Freestyle Board Options and Benefits

Back in 1989, a certain Rodney Mullen wrote an article called “Zen and the Art of Freestyle” for Thrasher magazine. In it, he gave freestylers a whole range of advice, covering approaches to learning tricks, stylistic notes, and equipment advice. A lot of the core elements in this equipment section (wood screws, skid plates, bushings, etc.) haven’t changed a lot, but in the modern era, we have far more options available for deck design than ever before. As such, this page is my attempt at bringing Mullen’s advice up to date. I’ll stay as neutral as I can, and try to explain what every variable will help and hinder.

Note that you can do any trick on any board – there are people doing Caballerial flips and gazelles on 42″ longboards, for god’s sake. However, if you have a certain style of trick you prefer, it’s generally better to find a board more suited to that so that you’re working with your board, not fighting it.

(If you’re interested in reading Mullen’s original advice, Thrasher have provided a scan of it on their website. It’s worth a look.)


In Mullen’s piece, he wrote “small boards are best for footwork. Larger boards are best for rolling and jumping tricks like ollies, etc.” This is still solid advice – but he designated 27.5″ x 7″ as a “larger board”! Nowadays, 28.5″ x 7.3″ is roughly the “industry standard” for freestyle. These are the original dimensions of the Capital Mini from the early 2000s, which is really the most recent evolution of “board design” in freestyle – everything since has been either a derivative of that, 80s flat nose shapes or 90s popsicles.

Generally speaking, I advise people to stick to around 28″-29″, but go shorter if you’re interested in complex/fast footwork and shuvits, and longer for 50-50s (so you don’t have to bend over as much) and ollies.

There is a stylistic consideration here, too – a lot of non-ollie freestyle tricks involve having your legs at either end of the board (most notably caspers, end overs, shuvits and nosehook impossibles). If you like doing these tricks and your board is too long for you to stand at both ends of the board without stretching, your style will be noticeably affected – negatively. A longer board also gives you further to reach out for a rolling fingerflip, which can harm your back. Remember, bend at the knees, not at the back!

On the other end of the spectrum, most ollie tricks require one foot on the tail and one foot in the centre of the board, so if you’re skating something too short, you’ll look cramped up. There’s good reason why ollie tricks look most natural on a 32″ long board; it’s just ergonomically more suited to the setup position.


There are two considerations here:

  1. you need to be able to find a truck/wheel combo that you like which matches your desired width
  2. wider boards flip slowly but are easier to catch, while narrower boards flip quickly but are harder to catch.

Most people settle around the 7.25″-7.4″ mark because of the massive range of truck and wheel options for that size. Once you get past 10Xmm trucks, you’re stuck until you get to 126mm/129mm, which lands you around the 7.75″ mark. This isn’t optimal for a lot of freestyle, but it’s certainly workable. Bigger than that tends to look clunky, and makes rail stands seem really tall. You also have to balance ride height with deck width for reliable rail landings, so the wider your deck, the taller your trucks should be. Just something to consider.

Some people think they need wider boards because they have bigger feet. That’s not the case at all – Kevin Harris was a tall guy with huge feet who ripped on a tiny matchstick. If you’re dragging your toes, that’s you being sloppy, and not a problem with the deck.


Mullen believed in 1989 that concave “makes rail tricks unpredictable”. I’m not sure about that. However, it does cause issues with some footwork (as your feet get “locked” into the middle of the board, which is undesirable at times), caspers (as it creates a point that digs into the top of your foot), and certain kickflip variations (as you can’t grip the edge as well when it’s turned upwards).

That said, choose concave if you like doing lots of ollie tricks, as it will help your feet grip the board in mid-air. That’s what it’s designed for – it’s not really beneficial to anything else.

An additional consideration is that freestyle tricks often put a lot of strain into the boards. Concave usually adds rigidity, but sometimes it can distribute that force weirdly, and cause cracking and additional flexing.


I’ll leave this to Mullen: “Flexible boards are the worst for freestyle; they kill reaction time. A solid, fairly heavy deck is my preference because it doesn’t flip out of control and doesn’t mess up the balance and quickness with flexing.”

Save the flex for the dancing boards. Any slop in a freestyle board – whether it’s in the truck setup or the deck – is a source of unpredictability and wasted energy (in the scientific sense).

Single kick or kick nose

When I was a kid, I believed what I was told by people on the internet and came to believe that single kicks were stupid. After all, who wants to do a shuvit and end up effectively riding a different board?

Now, I’ve rejected the double kick hegemony and understand that both have their place. Kicknoses tend to benefit footwork, ollies and a certain type of skater (who likes to move fast and think less), but flat noses are hugely beneficial for pogo, casper, and fingerflip tricks.

The reasons are pretty straightforward: a flat nose is easier to stand on for a casper, it doesn’t drill the top truck into your leg as much with a no-handed pogo, and it ensures that the force applied to the board by a fingerflip is distributed along the central axis of the board, while a kicknose, being slightly off that axis, requires much more force for the same amount of flip.

Bidirectional vs directional

The Capital Mini was a revelation to me because both ends were exactly the same. Coming from street boards where the nose was slightly longer and steeper, this seemed like an obvious improvement, and I still try to ride bidirectional boards today. It’s a lot easier to chain tricks together when you know the board will perform the same both ways round!

