There are many, many skateboard brands out there. There is everything from your buddy’s bedroom brand to old pro’s doing their own thing out of their garage, right through to 50-year-old mega brands like Santa Cruz Skateboards.
Before we get into this let’s hit you with some facts and cold hard truths…
All skateboard decks are not created equal and I’m not even talking about the plywood poop you can buy from toy shops or some highly dubious Facebook ads.
Out of literally thousands of brands, very few are actually more than marketing companies, screening their graphics on stock decks made by a handful of wood shops like HLC, Woodchuck, BBC, Watson Laminates, Schmitt Stix, etc. These board brands are not much different to T-shirt brands printing on Gildan Ultra’s, as the barrier to entry has been removed by modern-day woodshops offering tiny minimums (as little as 100 decks) for people to get boards made. This was impossible even a decade ago, but these days anyone with £500 and a cracked version of Photoshop can have a skateboard brand.
In some ways, this is a good thing as it means there are loads of little companies catering to every niche and crew imaginable. The problem with this democratisation in brand offerings is skateboarding is still very small.
This means that whilst your hard-earned cash is getting spent on here today, gone tomorrow micro brands, it is increasingly hard for genuinely innovative companies to become big enough to invest in new technologies that push skate hardware forward.
So, if you see a brand doing great stuff that you are into, it is definitely worth backing them.
Table of Contents
Best High-spec Decks
Santa Cruz VX decks are amazing. They have super thin ply’s sandwiched between carbon fibre sheets, making them super strong and really light. These boards are super tough and perfect for big guys who break boards because they are either too mighty for normal plywood decks or have invested too heavily in Pizza and beer over the years.
They are also perfect for handrail and big drop guys who don’t want to experience the dreaded snap mid-landing resulting in flattened testis or the sudden, brief ability to do the splits. The one that comes to mind is Ali Boulala trying the infamous Lyon 25 stairs! Check that out below.
Longevity is a factor here too. Thanks to the carbon fibre, these boards keep their pop for the lifetime of the deck. You will have worn-out grip and a razor-sharp tail before the board loses its rigidity.
Powell’s Flight decks beat Santa Cruz VX to market by a couple of years. Same deal here, super light, super, super strong – check out the vid of these things getting run over and coming out fine.
In the UK at least, Flight decks are more expensive than Santa Cruz’s offering, with less variation in graphics. They certainly have their fans though – during the pandemic, US stores ran out and American customers bought all our Flight decks, despite the fact that including shipping, they worked out as twice as expensive as they would have paid in the US… Crazy.
So overall, Santa Cruz should be crowned best high spec board but there is a slight twist. Santa Cruz also make Creature decks in VX spec with the raddest, hesh graphics on top AND bottom ply’s. Their garish purple and green graphics and mere association with The Vertical Vampire, Darren Navarrete makes these by far my favourite decks.
A word of warning though – once you start using these boards, you are going to struggle to go back to basic wood. Prepare your wallet and invest in your future…
Winner: Santa Cruz (NHS) VX Construction
Runner-Up: Powell Peralta Flight Construction
Opera Skateboards is the brainchild of Bill Weiss and the successor to the mighty Madness Skateboards, which had been going from strength to strength with innovative decks and an amazing team (Clay Kriener, Ace Pelka, Sam Beckett, Trey Wood et al). That was until some suits got hold of Dwindle, Madness’s parent company.
These guys looked like they had been cast out of a Netflix series about rich kids who accidentally murder their frat-house friend and try to get away with it.
Through a mixture of not understanding the market they were entering, Covid-related overstock, bungling and greed, they trashed the company in less than a year. Incidentally, that debacle of Venture capital meets skateboarding took family favourites like Enjoi, Blind, Darkstar and Tensor down with it too.
Anyway, back to Opera. With the team successfully transplanted from Madness, boards once again pressed by Chop Chop Wood Shop in China and we are good to go again. Chop Chop presses boards individually in a ‘single deck press’, meaning boards consistently have the same concave and kick whereas other US-based wood shops press up to six decks in a stack at a time, leading to variation in steepness throughout the stack.
Rodney Mullen was instrumental in setting up Chop Chop Wood Shop so we are talking great quality product.
