If you’ve spent the last few months scrolling aimlessly through Instagram and TikTok like I have, you’ve probably noticed a surge in skateboarding and roller skating clips. Tattooed girls doing ollies in skateparks, rookies practicing jumps, kids falling off of their boards in parking lots—they’re everywhere. Maybe you want to skate but have no clue where to start. Luckily, skating has become one of the biggest quarantine hobbies; it’s easy to get into if you start off slowly. I began in April, so I’m definitely still learning the basics, but if you’ve been waiting for the right time to start, it’s now. Before you get to the flips and stunts, it’s important to nail down the fundamentals.
PLEASE NOTE: put on kneepads and elbow guards, especially if you’re planning on moving fast. Experienced skaters can avoid bad falls by shifting their weight, but I learned the hard way that I’m not one of them just yet. Save the dare-deviling for later down the road.
Find out what kind of board you need. Before starting, you’ll want to find out which board fits your riding references. Do you want to pull off more intricate tricks, or are you looking for a fun, sustainable way to ride around your city? If it’s the former, you need a longboard, which will handle higher speeds and rough terrain very well. If not, you’ll be better off with a Penny board, which is much smaller and suited to coasting. Pennies are more difficult to control, but they’re great for moving through neighborhoods and public areas. Then there are standard skateboards, which are primarily designed for tricks, not traveling long distances.
Which foot are you leading with? Think of it as a dance; if you step in the wrong place with the wrong foot, you’re going to fall right on your face. Are you riding with your right foot or your left on the front of the board? Test it out both ways, slowly kicking off and seeing how well your anchor foot keeps your balance. If you figure this out early, it makes turning and speeding up way easier.
Practice getting on and off. It’s simple, but it’s worth spending time on this. Figuring out exactly where you need to place your weight is tougher than it looks. It’s important to practice pushing with your back foot and cruising with both feet on the board. While you’re pushing, your front will be straight forward. As you put your back foot on the board to cruise, quickly and lightly pivot your front foot sideways so that you’re parallel with the board. To get off safely, use your back foot to gradually stop yourself or place it on the very tail end of the board, kicking it up and catching it.
Learn the best way to turn and adjust your wheels accordingly. Turning might be hard at first, but there are two ways of doing it depending on your board’s flexibility. Your trucks are attached to your wheels and determine how tight or loose your board is. With tighter trucks, your board and wheels won’t be able to bend as much, and it’ll be harder making smaller adjustments to your path. With looser trucks, you can lean your weight more easily and change directions while cruising. I recommend starting out with tighter trucks and then loosening them as you get more comfortable with balancing on your board. If that’s not your thing, you can make more precise turns by using a kickturn. Balance on your back wheels and swing the front of the board in a new direction, then push off from there.
Get comfortable and ease into tricks. It’s easy to get in your head when you’re learning to skate. If you’re constantly thinking about falling, you probably will fall; as you ease into higher speeds or use your board as transportation, relax and your intuition will take over. If you want to get more comfortable with your board, bring it with you wherever you go, get used to having it around, and above all, practice the basics until they come naturally. From there, start trying tricks! The ollie and the kickflip are both great places to start; harder tricks build off them.
Skateboarding is a great way to pass the time, whether you’re aiming for the big leagues or just learning to cruise. Once you’ve got a solid, basic skill set, you can skate away to your heart’s content. Just be safe, be patient, and laugh at yourself when you fall off your board!
Illustration by Seb Westcott