In skateboarding’s early years, deck flexiness was considered pretty groovy, but then there was a powerful shift and the culture slowly moved away from it’s surf-style roots and began developing a strong trick-based urban dimension. Most of those original flexy boards were shelved and replaced with rigid, wider boards. I’ve been skateboarding since the ‘80s, and board flex was never something we ever talked about. When we talked of board design and characteristics we used words like pop, steepness, concave, and stiffness; but we never talked about a board’s “flex”. Today though, things are a changin’, and fast. Paradigms are shifting and revolving cycles are making themselves manifest as snowboarding and surfing are becoming major influences on today’s skateboard builders. A large swath of today’s skaters ride an array of boards. Skaters are now just as apt to grab from a quiver of boards designed specifically for smooth cruising and speedy downhill, as they are to pick up a street and park setup. We are experiencing a shift in what characteristics are important to many skaters, and nowadays one of the most coveted characteristics of all is FLEX. The Flexural Revolution is upon us.
In order to examine this mass insurgency of flex in skateboard ideology, I decided I’d hit-up a handful of the top Flexural Revolutionaries and ask them a few pointed questions:
1.) Why is flex so important?
2.) What are the various benefits of flex in designing your boards?
3.) What got you so interested in the whole idea of flexing skateboards in the first place?
Here are their answers:
Debbie Gordon of Fibreflex:
“We’ve been making Fibreflex skateboards since 1964! And the answer to your question is very simple: Gordon & Smith’s roots began in 1959 with surfboards. My father, Larry Gordon, an avid board builder and surfer, was really looking for something that resonated with the feel of surfing, but on the land, on days when there was no swell in the water. The flex he wanted to replicate was born from using epoxy & fiberglass back in 1964 (which we still use in the manufacturing of Fibreflex Boards today) and we believe still offers the closest feeling to the climbing and dropping, the weighting and un-weighting, the pumping and the acceleration out of turns that you get when surfing. Surfing and skateboarding were on opposite ends of the stick for so long it was almost forgotten how much they are related.“
Today, with the gaining popularity of longboards, we all see the importance of flex being rediscovered. Flex is an important factor in a skateboard, it really allows you to become part of the board function. In turn, the deck action (flex) helps the function of both the trucks and the wheels when carving. Flex serves as a shock absorber and makes the ride more enjoyable and fun.”
Dennis Telfer of Sector 9:
“For Sector 9, flex has always played an important role. When we first started out making boards in our backyard that were substantially longer than everything else out there, our first goal wasn’t to make them flexible. The first goal was to make them so they wouldn’t break. This led to us to glassing the first few like a surfboard, and then in order to avoid glassing them, we made boards out of 1” thick marine-ply that was stiff like rocks. This was the first time we realized that it wasn’t just the length of the board but also the flex that really made the ride what it was. From then on the search became focused on materials that were strong and flexible but not too much in either direction. Varying degrees of flex have now become a major factor in every board we design.
Our line of fiberglass boards which we now call the Cosmic Series were inspired from some 70’s G&S Fibreflex boards that myself and a couple friends used to own and ride. These were always kicking around the house where we started Sector 9, and all the kids that used to come by and skate the ramp would always say ‘When are you gonna make those?’ These early Fibreflex’s had no concave and just a little camber, which was great for pumping and springing you in and out of turns. When we started making our first Cosmic Series boards (named after the famous Cosmic Riders skate club of La Jolla) we used these parameters as a starting point and from there started doing different lengths, adding more camber, concave etc. This blossomed into some of the easiest, most fun boards to ride and the staples in our line of boards.”
Brian Petrie of Earthwing:
“The benefit of flex is suspension. It rebounds through vibrations, feels cushy like a waterbed, can be springy, and ultimately very fun. The downside of flex is that it can degrade performance for certain disciplines. It can retard your turning, shifting loads, and reaction can become much slower. It really depends on the type of flex, and material construction of the deck. There are multiple types and degrees of flex. For sliding some like a stiff board in all directions, and some like a stiff board with torsional flex. We have a plain-weave woven-mono-filament thermoplastic-laminate on some slide decks that keep the deck generally stiff, but with a loose torsional (or twisting) flex that keeps all 4 wheels down in spins while riding tighter trucks so you don’t loose wheel traction. This really helps in fluid tech sliding. Some like it, some don’t. Composites come in handy as well because they don’t like to stretch. When laminated like a sandwich with a wood (or foam) core, it will make the board stiffer because of its inability to stretch. There is also our Boomerang deck that features a unidirectional carbon. This unwoven carbon has thousands of strands of carbon laid out flat like a violin bow, stretched until it’s about to snap, and then cured in epoxy in that preloaded state. This makes for an extremely light, strong, and stiff deck. It’s much different than a wet layup like surfboards. The flex of a Boomerang is stiffer, but enough to rebound through vibrations, and the return memory is so powerful—it throws you from one turn to another without too much effort of your part. It’s such an “alive” deck, and it’s not a trampoline. That being said, sometimes nothing but a 7ply maple deck will do. Call me old school, but I have seen it all—over-engineered it all—and cracking a big-ass ollie over some trash in the street on a quality 7ply deck is like mother’s milk sometimes.”