However, directional boards – whether flat nose or double kick – mean that one end can be specialised for one certain type of trick while one end can be designed for another. The common single kick board in the 80s featured a square kicktail and a round nose, for example; this meant you could butterflip better on the tail, but railflip better on the nose. Sometimes a specialised board is better than a deck that is alright at everything but doesn’t do anything particularly well.

However, a badly designed directional board (i.e. one that has no reason behind its design, or one that only exists due to corner cutting or bad manufacture – such as a poor choice of mould or bad cutting from the blank) is just a waste of time.

Tail/Nose lengths

Shorter noses and tails are better for ollies (the shorter length increases the angle of the board at the moment the board pops) and 50-50s (a lower balance point), but considerably worse for caspers (less room for the foot) and wheelies (less control).

Tail/Nose angles

Steep tails can be hell for freestyle. They make caspers more awkward (more likely to slip off the tail; more prone to having your back foot touching/resting on the floor, more severe casper angle), fingerflips become much more difficult and laboured (see the flat nose explanation above), cause shuvit instability, and make wheelies much more twitchy. Steep tails also take some of the subtlety out of footwork as they amplify small movements and weight changes into much bigger motions.

They do, however, improve your impossibles and give you more height on ollie tricks (as they increase the angle of the board as it pops), and if you’ve got a steep nose as well, it gives you something to snag your foot on mid-ollie at the other end to drag it even higher.

Basically, steeper tails = more power, less grace.

One last thing to consider is kicktail placement. Distance between truck and kicktail can really affect the way a board performs; if there is too much space, you have a lot of wasted energy in your movements. In freestyle, this translates to a sloppy-feeling board, as anyone who’s skated both a freestyle board cut from a street mould and a proper freestyle deck will understand.

What I personally feel is best for freestyle is a fairly mellow kicktail angle, but one that starts close to the truck. After trying countless shapes and moulds, this seems to be the most reliable. Increase the kicktail angle if you like ollies, of course.

Tail Shape

Tail shape affects six different types of trick: ollies, impossibles, fingerflips, caspers, railflips and pogos. For sake of argument, you only get three different types of tails, although some sit halfway between two styles;


  • Pros: very unstable. Flips out of a casper easily, and works better for ollieflips than any other shape.
  • Cons: very unstable! Can be difficult to control in some tricks. The instability that benefits ollieflips can lead to shuvity impossibles instead of vertical ones, and the shape can cause toe drag in casper spins. Also, because there is less contact with the ground, expect it to be damaged faster by caspers and pogos.


  • Pros: Very stable. Will sit in a casper or a 50-50 all day. Also very resilient to pogo damage. Has the most physical space on the tail, so is better for caspers, particularly for beginners. Works well for butterflips, but I have no idea why. Answers on a postcard, please.
  • Cons: Try doing a casper to casper on a board with two square ends! It’ll work, but it won’t be easy, and it won’t feel nice. Also, because of how square it is, if you skate it long enough it’ll feel like a totally different board as the square end becomes a diagonal one instead. Feels awful for railflips and can make fingerflips feel “clunky”.


  • Pros: A good half way house between square and round. Should railflip nicely, resist damage better than a popsicle, and still ollieflip or fingerflip well.
  • Cons: easy to get wrong. If the taper is too much, it’s almost as unstable as a round tail without the benefits. If the taper is too weak, it’s got the clunky feeling of a square tail without the stability.

Rail Shape

Most freestyle boards have fairly straight sides (rails) for predictable rail tricks. The further the rail goes before it begins to taper, the more stable it’ll be in rail, and the more rail tricks and casper disasters it can take before it needs replacing. Sometimes, a slightly tapered rail can be beneficial as it gives the foot a small amount of clearance on railwhips (360º rail shuvits while you’re stood on one wheel) and rail toespins, but it’s a fine line between aiding them and making them worse. However, an extremely tapered rail benefits certain rare rail tricks such as rail impossibles and latte flips, as it allows the nose to lift slightly more before the trick begins.

At least one deck I’ve skated had nonparallel rails – i.e. the board was narrower at the front truck than the back one. I honestly have no idea why you’d want this setup – I can’t see any obvious benefits. Again, answers on a postcard.

So, that’s my testing notes on every variable I can think of for a freestyle deck. Hopefully it’ll go some way to explaining why your favourite trick feels great/like crap on a certain board, and help you decide what exactly you want to skate in future.

For those who went TL;DR on this article, here’s a quick table as to what to look for and what to avoid for certain tricks.

The Freestyle Board Design Cheatsheet




Caspers and no-handed 50-50s

Flat nose/mellow kicktails, no/mellow concave, tapered tails (for flips) or square tails (for stability

Short and steep tails, concave (especially super-steep), round tails, long boards (30″+)


Flat nose/mellow kicktails, rounded or tapered tails

Steep tails, square tails


Flatter and shorter boards

Steep concave, steep tails


Steep, short tails

Rounded tails


Flatter and narrower boards

Steep concave, wide boards (8″+)


Steep, short tails, steep noses, concave, longer boards (29″+)

Short boards (below 28″), flat noses, long tails


Squarer ends, flat noses, mellow kicktails, short tails

Rounded tails, short boards (below 28″)

Rail Tricks

Directional boards, straight rails (for rail stability), tapered rails (for rail oddities)

Concave (according to Mr Mullen), tapered rails (generally), square tails (butterflips excluded)


Shorter boards (below 28″), mellow kicktails

long boards (30″+), steep kicktails