Are Cheap Skateboards OK to Buy and Ride?

Street Sakte
Photograph by Bryce R. Bradford/Moment/Getty Images

With how popular skateboarding is, there are piles of cheaper skateboards out there. Some just look cheap, but some have trusted brand names, or even pro skateboarder endorsements. How do you tell if a cheaper skateboard that you've found at your local department store or sporting goods section is a good skateboard or not?

It usually depends on how serious you want to be about your skateboarding. If you want to casually skate every once is a while, then some of these cheaper skateboards might work out just fine. But, if you want to make sure that you have as good of a starting experience as you can, and if you think you will skate more than every once-in-a-while, then it is recommended to get a pro-grade skateboard. At least with one of those, you would know that your gear won’t hold you back. In one example, a first skateboard was purchased from a flea market, and the trucks busted on the third Ollie attempt! Quality does make a huge difference.

But how do you know if the cheaper skateboard you're looking at is garbage or not? Here are a few things to look out for:

  • Wheels - Take a look at the wheels on the skateboard. Are they plastic? If so, throw the board away and keep walking - plastic wheels will give you or your kid a terrible skateboarding experience. Skateboard wheels should be made of urethane, not plastic or rubber. Plastic wheels won't grip the ground, and you will slide out of control. Rubber wheels will rip apart. The wheels are the part of your skateboard that touches the world, so you want to make sure that at least these are good quality.
  • Bearings - Give those wheels a spin, and make sure they spin freely. If the bearings are stamped with any information, see if there is an ABEC rating.ABEC 1 bearings are as rough and non-precise as bearings can get, and yet still get an ABEC rating. The ABEC rating explains how precise the bearings are. ABEC 9 bearings would be very high quality, very precise, delicate, and spin nice and fast. But we don't use ABEC 9 bearings in skateboards, because the jarring and slamming motions of skateboarding would destroy bearings that delicate. For skateboarding, we get ABEC 5 or 7 (the ratings are only odd numbers). Anything lower than ABEC 5 isn't a good idea, because you start to sacrifice too much precision. ABEC 1 is just above no-ABEC-rating-at-all. It's junk.
  • Trucks - The trucks are the "axles" of the skateboard. These should be made of a fairly sturdy metal, but not just heavy metal painted over. The heavier the trucks, the heavier the entire skateboard - and you don't want it too heavy, or you won't be able to do tricks very well. A simple rule of thumb is that the trucks should have some sort of brand name stamped into them. Check out that brand, and made sure it's real! If there's no brand name, then the trucks might be junk. The first skateboard I ever bought was from a flea market. I was a kid, and didn't know any better. The back trucks broke in half the first time anyone tried to ollie on that board! It was a total waste of money.There should be rubber bushings inside the trucks - make sure they are in fact rubber, and not plastic. If you can, try standing on the skateboard and leaning toe edge and heel edge. The board should flex a little each way, but not too much. Just a little.
  • Deck - If you aren't sure what to look for, this is a hard part to check. Basically, you want to make sure the deck is made from layers of wood pressed together, and that the edges are rounded and well treated. But, like I said, this is a hard part to check.If there's info about the board, like on the box, check it out. "Plys" are the strips of wood that are pressed together to make the skateboard deck. The industry standard is 7 plys of Maple. The less plys you have, the weaker the board will be, but also the more flexible, and the lighter. The more plys you have, the stronger the board will be, but it will also be heavier and less flexible. A 9-ply board is a cheap way out of making something quality - it will be heavy and inflexible. Watch out for those.
    • The graphics on the bottom can look cheaply painted on - that's not a problem! Graphics are the least of your worries when buying a cheap board. Don't get fooled if they're good, and don't discount the board if the graphics are lame.
    • You can also stand on the skateboard, put both feet near the middle, and gently bounce up and down (and I mean gently - if the board is garbage and cracks, you don't want to have to buy it because you broke it!). The board should flex under your weight, but not too much.
  • Price - Now this is the tricky one. If the skateboard you are looking at is under $30 US, I would say throw it back and keep fishing. That might sound shallow, but quality skateboards are made from quality materials, and it's almost impossible to image a complete skateboard being made for less than $30 US. In fact, if it's under $50 US, there's a great chance you'll be replacing parts soon.

However, if you're OK with that, then one of these cheaper mass produced skateboards might be OK for you. It all depends on what you want. For more help on buying skateboards, check out Which Skateboard Should I Buy? - it has help for building your own skateboard, along with some suggestions for cheaper skateboards for beginner kids or adults.

For another perspective on buying cheap skateboards, read "Just Because it's Cheaper, Does it Really Cost Less?" This article tackles the issue of the true cost of buying cheap, mass produced skateboards from overseas. If you are concerned about the future of skateboarding, and you want to make sure that your money supports who you want it to, it's worth a read.