I first became aware of board construction via a full-page Powell Peralta ad. It was a photo of Steve Caballero seemingly bursting through a magazine ad of himself skating, his hair with subtle blonde highlights, gripping a shiny new deck."NOW 7-PLY", read the headline.
"You're such a poser," Zack shot back. He went on to explain that a skateboard deck had seven layers (plies) of wood.
I eventually found out that 7-Ply construction consists of seven thin, rectangular sheets of maple, called veneers, which are glued, then sent to a press for a couple of hours. This process shapes the nose and tail, and gives the board concave, before being cut, sanded, and painted.
It was my first lesson in skate engineering and for several years after that, it was all I needed to know. When picking a new deck, I wouldn't worry about how it was madethey were all the sameI just went by how appealing the graphic was, or which pro rider endorsed it, as if that pro's style and bag of tricks was to somehow leave its print on my own style and trick inventory. But, as I became more and more addicted to skateboarding, there was nothing quite as frustrating as having a board lose pop and wear down after just a few sessions.
During the mid-nineties, when gap skating became a highly prevalent form of skateboarding, deck engineering became, after shape and size, a decisive criterion. Skate companies have recognized the demand for better built skateboards, and have grown, along with consumers, testing materials and construction alternatives, leading up to today, where we find a wide range of board construction options.
"There has always been the desire," says Tod Swank, CEO and founder of Tum Yeto, "for a better, more durable skateboard deck that rides the same as a standard 7-ply." Tum Yeto's attempt to meet this desire is called Fiberlam construction, used in their Toy Machine and Foundation decks. "Essentially," Tod Swank explains, "there are two extra plies of a composite material added to the bottom and top plies of the deck. We are able to thin out the inner-plies in order to make a lighter and stronger deck."
Swank and Fiberlam are backed by real riders' approval. image courtesy of Tum Yeto
While some manufacturers are reinforcing the outer layers in a deck, others prefer to concentrate on the center. Eben Woodall, Director of Research & Development at Dwindle, explains, "Nothing beats the organic feeling of wood and the way it performs. That is why everything we do, in regards to utilizing an exotic material, is primarily designed to use wood as the catalyst or main component." Blind's 'Texalium,' Darkstar's 'Armorlight' and Almost's 'Über' technologies showcase a composite middle layer.
'Push' is Element's latest effort in construction technology, and it is a variation on both middle and outer-layer reinforcements. Jeff Dickson, Hardgoods Production Manager at Element, explains, "Helium air frame chambers add strength through engineering, much like corrugated cardboard. Plus the carbon fiber top piece adds additional strength and helps to dissipate the energy that breaks boards upon landings."
Element is so confident in this product that they advertise them with the slogan, "no more broken boards." "Modern skateboarding requires modern deck technology, plain and simple," Dickinson notes. "As skateboarding progresses, so should the product."
In some cases, product progression has led to a departure from wood. Lib Technologies' handmade decks have only one or two wooden layersthe rest is fiberglass, magnesium oxide, and something called "plastihide."
Lib Tech set out to make decks that last and don't lose pop. 'Perma-Pop,' their latest construction process, has a tension graphite layer that adds ruggedness and makes it more lightweight. Hughes concludes, "We'll continue to reinvent better ways for people who ride hard and don't mind paying a little more for boards that last and perform better."
So, with all the construction options available, why is the industry still so 7-ply dependent? Element's Jeff Dickson lays it out: "Skateboarding is still a relatively simple thing. It's not like the automotive industry or something. For the most part, it's fairly simple, and that's why our board technologies are relatively subtle improvements on what already works best."