People often look down on Chinese-made decks because they associate China goods with cheap quality, like exploding hoverboards or £1.99 trainers from Temu. Bear in mind iPhones are made in China too. Opera is on the iPhone side of quality and Chop Chop makes some of the best decks out there.
Opera hasn’t just got an incredible team, they also have beautiful decks, with wheel wells (an old-skool fav), slick inserts strategically placed depending on your sliding needs and functional but unique shapes.
Opera, we salute you
Winner: Opera Skateboards
Best Pro Deck
There are 1000s of pro decks, so how on earth do you choose the best one? This isn’t ‘best pro’ – although that would be highly subjective itself, this is the best pro deck.
Most pro decks are basic popsicle shapes and apart from graphics, are indistinguishable from one another. This means it largely comes down to which pros you are into and want to support.
One instance where that is notably different is Andy Anderson’s boards. This guy has a huge fan base, approaches skateboarding very differently and has a board that is utterly unique.
Powell Peralta’s Flight decks come into their own with Andy Anderson’s meticulously shaped decks. Andy has thought out every single inch and bend on his pro deck and the Flight technology makes his board second to none for durability and tech and is combined with totally unique shapes. This is when a high-end deck is worth spending on!
Winner: Powell Peralta – Andy Anderson Pro Model
Best ‘Egg Shape’ Decks
What is now called an egg-shaped deck, in 1992 was simply called…a deck.
As skateboarding quickly evolved in the very early nineties and boards went from no nose and a fishtail to twin kick popsicle, the egg or football shape as it was then called was effectively an evolutionary missing link. Like a Neanderthal, it was moving toward modernity but would quickly go extinct as its bulbous traits were not needed for mid-nineties clean-style skateboarding.
Fast forward to the 2020s – we have all ceded skate parks to the scooter menace and are busy honing our slappies in carparks like it was 1991. The egg shape has therefore been resurrected for the car park renaissance and no one has done this as well as Heroin skateboards. Not only do they offer a wide range of the eggiest of decks, but they also have some of owner Fos’ raddest graphics.
Heroin has been around for a long time (the board brand, not the substance that resulted in the UK running Hong Kong) but the Egg boards of recent years have pushed the brand to the next level. Check out the latest Bail Gun Gary and Curb Killer boards and you’ll see what I mean, these boards are great.
Winner: Heroin Skateboards Egg Shapes
Best Priced Boards
Nick (Zorlac) Orecchio has been doing his Death Skateboards brand since the late 1990s. In all that time they have always been screened on great wood and at an unfeasibly low price. He recently emailed us to say he was regrettably raising his retail price to £45 having charged only £40 up until now. Well, considering certain cool guy companies are trying to sell exactly the same wood for £90 currently, I’d say Death is still an outstandingly great price.
Add in their super creative UK skate team, the most grassroots-ish of grassroots ethos and their classic Skull and Cross Bones graphic and you have a price proposition that cannot be beaten. If you are suffering an interest-related, inflation-induced cash flow squeeze, go and see Death Skateboards.
Winner: Death Skateboards – OG Skull
Best Board Graphics
As a sales agent, one of the brands Sam sold to retailers in the UK was Girl Skateboards. I couldn’t help ribbing him for their logo. Let’s face it, it’s a women’s toilet sign and people who don’t skate are going to be looking at that logo on a t-shirt or deck, thinking you are a very odd character indeed. Even more so these days where you could be perceived as clumsily wading into the transgender debate with a women’s toilet sign on your chest.
This is the power of branding. If you have the coolest and best skaters on earth, put out the best videos, with the best filming and catchiest soundtracks, if you work with amazing artists, so that for decades you are widely perceived as the best skate brand on Earth, you too can get skaters to where toilet signs. Without them ever making the connection that both the name of said brand and the logo are totally nonsensical.
Bizarre nomenclature and logo aside, Girl has always had incredible artist decks like the iconic Project Red Eric Koston decks up on our wall.
Their sister brand Chocolate has the much sought-after Evan Hecox City series or Sunset series. These are absolute classics, and the original series will cost you a bomb on eBay these days.
As art director at Girl, Andy Jenkins has produced the highly collectable Girl Skateboards’ Dolls – 3d wooden girl logos embossed with super creative graphics.
