What is longboarding pumping and how does it work?

longboarding-pumping

People often complain of tiring out when they ride their longboards for long stretches. We’re not talking about a trip to the local convenience store or riding around campus. The rides in question here are measured in miles, not hundreds of feet. And honestly, pushing and coasting will eventually wear just about anyone out. But there is one technique that can ease your burden on longer rides while simultaneously injecting a little more fun: pumping.

What It Is

Pumping is simply shifting one’s bodyweight from side to side to create momentum that propels a longboard forward. Skateboarders employ a similar method to build momentum on halfpipes, but it is not quite the same technique. In longboarding the weight shift during pumping is lateral. Longboarders shift their weight from side to side during pumping. With a little practice, the weight shift will carry your momentum through the turn as you make the next weight shift.

How to Do It

The technique for pumping is a matter of rhythm. The movements of the body are not that difficult to learn. They just require a bit of repetition to learn to do them in order and synchronized. However, even with perfect technique, you will not be able to pump properly if your longboard is not set up for it. So before we get into the physical steps to pumping, let’s be sure that we have the right equipment and that everything is adjusted properly. Here’s a short video demonstrating how longboard pumping works:

Board Setup

In order for you to maintain your momentum from one carve to the next, your setup must be built in such a way as to minimize friction. An experienced longboarder who knows how to pump will still be unable to keep maintain speed if friction is grinding everything to a halt. Another requirement is having the right kind of deck. Pumping is possible with pretty much any type of longboard, but certain decks accel at it, while others get in the way.

Deck

If your deck isn’t suited for pumping, you will struggle to keep up your momentum. Extra-long boards are often too heavy for pumping. They also usually have outsized wheelbases to go with that extra length, which make the tight turns needed for pumping on a longboard impossible. Those tight turns are the key to pumping, and every decision you make on your deck will affect how tightly you can turn.

Kicktails

Old school decks work well for pumping, and they have the added benefit of allowing you to tic-tac. Pressing on the tail and getting into a wheelie position lets you simply sway the deck over to one side. Tapping your wheels down, you then simply pick up the front wheels and make the same move over to the other side. The wheels make a sound each time they hit pavement, which is where the tic-tac gets its name.

Wheel Cutouts

Even if you don’t select a board with a kicktail, you can usually mimic the kickturns of the tic-tac with any other deck. The most important thing is that you can turn sharply. Without question, the longboard decks that allow the sharpest turns are those with cutaways for the wheels. With these cutaways, riders can tilt the longboard as far as possible without worrying about the tops of the wheels rubbing on the deck.

When a wheel rubs like this, it is called wheelbite. Sometimes wheelbite can stop the deck and throw you forward. This is a common way to crash and it is something most longboarders take steps to avoid. But even just slowing things down a little bit is enough to prevent you from pumping effectively.

Shorter is Better

Choosing a long wheelbase is a good way to stabilize a longboard, but that stability comes at a cost. Logic will dictate that a board with a long wheelbase will make wider turns than one with a shorter wheelbase. You can pump on almost any length board, but if you’re choosing between say a 41- and a 38-inch deck, the shorter of the two will likely be easier to pump.

Alternatively, seek out a board with a variable wheelbase. Then, you can simply choose the bolt holes that give you the shortest wheelbase possible. The shorter wheelbase will tighten the turning radius, making your inputs more effective. Remember, tight turns equal fast pumping.

More Flex, Please

As you learn to carve into a pump, you will find that it is beneficial to use your weight to flex the deck. Pressing into the center of the deck causes it to store the energy you are putting into it. The energy comes back as the board unflexes, propelling you in the opposite direction. So if pumping is a priority, select a deck with some flex.

Some longboard materials are naturally more springy than others. For example, bamboo generally has more flex than maple, which is why manufacturers often select it for at least some of the layers in a deck. The materials and the wheelbase work together to provide flex or to limit it. Downhill decks are usually stiff, which provides stability for higher speeds but limits their usefulness in long-distance pumping. There are always compromises to be made.

Trucks

The types of trucks you choose when building your complete will require similar tradeoffs to the ones you make when picking a deck. However, it is not very likely that you will eliminate your chances of pumping on your longboard by choosing the wrong trucks. You may make your life more difficult than it needs to be, though. Let’s see how.

Kingpin Position

Most longboard trucks these days have reverse kingpins (facing outward). While a conventional-kingpin truck may dive more steeply into turns, reverse kingpins work just fine for pumping. They are also much more stable than conventional trucks, so they aren’t as susceptible to speed wobbles at faster speeds. Selecting reverse-kingpin trucks lets you do more things than just pumping on your longboard.

Hanger Width

Picking the correct size hanger for your setup is not really complicated. All you have to do is match the width of the board – more or less. The width the manufacturer gives you will normally be the widest part of the board. Choose trucks with a corresponding axle width (given in inches) and hanger width (given in millimeters). If matching these widths forces you to use abnormally wide trucks, consider purchasing a different deck.

Kingpin Nut Adjustment

If you are just learning to ride a longboard, you might have been instructed to tighten your trucks for stability. Tighter trucks work great for beginners because they make the deck into a stable platform on which to balance. Obviously, they also make turning more difficult. Beginners who start out with tight trucks and gradually loosen them have an easier time learning, but you simply can’t pump with tight trucks.

Of course, the trucks do not need to be ridiculously tight either. As you learn to pump, you will want a bit of resistance in both directions. You will be leaning heavily into your carves once you get pumping down, and resistance helps your board return the energy you will be putting into it. It’s best to start out a little tight and gradually loosen your trucks until you are happy with their adjustment. Erring on the side of looseness makes pumping more difficult.

