It sounds strange, but turning on a skateboard really isn’t that important when you are first learning to ride.
As long as you have a nice straight shot to practice on (like a driveway or parking lot), you can learn the skateboard fundamentals of balancing, pushing, and stopping without having to turn at all.
However, if you’re ever going to be a skater about town, you’re going to have to learn how to turn eventually (assuming your town isn’t laid out in a perfectly straight line,) and the first form of turning you’ll need is steering or correction.
How to Steer a Skateboard
Steering a skateboard is a very simple action that can be tacked on while learning balance.
Steering is not so much a true turn as a gentle nudge that guides the board one direction or the other.
It looks like this –
To softly steer a skateboard in this manner:
- Make sure you are in a proper stance with your upper body angled toward the front of the board.
- Shift your weight to the balls or heels of your feet, depending on whether you want to turn frontside or backside. You should feel a slight depression to that side of the deck.
- Lean softly into the turn. Do not lean too much. It doesn’t take much change in weight distribution to make a skateboard start drifting.
- Lean more if the board isn’t turning as much as you’d like. As you lean, pay attention to your balance. If you feel shaky, bend your knees a little more to lower your center of gravity. You can also put your arms out to help keep you balanced as you turn.
- Practice this until you can easily correct your board without teetering.
Knowing how to steer (or gently correct) your skateboard is typically enough to start skating around other people.
If you can correct your skateboard’s direction, you can get out of the way of others on shared recreational paths.
How To Make Sharp Turns on a Skateboard
Making sharp turns on a skateboard is an entirely different beast from gentle turns/steering, and considerably harder to perfect.
Leaning can only turn a skateboard so much because there is only so much space to lean before a skateboard tips or the deck hits the wheels (an unfortunate experience known as “wheel bite”).
To turn more sharply on a skateboard, you need to overcome the limitations of the skateboard’s undercarriage.
This is done by bringing the skateboard slightly off the ground.
This is called a kickturn and it looks like this –
To sharply turn a skateboard in this manner:
1 – Move your back foot along the deck to the kicktail.
2 – Put enough pressure on the kicktail to bring the front wheels just off the ground.
3 – Throw your front shoulder in the direction you want to turn.
Even when properly positioned on a skateboard (turned to face front), one shoulder is closer to the board’s front than the other. This shoulder is your dominant shoulder when making turns.
As soon as the front wheels lift off the ground, rotate your front shoulder firmly in the direction you want to turn.
If you are relaxed, this movement will carry all the way down your body to your feet and your feet will bring the board with you.
Basically, you are creating a shift in momentum up top that pulls your lower body and skateboard along.
4 – Practice sharp turns from a non-moving position to start.
Before you attempt a kickturn while riding, you should be able to perform them while your board is sitting still.
To practice sharp turns from a stationary position –
1 – Set your skateboard on a soft, non-smooth surface, like carpet or grass. (A practice rug is a good thing to keep on hand for this very purpose.)
Make sure there is enough space around you to fall without hitting anything.
2 – Step onto the skateboard in your normal stance.
3 – Slide your back foot back so it rests across the rear kicktail.
You can start out in this position, but you will be sliding back from normal riding stance most of the time you perform this turn, so it’s a good idea to practice coming into it from your usual stance.
4 – Shift enough of your weight to your back foot to bring the front wheels just off the ground.
You don’t need to bring your wheels up as high as in the above GIF. Kickturns are easier (and quicker) when they are kept closer to the ground.
5 – Throw your shoulder in the direction you want to turn as described above.
6 – Try to bring the board around 90 degrees with your movement.
7 – Continue practicing on a soft surface until you can do a stationary kickturn without losing your balance.
The more you practice kickturns, the more instinctive the movement becomes.
How to Turn on a Longboard
Turning on a longboard isn’t much different than turning on a shorter skateboard.
Shifting the weight in your feet and leaning into the turn is the most common form of steering the board.
However, this type of steering is quite popular in longboarding for more than just making small turns.
When done back and forth repeatedly (turning one way and then the other), it’s called “carving” and can help a skater maintain speed on level ground or slow down on hills.
Carving uses elements of both gentle and sharp skateboard turns.
Your wheels stay on the ground as in gentle turning, but your body moves much as it does during a kickturn.
This rapid motion helps pull the board into each turn and keeps up momentum.
Tips on Steering or Turning a Skateboard
Learning to turn on a skateboard takes practice. There’s no way around it.
Like most things skateboarding, it’s all about balance and getting a feel for the movement.
But here are some tips to help you get it down faster.
Do not lean backward!
This is the number one rule for turning, riding, pushing, or stopping on a skateboard. Do not lean back.
When turning backside on a skateboard, you will actually be leaning somewhat sideways.
If you are angled toward the front of the board (as you should be), just a slight lean with your shoulder will guide the board in that direction.
You should never have to lean backward.
Leaning backward is a great way to lose your balance on a skateboard!
If you feel unsteady, get lower.
Lowering your stance on a skateboard is one of the best ways to maintain (or recover) your balance.
Practice lowering down into a near squat as you lean into turns.
The sharper the turn, the more a lower stance will help you maintain your balance.
Learn the other fundamentals first.
Before you attempt to turn on a skateboard, learn to ride/balance, push, and stop.
You should be able to perform all these actions well before worrying about steering.
Learn small turns before you learn big turns.
It’s already been mentioned, but it’s worth repeating – you should learn to gently steer a skateboard before worrying about bigger turns.
While steering, pay attention to your balance.
Notice the way it changes as the deck dips and the board shifts. This will prepare you for the feel of bigger turns.
Keep your trucks tight at first.
Tight trucks make turns smaller and a skateboard more stable.
This will help you while you’re still learning.
If you struggle with kickturns, try moving both of your feet outward towards the ends of the deck instead of just your back foot.
When you press the rear kicktail, the front of the board will automatically start to rise.
By placing your front foot nearer the front kicktail, you’ll have more control over how much rise the board gets.
This can help you control kickturns if they feel unruly.
Why won’t my skateboard turn?
If your skateboard doesn’t want to turn, it’s likely the trucks are too tight.
For more information on truck tightness, see How to Loosen and Tighten Skateboard Trucks (And Why You Would Want To).