Real collectors’ pieces. Sam is very proud of his Evan Hecox Girl Doll that sits on the shelf in our office.
Girl can be relied upon for beautiful board graphics and 2024 won’t disappoint – we’ve seen the prebook catalogues!
Winner: Girl Skateboards
Best UK Brand
Heathen Skateboards is a dark take on skate graphics that could only come from the artistic mind of Mike Wright.
In 2024 they will be bringing out unique alternating black and natural laminated decks made just for them out of the best Canadian maple and manufactured in the USA. Heathen have all bases covered too, pool boards, eggs, popsicles and whatever else comes out of Mike’s creative brain. He’s even thought of which ply colours to use when cutting wheel wells on Heathen decks, so they look just right. Now that is crazy attention to detail, and it shows.
Heathen’s graphics are about as far from slapped-together logo decks as you can get, with highly detailed, hand-drawn pieces that take Mike weeks. Some boards are micro-runs of only 10 pieces, hand screened, using intricately cut-out lino. They look unreal and ex-Heathen riders Colin Adam, Mark Burrows and Daryl Nobbs were all treated to their own “should have been pro” decks using this technique last year.
Heathen is owned by Rollersnakes who are obviously a competitor to Supereight so why would we buy their boards? Well, because Mike and the guys are rad, Heathen is the most creative AND best-priced proposition in the UK market, and we really believe in what Mike and Co are doing with the brand. Not just another cookie-cutter brand.
2024 and beyond is looking bright for Heathen.
Winner: Heathen Skateboards
I generally dislike collaborations. Mostly they are lazily done, slapping two brands’ logos on a product in a vain attempt to promote each other to their respective audiences. This worked brilliantly for Diamond Supply co with their Tiffany Nike Dunk colourway back in the day and now it is a staple of marketing products.
It is mostly just that though – a jaded attempt at growing your brand’s audience. Dickies x Eastpak backpack with both logos on anyone? No, I thought not.
Having said that, right at the end of 2023, Thrasher collaborated with Santa Cruz on a whole load of tees, hats and hoodies and a really special Winkoski x Thrasher deck. The graphics are rad, the colour scheme is black, red, and white and the shape is classic Winkowski. This is the sort of collab that makes the world a better place as the brands work so well together and result in amazing product. This collection sold like crazy over the Christmas period and left people wanting more, like great product should.
An honourable mention must go to the insanely popular Santa Cruz x Pokemon blind bags. These were clearly for Pokémon fans and not skaters as we sold 80 in 40 minutes. The bad news was our server wasn’t ready for that level of traffic and didn’t have time to adjust the stock. We only had 10 boards so 70 people were left bereft. Humble apologies to those people. We will be ready next time something like this comes our way.
Winner: Santa Cruz x Thrasher – Winkowski Primeval
Runner-Up: Santa Cruz x Pokemon – Blind Bag
Reissues are a hot-button subject that brings out the worst in people. I’ve seriously considered not stocking them because of the customer service hell it can unleash. Let’s get into it:
There are only a few brands that can do reissues because they have the history and because enough people were around at the time that these boards were originally around. There is a sweet spot, and it is a very short period of time. Mostly 1988 to 1989. This is the peak of the late 80’s Vert boom that gave us the Natas Panther, Hawk Chicken Skull, Jesse Neptune (there is a problem here, more later…), Cab Dragon, etc.
There were relatively few pros and the graphics were put out for at least a year. So, a large group of fans, focused on a small selection of (great) graphics and you have an in-demand product. Given that these fans are now in their 40s and hopefully have some disposable income, there is a lot of demand for reissues of these decks.
Move into the early nineties and board graphics were being changed bi-monthly, the number of pros and companies had ballooned and the amount of skaters had shrunk to a tiny amount of participants globally.
This definitely caught New Deal out when they did their 30th-anniversary reissues. The boards were fantastic, and I was delighted to be able to get a reissue of my favourite John Montesi board. The problem was the much smaller pool of people who remembered this time in skateboarding, so things didn’t go as well as hoped. Having said that, I really hope New Deal rises out of the ashes of the Dwindle debacle (yes they got caught in this too – thanks suits) and makes some more reissues as they were brilliant and capture a really important part of skateboarding’s history.
