Avoid the Deadly Speed Wobble!
Ah speed wobbles. They are a bundle of fun. They can attack when you least expect it and hit you so fast that you are flying off your longboard and on the ground before you even know what hit you.
The first thing to know is that speed wobbles are entirely due to the actions of the rider. Your brain tries to keep you going straight when you hit small imperfections in the road and over corrects. You try to correct the over correction just to over correct again.
These errors gradually get bigger and bigger, creating bigger and bigger wobbles. Before you know it, you are wobbling all over and eventually lose control and eat it real good. This article is designed to help you not do that. However, it is ultimately up to you to skate within your limits and ALWAYS wear a certified helmet and other protective gear.
Proper Practice Makes More Perfect
I don't believe that practice makes perfect. Practicing GOOD habits with the right longboard gear can get you CLOSER to perfect. However, there are always places for you to improve your longboarding skills and there is always a chance for you to fall on your face, I don't care how well you practice and how good you get. But hey, that's part of the fun right?
The only way to truly overcome the dreaded wobbles in most situations is to build your skills by becoming more and more comfortable with speed.
When there is a problem, attack it at the source. In this case, the source of the problem is the over correcting action that the rider takes when hitting the imperfections in the road. How do you not over correct? PRACTICE. The only way to truly overcome the dreaded wobbles in most situations is to build your skills by becoming more and more comfortable with speed. Start slow and longboard on hills within your limits.
Most riders start by utilizing set ups that make it hard to get wobbles. Top mounts might be used by the pros, but they are usually not a good starting point for a first speedboard. Top mount longboards generally make it easier to get speed wobbles because they position the rider above the trucks.
This gives the rider the most leverage possible over the trucks. More leverage = easier to lean = easier to over correct. You should consider a dropped deck or a drop thru until you are super comfortable with speed.
Note that this is not to say if you get a board like the Landyachtz Evo you'll instantly be able to bomb like a mad man. Like any sport, you have to slowly build up your skills. No one surfed triple overhead before first mastering the white wash. It's the same with longboarding.
Here are some setups I suggest if you are just getting started:
My Current Longboard Set Up Wobbles, Help!
People are going to tell you to tighten your trucks, get trucks that offer a lower degree baseplate, and/or increase your wheelbase (if your board allows it). Let's dive into each one of those options, why they seem to work, and why they ultimately can lead you into a false sense of security, wobble hard, and make you face plant harder than your mom can garden.
If your current longboard set up wobbles bad, your first and cheapest option is to tighten your trucks. All you need is a wrench and bam: your board is harder to turn and thus harder to wobble. This method works to some degree, but has serious problems to consider. Tightening your trucks is simply postponing the point at which you wobble. Go a little faster and you are going to get wobbles again.
To top it off, it's also way more difficult to tell where that wobble point is at now. When you go faster and get the wobbles again, they are going to hit you quicker (less warning) and harder than before. In addition, I can't tell you how many times I've seen skaters absolutely destroy bushings by over tightening their trucks.
Please people, don't do this. It's such a newb mistake. If you truly need stiffer bushings, buy stiffer bushings. Don't try to make your 78a bushings feel like 95a. It just doesn't work.
The second thing people will tell you is to get a lower degree baseplate (read more about trucks in our Longboard Truck Articles). Lower degree baseplates give the rider more lean and less turn. Back to the fundamentals: less turn = less over correcting = less speed wobbles.
However, I want to stress again that this is only going to postpone your speed wobble problem to a higher speed. The wobbles, when they come, will be more aggressive and much faster.
The last option you have in terms of changing set up to help reduce speed wobbles is to increase the wheelbase of your longboard complete. Increasing the wheelbase makes it harder to turn and thus harder to wobble (seeing a pattern with turning here?). A small wheel base is quick to turn.
Think about a go kart (Landyachtz Dinghy) and a full size car (Loaded Bhangra). The go kart is quicker in sharp corners, but more squirrelly when you get going fast in a straight line. Same with longboard skateboards. Once again I am going to reiterate: a longer wheelbase is simply postponing the point at which you wobble.
Stance and Carving Out
The way in which you ride the longboard, regardless of the set up, is going to impact your success or failure at avoiding speed wobbles. Check out our friend in the video above. See where he is standing relative to the front truck? He is positioned too far back on the board.
Having your weight off the front truck is problematic, especially with speed. Because turning and controlling a longboard is largely based on the front truck, it's important to keep your weight there. There's a reason why a speedboarder has a tuck stance which their front foot is fully planted and the rear foot is often just on the toes.
The main turning of the skateboard comes from the front. If you do not position yourself in such a way to take control of your front truck, you are positioning yourself to fall.
Another common method for overcoming wobbles on your longboard is to carve them out. The premise of this is fundamentally "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em". If the wobbles come at you slowly enough for you have time to react, it is possible to slowly ease yourself from a speed state into a carving state.
By consciously forcing a carve back and forth, the over correcting action of your brain can be overcome. This is, however, rather difficult to do and incredibly terrifying. I do not suggest relying on this technique to save you, because it will often not.
There are several ways to help postpone speed wobbles. These methods will help, but not solve the root of the issue. Your long term goal should be to slowly grow your skills.
Don't go crazy and try to bomb like a pro until you've put the time into the sport like a pro. Slowly and steadily go faster. Don't fall into peer pressure by friends. Skate within your limits and only skate in places that are safe from cars, pedestrians, bikers, etc. Seriously consider buying 2-3 boards over time, with each set up getting more and more into turning and less into complete stability.
Stay safe and stay STOKED!!
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Cover photo: Dan Wilczek