Kebbek Skateboards, founded in 1992, is one of the few remaining longboard companies that went against the trend of microdrops and short wheelbases to produce large, durable downhill and freeride ...
This week our reviewers are taking a look at the Earthwing NLS 38 drop through. Founded in 1998, Earthwing Skateboards has continuously pushed the bar in skateboard technology, and the NLS line of skateboards is the pinnacle of Earthwing’s progression. Ranging from the vertical-laminated Mystery Model and Boomerang in 2008 to the NLS 38 in 2014, Earthwing is always on the cutting edge of skateboard technology.
Consisting of 4 plies of maple sandwiched between Earthwing’s aptly named “unbelievium,” the NLS 38 is Earthwing’s first drop through in the NLS (Next Level S**t) construction. Unbelievium is a heat-activated composite that is applied to the board by a process known as crush welding. Crush welding uses intense heat and pressure to press the board without glue. Simply put, the NLS series uses a high-tech construction and a high-tech build process to create extremely strong boards with 360° concave.
We were excited to unbox the NLS 38 and see Earthwing’s famous unbelievium construction for ourselves. Upon taking the NLS out of the box, we were impressed by how light it felt, but that’s to be expected with 4 plies of maple and a composite construction. At first glance, the top and bottom plies of unbelievium can be mistaken for stained black veneers. The Earthwing emblem on the NLS is a high-quality metal sticker.
The shape of the NLS 38 is relatively simple; it’s very similar to the Earthwing Supermodel. The nose and tail have subtle kicktails, and there is W concave running the length of the deck. Unlike most drop throughs on the market, the NLS 38 has three wheelbase options, which we really liked. It’s always good to have options. We also noted that the concave seems quite aggressive. The aggressiveness of the concave is exaggerated by the NLS 38’s slightly narrower-than-usual width.
Artifacts of the intense pressing process are visible when inspecting the plies of the NLS 38. In high stress areas, the plies appear to be delaminating and distorted, and they have small chips in them. These delaminations and chips are completely filled in, and Earthwing includes a note attached to NLS's explaining, “the performance and structural integrity of the deck is still intact because of the structural bonding agent used.” Thus, while not aesthetically pleasing, they should be structurally sound (according to Earthwing).
Our only concern regarding the NLS 38 is the size. The effective foot platform (EFP) is on the smaller side at 23”. While this isn’t inherently a bad thing, we did notice that some of our reviewers had to have narrower stances than they’re used to when standing on the deck.
Composed of four plies of 1/16” maple held together by Earthwing’s “unbelievium” composite layers, the NLS 38 is both lightweight and thin. According to Earthwing’s website, “When everything is said and done, this 4 ply core deck is stiffer, and stronger than a typical 9ply without all that weight.” We did not find that to be true. While the NLS 38 is definitely lighter than a 9ply maple drop through, it is not stiffer. For our heaviest reviewer at 230-240lb, the NLS 38 had a noticeable amount of flex. While it was not an overwhelming amount of flex, we feel that it is safe to say that a 9ply board with a 26” wheelbase would not have that much flex. We’d also like to note that the board is not “flexy trampoline bamboo cruiser” flexy, but there is undoubtedly more flex than a 9ply board would have.
When our heavier reviewer bounced on the NLS 38, the flex had a bit of a trampoline quality to it. The flex really isn’t noticeable for freeride, and while it helps to dampen the ride and absorb vibrations from the road, it became more noticeable over 30mph. If you’re a lighter rider, this will not be an issue.
There isn’t much to say about the NLS 38’s concave. The 360° concave and wheelflares of the NLS topmounts are lost on the NLS 38 due to the cutouts. As a result, the NLS 38’s concave is essentially just radial concave with W down the center. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is kind of a bummer that one of the NLS lineup’s coolest features is lost on the 38. With that being said, we always felt locked-in throughout the testing process, and the W concave felt spot on for toesides.
Wheelbase: 25 3/4" - 27 1/4"
Effective Foot Platform – 23”
Old and new school mounting
47° 180mm PNL Strummers w/ double Riptide APS barrels
Abec 11 81a Flashbacks
50° 180mm Gunmetal 2.0s w/ double Venom HPF barrels
Abec 11 81a Flashbacks, Metro Links, and 73mm 82a Sector 9 Raceforms
Right from the get-go, we realized that our initial concern for the NLS 38 was true: the smaller than average effective foot platform was going to take some of our reviewers a few runs to get used to.