Considering how well these boards were done and the great price they were, I would have given these guys the best reissue title. They are not producing anything at the moment though, so I can’t. curses.
Powell and Santa Cruz have the 88-89 market cornered right now. Vision and H-Street don’t have the distribution or apparently the wherewithal to bring back their best boards and World Industries ownership is corporate and not interested in a few reissues when they can fill superstores with tat that is a shadow of the company’s former glory and historical significance.
Other brands like Prime Wood produce some of the old World Industries decks but it isn’t quite the same as having it come from the original company, despite the fact that they are excellent quality.
The Bones Brigade Series reissues from Powell are the ones that get the most hype and rightly so, they are the best-known team ever. Tony Hawk, Mike McGill, Tommy Guerrero, Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain and Rodney Mullen have all had immeasurable impacts on skateboarding and frankly should have boards out forever.
The original 2 technicians at Powell in California still cut these shapes out by hand so the number of these reissues are not high and Powell Peralta tend to release them as a matching colourway, so they look great together.
One recent series was all in matching silver dip and was hugely popular, the following olive green ones not so much but the latest black and neon series was a winner.
The problem that seems unique to Powell Peralta Bones Brigade series reissue specifically is….Scalpers. These guys really suck. They have caught onto the fact that these boards sell well, so they place orders for as many as they can, planning on making a raise on eBay. They often claim the boards have minor faults, angling for discounts, purchase using buy now pay later options and return the boards if they can’t make the raise they want before the payment is due. Cunning but also very uncool and selfish. In the meantime, people who genuinely want these boards miss out and we think that is unfair. Therefore, we now restrict sales of these boards to one per person. In your face scalpers!
One other thorn in the side of the scalpers is Powell Peralta now charges £160 for these boards. Pricey for a reissue and definitely makes you think twice about skating them!
Santa Cruz reissues are really nicely done and generally retail around £100. The Natas and Jason Jesse boards were always the most popular and guaranteed to sell out. Although the Jesse decks now, not so much. Turns out Jason had quite a lot to say back in the nineties that resurfaced on the Slap forums and went down badly, to say the least. A botched and massively awkward apology(ish) interview on the Nine Club and Santa Cruz had to pull his reissues from future lines. Ack.
This has left Santa Cruz with a Neptune and Sun God graphic-shaped whole that has been hard to fill but has resulted in other decks from the likes of Jeff Kendall and German pro Claus Grabke getting great board releases that may have been overshadowed in the past lines. The Corey O Brien Reaper is a personal favourite of mine.
Rather than produce the exact same colourways from the 80’s they tend to produce black and white or candied versions although the latest Natas Kitten deck was pretty close to the OG colourway. I’m not completely sure why they insist on doing this but I think it has to do with the collectors market. The original decks go for £1000s these days as they become rarer and the cohort interested in them gets richer and more able to throw £5000 at nostalgia. Anyway, some of these guys really hate it when reissues hit the market as it is perceived as affecting the value of their original. It really shouldn’t as the ply is different; the concave is likely not the same and the truck hole configuration is definitely different as the front and back holes were wider apart until the early nineties. I have a few nice original Natas decks on my wall, and I don’t care if reissues come out. It gives people a chance to scratch that itch they have without breaking the bank and if the value of my original is affected, I don’t care, I’m not an art dealer looking to get a raise on an investment. I’m a skateboarder who loves these old decks. Besides, as our generation gets old and stops collecting, will the prices continue to go up or will prices go down because these boards are meaningless to today’s crop of skaters?
On that cheery note, I surmise that Santa Cruz is currently doing the best reissues based on price, quality, attention to detail and colourways. Although, don’t do those ‘do your own colourway’ white versions again please Santa Cruz, that is very much your job.
Winner: Santa Cruz Reissues
Runner-Up: Powell Peralta Reissues
In conclusion, no doubt, 2024 will have a wider range of shapes, sizes, constructions, target audiences and reissues than ever, such is the rampant capitalist world we live in. That’s just fine however because Skateboarding is awesome and we all are lucky to have it in our lives. Whether you intend on hanging or shredding your next purchase I hope this article has been vaguely useful or at the very least, mildly entertaining.