Are Cheap Skateboards Okay 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.

The Skateboard's 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.

Check the 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 don't use ABEC 9 bearings in skateboards, because the jarring and slamming motions of skateboarding would destroy bearings that delicate. For skateboarding, 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.

If the wheels don't spin freely, or there's any grinding sound, then you will just end up replacing your skateboard bearings soon if you buy this skateboard.

Check the Trucks of the Board

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. 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.

The Skateboard's 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, 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. The board should flex under your weight, but not too much.

Considering the Price

Now this is the tricky one. If the skateboard you are looking at is under $30 US, 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.