After adapting to the EFP, it was more or less smooth sailing to test the NLS 38. Because of the small wheelbase, the NLS is extremely responsive for a drop through. We were impressed by how lively and nimble it feels while still remaining stable enough for freeride and mild downhill.
The NLS 38 really shines for freeride. The drop through mounting, small wheelbase (small for a drop through) and lightweight design all make for an interesting freeride experience. The NLS maintains the slipperiness that is inherent to drop throughs, but the small wheelbase creates a feeling of increased leverage and control mid-slide. This means that the NLS 38 went exactly where our feet told it to with minimal resistance. This controlled slipperiness is the NLS 38’s best feature. We loved how easily it could be manhandled and thrown around. Fast-rotated 180s are a breeze, and standup checkslides feel very rewarding. Snapping the NLS 38 back from a standup check just feels so crisp and clean.
We also found that the NLS 38 can hold its own as a freestyle board. Although the kicktails are on the smaller side, the lightness of the NLS 38 gives it a lot of pop. Stomping the tail to pop the NLS into the air required very little effort, and we don’t doubt that an adept freestyler could make use of the lightweight construction to do some pretty crazy tiger claw variations and fliptricks.
Because we’re testing an Earthwing, we HAD to put it on Independents – it’d be blasphemy not to. The NLS 38 is an absolute blast on Indy 215s. It’s low, it’s slippery, yet it’s still controllable. The slipperiness of the 38 on Indys was a bit over-the-top, but it was still a ton of fun.
Downhill on the NLS 38 can best be described as “meh.” The NLS 38 feels much more like a freestyle/freeride board than it does a freeride/downhill board. For a rider on the heavier side, the flex of the NLS 38 is going to be a huge turnoff for faster skating, and skating a drop through with a small wheelbase for downhill wasn’t really worth it for us. The slight increase in stability gained from the drop through mounting is not worth the loss in traction when compared to a topmount with the same wheelbase. Some riders may also feel slightly cramped on the NLS 38 depending on the size of their tuck.
Wheelbite on the NLS 38 was also never much of a problem. Although there was a bit of static wheelbite on the smallest wheelbase, the two larger wheelbases provided ample amounts of clearance. With loose Gunmetals and 70mm wheels on the middle wheelbase, we were just able get the wheels to graze the board while stationary.
Our main criticism of the NLS 38 is the effective foot platform. At 23”, the NLS 38 was bordering on being too small for our taller reviewers at 6ft+. Even after getting used to the NLS, one of our reviewers was never able to fully eradicate the occasional footbite.
Another major criticism we had involved the construction. The NLS 38 was not nearly as stiff as Earthwing claims (at least for 200lb+ riders), and while the flex felt good, it discredits the NLS as a dedicated downhill board for heavier riders.
Although the filled in delaminations are seemingly structurally sound, we were quite surprised by how janky the construction of the NLS 38 looked in places. At the Consortium, we understand that the plies are filled with epoxy and should be fine, but would a new rider feel the same way?
Finally, we were a bit let down by the concave. The concave itself is fine, but some of the cool features of the NLS lineup such as 360° concave and wheel flares are lost on the NLS 38. Obviously 360° concave is impossible on a drop through due to the cutouts, but we think it would have been cool if the wheel flares were included at the ends of the standing platform. Not only would they have acted as a reference point, but the inclusion of them would also have added a bit of length to the standing platform.
The Earthwing NLS 38 is a fun, innovative addition to Earthwing’s NLS lineup that would be perfect if it were 2-3” longer. Although the NLS 38 is a great board, we often felt like its drop through shape was shoehorned into the NLS mold. A slightly longer, slightly thicker (5 or 6 ply instead of 4 ply) NLS would be perfect for bigger riders.
Even with its flaws, the NLS 38 is a lot of fun to ride, and at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters. If you’re a bigger rider looking for a nimble drop through or a smaller rider looking for a high-tech drop through, the Earthwing NLS 38 is the board for you.