Bushings

The bushings you choose will effect more than just your ability to pump. Cone-shaped bushings make it easy to dive into turns, but they become unstable at high speeds. Barrel-shaped bushings have the opposite effect. A cone-and-barrel setup would seem to be the perfect solution, but it may still be either too unstable or too restrictive. Everything depends on what other things you expect your board to accomplish. A cruising setup may be just fine for pumping, whereas a downhill setup won’t likely be.

Durometer is one characteristic that may actually enable you to get a better pump from an existing board. Swapping your bushings out for a softer set – while keeping the same shape combination – will always make it easier to initiate turns. Just be careful that the bushings are otherwise compatible. If the replacement set is a bit too large, the trucks may not turn as they should.

Bearings

The bearings you choose don’t need to be super-fast or crazy expensive. If you are the type that needs to have bearings that spin for minutes on end, go for it. Whichever bearings you settle on, just keep them cleaned and lubed. Friction is the enemy of pumping, and fewer things will slow you down worse than dirty bearings. As long as your wheels spin freely, with  no discernible stumbling signifying debris in their races, you should be able to pump.

Wheels

When pumping is the main priority, choose the wheels that offer the most grip. Stone-ground surfaces provide grip right off the shelf, but all wheels soon develop this surface roughness. One thing that doesn’t change over time is durometer. Softer wheels offer more grip than do harder ones. Their grippiness offers peace of mind that the wheel won’t slide out from underneath you as you dig into your carves when pumping.

On the other hand, your wheels should not be too soft either. Wheels that are soft to the point of being gummy have more friction than harder wheels. They will slow you down to the point where it is impossible to keep up your momentum. So avoid the softest wheel formulas, but otherwise, anything goes.

Taller is Better

Taller wheels cover more ground per revolution than smaller wheels. If everything else in a setup were the same, the rider with taller wheels would always be the faster rider. What this means for pumping is that the momentum you produce will carry you farther and you’ll maintain a higher speed. The only conceivable downside is that taller wheels are more prone to wheelbite, but there are many ways around that drawback. Nothing makes up for speed.

How to Get Pumping

Body Position

The standing position for pumping on a longboard is the same as it is for coasting. Stand sideways with your feet about shoulder width apart. Do not set your feet uncomfortably far apart. If they are set on top of the truck bolts, they are too far from one another. You’ll want them close enough to the center of the board to bend the deck in the middle. Heavier skaters will be able to flex the board with their feet further apart. Experiment to find your happy zone.

Technique

First Learn to Carve

We briefly touched on the importance of learning to carve before attempting to pump, but it bears repeating. Pumping is an exaggerated carving motion, timed carefully to maintain the energy we put into each turn. Carving is simply leaning into a turn. As you tilt the board to turn it left or right, keep your weight centered over the top of it. You may feel as though you’ll fall over, but centrifugal force will keep you upright.

Heelside vs. Toeside

Depending on how you learned to ride, you may have an easier time keeping your momentum turning one way or the other. Most people have a preference for either toeside or heelside. Try not to develop an overreliance on whichever is your strong side. To keep a pump going, you’ll have to learn to turn either way equally smoothly.

Getting Going

While the goal of pumping is to keep up your speed without having to push, you will still need to push a couple of times to get off the starting block. It should be easy enough to keep up the pace once you get bit of speed, but there is no other way to get going on flat ground.

Dive to Turn

The key to executing a perfect pump is to really dive into a turn. You may see people wiggling as though they were on a slalom run to pump, but that is so much wasted effort. All it takes to pump is lean hard and brace yourself against the deck. So if you start with a heelside turn, you’ll want to really sit down as you lean.

Just as with any carve, there is a chain reaction of body parts that should fire off in order. Start at the top and work your way down. Begin by turning your shoulders in the direction you want to turn. The shoulders may follow a slight bobbing of the head, but they also overtake it. Your shoulders also lead your hips, like in this slow-motion video of a snowboarder:
Notice how far that rider leans horizontally, digging the toeside edge into the snow. You can do exactly the same thing on a longboard.

Flex the Deck

As you lean over into the first turn, make a concerted effort to flex the deck in the middle. The flexing accomplishes two things. First, it stores up energy that the board can return to you as it straightens itself. Second, it causes the turning radius from the tilting hangers to tighten slightly. The turning radius does not tighten much, but it doesn’t need to for it to have a dramatic effect on how tight the resulting turn will be.

Unspring Your Weight

This is the tricky part, but it is the key to the whole process. As you finish carving to one side, spring vertically off the board while subtly pushing the board forward at the same time. You should spring upward until you feel momentarily weightless. Don’t try to go completely airborne. Some part of your foot should remain in contact with the board at all times. When you time it perfectly, you will feel the board spring you up and out of the initial turn.

Dive Back In

As gravity begins to pull you back down to your board, place as much of your weight as possible on the opposite side of the board. So if you began with a toeside turn, you will need to land back on the board already digging into a heelside turn. Remember to compress your weight into the middle of the deck as you peel off in the opposite direction. Flex it, loading your weight into the bend for the carve into the opposite side.

Keep it Going

As you begin to time your dives and board flexes properly, you should start to develop your own distinct rhythm for pumping. The components you choose to ride will have some effect on your tempo, as will your own weight and flexibility. Try not to get too fast and twitchy in your movements, as this will soon wear you out. On the flipside, getting overly deliberate can slow down your movements too much, causing you to lose momentum. Like dancing or anything else that involves precise body movements, let your own personality dictate your rhythm.

Conclusion

If you ever get tired of pushing, give pumping a try. It really is the only way to avoid constant kick pushing when on flat land. And if you are one of the many longboarders who struggles with their pumping technique at first, keep after it. Almost everyone battles frustration as they learn to pump, but the fun factor it brings to longboarding is always worth the effort.

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