Larry Peterson of LongBoardLarry:
“The very first board I made had to have flex, because I wanted it to feel like I was on water. I was definitely going for the surfing feel. Since then, flex has been a major part of my line-up as I try to achieve a specific feel for each board.
With a board like the Salamander we wanted lots of flex, and a really bouncy flex for the quick pump and carve of a little board. There is also a mellower flex were you can carve hard and be able to hold the flex down longer into your carve for a deeper turn. We also have dampening flex to more-or-less absorb road vibrations and reduce pushing fatigue.
When I am designing a board for a specific type of riding I focus on the ride and how to achieve the flex that fits that style best. I also look into different materials and how to combine them to get that particular feel. This usually requires multiple layups and lots of riding to find that ‘right’ combination. This is one reason we combine different woods, bamboo, fiberglass and carbon fiber. I am always looking for other materials and how they can help achieve the flex we are looking for, or the dampening flex.”
Graham Buska of Rayne:
“There are to two types of flex: Torsional and Length.
Length flex allows a skater to tune a board that fits them best for their style of riding. Boards with more flex along their length are usually livelier under the feet and feel more akin to other boardsports like surfing or snowboarding. More flex allows quick, snapping turns by loading rider-weight through a turn and quickly changing the steering angle of the trucks. Less or no flex allows for more control since the steering angle will not change unless the rider adds angled risers or uses different baseplates with their trucks.
Torsional flex is the most important because its stiffness keeps a board stable, while high amounts of torsional flex allow the trucks to turn independently of each other. Trucks that turn independently allow for enhanced turning when the front and rear truck turn in an arc in the same direction. However if the weight distribution on the board is twisted (not on the same rail) the trucks will strafe (video gamer word?) to some degree. This could cause speed wobbles! That’s why torsional flex is the more important flex.
Rayne aims to make boards that have enough torsional flex to suit their intended function. Our boards are designed for carving, freeriding or downhill. Most of our boards are stiff—for stability at speed—however, we make boards that have firm flexes for freeriding, and more flex for carving.
We feel like the design and construction of a board play majorly in the overall ride, which is why we use bamboo (light, strong, resilient) and fiberglass (strong in both length and torsion) in combination on all of our boards.
All of our boards with Elasta-Flex have some amount of offset camber so that the decks sits with neutral truck angles when a rider is standing on the board. When those boards are made we also vary the amount of concave along the rails and forward offset the camber. The variable concave, offset camber, and bamboo fibreglass construction combine to create a flex pattern that allows for a board with quick, snappy turning; and a ton of control.
We bring the same approach to decks with Firm-Flex—this is really only the Vendetta now, but there are some new ones on the way. Essentially, they are firm boards that don’t sag when you stand on them, but load the energy of the turn when you are riding.
Finally we have Speed -Stiff boards, which are designed to keep the trucks at neutral and allow all of the turning to come from the truck pivots and not a board flexing.”
Don Tashman of Loaded:
“Everything has flex. And frequencies of vibration or wave characteristics. These flexural characteristics can be engineered so as to allow for usable energy potential. Materials and construction determine these wave frequencies which can run from “chatter” through “usable flex” up to rigid structures where a heavy rider can’t perceptibly feel any oscillations, even at high speeds. Flex can be engineered longitudinal and torsionally. Torsional stiffness refers to the ability to resist twist. A torsionally stiff board will send input forces (leaning) towards both trucks, while a board with less torsional stiffness will allow the rider to control each truck more independently.
A skateboard deck, in a simply supported condition (supported on both ends, and loaded in between supports), flexes downward; the stiffer the board, the less it will flex (camber also plays a role). In this condition, the top half of the deck is in compression (is being pushed together) and the bottom half is under tension (is being pulled).
Contemporary Speed and Freeride boards tend to minimize flex and focus on dampening out any high frequency chatter.
Flexy Carving, LDP and Slalom boards are designed to maximize usable energy based on rider weight and average speeds. These “lively” boards are tuned so that a rider can load and unload the board through turns, using the flex of the board for locomotion and enhanced control. Weighting the board into the turn “pre-loads” the board with potential energy that can be controlled and employed for speed control, grip, agility, and sliding.
Primary influences on our fascination with flex are (in historical order):
1. Snowboarding. This is both historically first and the primary influence. Directly, in the obvious experience of flex in snowboarding, and indirectly, through prototype skateboards built out of old snowboards.
2. Flexdex and Sector 9 Cosmic Rider Series: The first “flex” decks in our quiver back in the mid 90s.
3. Brian from Earthwing: Discussions with Brian in the late 90s in NYC piqued our awareness and focus on torsional, as well as longitudinal flex. He also turned us on to:
4. Fibreflex resissues: which in turn led to:
5. Fibertec. The Fibertec boards (Cemboards at the time) proved that concave was possible in a cambered flex board. Cem and Reinke also built some of our first protos back in 2001.
6. We continue to be influenced and inspired by the many board companies currently producing flexy decks. We have our own methodology and approach to designing flexible boards and believe that it allows us to create unique products ideally suited for our objectives. Of course we continue to be inspired by snowboarding and, more subtly, surfing.”