s been a while.) And you have no idea which kind of skateboard to buy for them. How big? What kind? A longboard?
It can be overwhelming—which is why we put together this handy guide to take you through the process of choosing a skateboard, step by step.
Part 1: Picking The Board
Step 1: Figure out what type of skating your kid wants to do
The first and most important question in choosing a skateboard—what will the skateboard be used for? Just like you wouldn’t buy a cello for someone who wants to play music in their tiny apartment (a ukulele is probably a better match) or a pack of frozen dinners for a budding chef (maybe splash out on a KitchenAid), you want to make sure this board fits the function.
Is the prospective skater just interested in getting to school or friends’ houses without needing to stash a bike somewhere? Or do they want to learn some sweet tricks?
If the board is just for transportation, they’ll want a longboard or a pennyboard.
If they want to do tricks, you’re looking at a traditional skateboard—a shortboard.
OUR FIRST BOARD RECOMMENDATION: If you’re not sure, go with a shortboard. You can cruise AND do tricks on a shortboard, but a longboard is too heavy and bulky to perform tricks.
Step 2: Pick the right board shape
You might think all boards are flat, but you’ll soon discover there are a ton of options to choose from. Radial, progressive, w-concave, flat-cave, asymmetric, convex...all of these are helpful for experienced skaters who want to perform certain tricks better, but for first boards, they’re not super helpful.
OUR FIRST BOARD RECOMMENDATION: Beginners should always go for the simplest option available. You can always complicate things later.
Step 3: Pick the right size board
There are four main sizes of skateboards decks, all measured by the width of the board: micro, mini, mid size, and full size. Micro boards are 6.5 – 6.75 inches wide and are for kids 5 and under, while mini boards are 7” wide and are ideal for slightly older kids.
The most common beginning deck size for kids is mid-size, which correspond to shoe sizes 7 and 8.
Beginning adults will want a full size board, which are 7.5” or wider. This handy chart from Warehouse Skateboards does a great job explaining the differences:
Also check out this handy and informative article from Wheels Compared. It's a great resource for sizing your board among other things!
Step 4: Choose a material
In the construction of skateboard decks, Canadian Maple is the most common material. The two other most popular board-making materials are Bamboo and Baltic Birch plywood.
Plastic is another alternative that is much cheaper, and is usually found in penny boards. There are also aluminum and fiberglass decks that work in a similar way.
Canadian Maple’s popularity comes largely from the quality of the wood and stability it provides.
OUR FIRST BOARD RECOMMENDATION: Can’t tell Canadian Maple from Baltic Birch? No worries. Talk to your local skate shop employee and let them guide you with their wisdom.
Step 5: Decide on COMPLETE vs BUILD YOUR OWN
Yes, you CAN build your own skateboard by purchasing the deck, wheels, trucks, and bearings separately, and then assembling it on your own. In the rare case that your prospective skater knows exactly what they want (i.e. wheel size/material, custom deck shape, etc.), steer away from those murky waters—ESPECIALLY for a first board.
Instead, go for a “complete.” That means a pre-assembled skateboard that includes all components.
Once your prospective skater has developed some skating preferences, you can always upgrade piece-by-piece.
Part 2: Buying The Board
Step 6: Decide where to buy
The safest way to make the best choice, especially if buying a board for your child, is to visit a local shop. Yes, you can buy skateboards (and literally everything else) online, but it’s difficult to get a feel for a board’s physicality when all you see is some pictures.
If you visit a local skate shop, you’re getting the benefit of their expertise. Plus, some shops even allow customers to take boards for a short test ride—and you get to support the local economy! As an extra bonus, you can ask the salesperson about local places to skate, and if you’re spending more than $50 on a new board, you can also ask for some free extras like skate stickers or skate wax.
A word of warning--be careful when buying skateboards from supermarkets or big box retailers, because the quality is generally lower, which means they’re actually harder to ride and more dangerous. This brings us to the all-important quality inspection.
Step 6: Inspect the quality of the board
On a good quality board, the wheels will roll more easily, it will be easier to turn (that’s a good thing!), and it’ll be more stable than cheaper boards. Before you pull out your wallet, check out the board’s quality. As an easy rule of thumb, you’re checking for the amount of plastic. More plastic = bad.
Here’s what you’re looking for:
- The trucks connect the wheels to the deck. If the trucks are plastic, that’s a bad sign.
- Pass on plastic or rubber wheels. Wheels should be made of urethane (often a whitish clear color), which provide a smoother ride and better grip. Ask a salesman if you’re not sure.
- Spin the wheels. Do they spin freely, without any grinding or wobbling? ABEC is a scale of the preciseness of a bearing. You want ABEC 5 or 7 for skating.
This guide to avoiding cheap skateboards will give you more information about how to test a board for quality. Please make sure you pick a high quality board!
Step 7: Expect the right price
Warning: Don’t cheap out.
In general, here’s what you can expect to pay for a complete skateboard at a skate shop:
Shortboard: $49.99 - $99.99
Longboard: $99.99 - $149.99
Penny Board/Plastic Cruiser: $89.99 - $124.99
We know that can feel like a lot of money, but see above in re: quality and safety. If you have more time to invest, you can always search for secondhand boards on Craigslist or at other consignment stores—or through friends who have barely-used skateboard gifts sitting in their garages, waiting for a tuneup.
We know giving a skateboard as a present can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not super familiar with the sport. But if you carefully follow these seven steps, you’ll have a perfect gift in no time!
If you have any questions about your specific skateboard-buying situation, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org—seriously! We’re not joking. Send us an email and we’ll do whatever we can to help you out.
Note: This is a revamped version of an article originally written by Yogin Patel. To read some of Yogin's other articles, check out 7 Benefits of Skateboarding or Top 5 Summer Skateboarding Camps in the United States.
Photo credit: Max Garcia