Applying Grip Tape to a Skateboard Deck

Dynamic view of a black and wooden skateboard

pbombaert / Getty Images

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What You Will Need

Grip tape skateboard supplies

Steve Cave 

Putting grip tape on yourself is a lot easier than it might seem. To start out, you'll need the following gear:

  • Skateboard deck: Of course. It's best if it is brand new. Old grip tape can be removed from a board, but it's a pain to do. Just get a new board.
  • New sheet of grip tape: Do not buy the cheapest grip tape you can find. Cheap, generic grip tape will sometimes not stick as well to your board, and it's only the difference of a little bit of money to get a good brand. Try Black Magic or Jessup grip tape.
  • Razor blade: You can use a box cutter, or just a razor blade out of a pack. Many hardware stores sell razor blades individually. You can also use a knife, but trust me, the sharper the better.
  • Screwdriver: You can use any tool that is metal and rounded - you're going to be rubbing it on the grip tape (which is basically sandpaper!), so make sure it is metal, and make sure that whoever owns it is okay with this!
  • Pair of scissors: You can use the razor blade instead, but some scissors are helpful.

Once you have all of this gear, you're ready to move on to step two!

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Decide on a Design

Grip Tape design

 Steve Cave

Your imagination is the only limit for styles and designs when applying grip tape. You can grip the entire board, you can cut designs into the grip tape, or you can leave areas open to show some of the board's graphics or colors.

These instructions use a Girl OG graphics deck and show the little bit of graphics that are on the top of the board. This is a super easy trick that makes your board look good.

A lot of skate decks have some small graphic right before the back trucks. This is because most of the time when skating, you won't put your feet in this area. Also, by applying the grip tape so this area shows through, it's easy to tell which end is the nose and which end is the tail of your skateboard. So, this technique should help even if you don't have any graphics there to show—you can leave a stripe showing the color on the top of your board!

Whatever design you decide on, these same techniques will be what you will use!

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Cutting the Grip Tape

Cutting the grip tape

 Steve Cave

For this design, you're going to cut the grip tape in half. You'll be using the two flat ends of the sheet of grip tape to put in the center of the board, next to the graphic that you want to show through. This will ensure that the edges are straight since they were originally from the ends of the grip tape!

So, first, lay your grip tape on the tail of your skateboard and line up where you would want the flat end of the grip tape to be. See the picture to understand what this means. Then, cut the grip tape leaving a little bit hanging over the end of the tail (about an inch).

Second, place the other half of the grip tape on the top of the deck, lining up the flat edge right above where you would like it to be. Get a good idea of where you would like the grip tape placed.

Third, cut off a corner of one of the grip tape sections. Cut off only enough that you won't be taking any that is over the deck. You don't want to end up with a weird corner cut out of the grip tape on your skateboard!

Fourth, take the sheets of grip tape off the deck. Then use the corner that you cut off to rough up the areas of the board that you will be applying the grip tape to. Make sure to avoid the areas that you want to have shown through the middle. If you are gripping the entire board, then just sand the whole thing. Make sure that you get the edges. Roughing up the surface of the board will help the grip tape stick to it better. Just make sure that after roughing, you brush off any dust!

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Applying the Grip Tape

Applying the grip tape to the board

 Steve Cave

Now, take one of the sheets, and peel back the paper on the bottom of the grip tape just a little, from the flat edge. Only about an inch.

Then, slowly, stick that exposed flat edge to the skateboard right where you want it lined up. Make sure that it's straight.

Once you have that edge lined up and stuck down where you want it, then start slowly flattening out the grip tape with one hand, while slowly pulling back more of the paper covering the bottom of the grip tape with your other hand. Make sure you press hard with the flattening hand and press from the middle of the grip tape out to the edges.

It's important to go slowly and press from the inside out to avoid air bubbles. If you see any forming, gently pull back the grip tape and re-press it down. If you go slowly, you can avoid air bubbles. If some air bubbles get formed and you notice later, there are ways to fix it. You'll get to that at the end.

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Apply Some More Grip Tape

Applying extra grip tape to the board

 Steve Cave

Once that half is done, then, using the same technique, apply the other half.

If you are putting grip tape over the entire board, then simply use this same technique. Line the grip tape up on the deck, and then peel back a small part of one edge of the grip tape, and stick it to the nose or the tail of the board. It's best to overshoot the edge by about an inch at least, just to make sure that you get the edges covered. When gripping the entire skateboard, make extra sure that you go slow and keep the grip tape straight. If you go crooked, you can end up missing an edge when you get to the end.

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Edging the Grip Tape

Tracing the grip tape to see what you'll cut

 Steve Cave

When you are all done, the grip tape should be hanging over the edges of the deck.

Get your screwdriver and, using the round metal shaft of the screwdriver, rub down the edges of the skate deck as shown in the picture. You want to rub the edges very hard, and at an angle, until the grain of the grip tape is worn off and the grip tape is white along the edges.

Once these edges have been worn down, try holding the outside leftover edge of the grip tape and bend it up and down. You are trying to make that line that you just rubbed in even weaker so that it will cut easily and straight. Bend the grip tape some more, and if it doesn't feel weak, rub it more with the screwdriver.

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Cutting the Edges of the Grip Tape

Cutting the edges of the grip tape

 Steve Cave

Next, use your razor blade or box cutter to cut along the white edge that you just wore into the grip tape. Make your cuts long and smooth, and the edges won't look choppy. This is harder to do with a regular knife.

Once all of the extra grip tape has been cut off, you may want to rub down the edges more with the screwdriver, depending on how well you did it before. Keep trimming these edges until you like them.

Another option is to next take your deck out to a curb and rub the edges on the concrete. This will sand down any badly cut grip tape edges, and make the transition from grip tape to skate deck smoother.

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Finished Skate Deck

A finished skate deck

 Steve Cave

And your new skate deck is all gripped and ready to go.

To put trucks on, just find the holes and punch through the grip tape. You can cut the edges of the holes out so that the screws fit in more flush, but either way works just fine.

If you want to cut the extra grip tape out, push a screw through the hole from the bottom. A little mound in the grip tape will show up where you push the screw through. Take your razor blade and cut out the little mound, and you're all set. Of course, just pushing through the grip tape from above with the screws and tightening them really tight works well too.

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Other Ideas & Styles

A sticker on a skateboard

 Steve Cave

There are as many ways to put on grip tape as there are skaters in the world. More, in fact. Here are some other ideas:

  • Solid Sheet: Easy, simple, and it looks good. Just apply the sheet of grip tape in one solid piece. If you want help telling the nose from the tail at a glance, get a set of Luck Bolts, Shorty's Silverados, or Element Rations bolts. These sets come with some painted screws that you can put at the nose or tail of your skateboard, so you can tell which end is which. Another option is to spray paint on the top of your deck. You can use a template or just freehand.
  • Cut Shapes: Cutting shapes into your grip tape can look very cool if you do it well. It can also be very hard, so make sure your gripping skills are up to it, or you may go through several sheets. Take a look at the picture for an example of an awesome grip job.
  • Patterns: When lining up both ends of the grip tape in these instructions, you used the flat end of the grip tape. Why not cut that flat part into a shape? A wave, or a jagged edge—you can make this look like anything you want.
  • Pre-Cut Grip Tape: Loads of companies, like Zero and Element, make pre-cut grip tape.

These are just a few ideas. Skateboarding is all about expressing and challenging yourself, so go for it with your deck. Get crazy, get creative, and get skating!