What is the best skateboard for kids? Like most things, the answer is "It depends." Short answer, get a Skateboard or a Longboard. You don’t need the top of the line, but you need one that is good enough to be safe and to not limit beginner performance.
If they have any specific riding experience and ask for a specific board, then generally go with what they want. Also what their friends have is very important, as you generally need a specific type of board for a specific activity. And always get quality components or the experience will be terrible, they will quit, they may get hurt, and you will have wasted your money. More on that later.
If you are unsure, here are some specific guidelines and recommendations on how to buy a skateboard for a child…
Should I buy a Longboard?
Longboards are great for cruising, hills, and going fast. Longboards typically are the easiest to ride and most stable platform. Longboards are stable because the wheels are big and further apart, soft wheels roll over rocks, longer boards go faster without wobble, and generally no nose or tail that can flip the board end over end. Longboards are useful for transportation, pushing around the neighborhood, riding rougher paved surfaces, and stable for downhill. If the skater has no experience riding, I would strongly consider a longboard as a good starter into board sports. Plus, they are super trendy these days and I think it is here to stay. If you are just cruising around, it's hard to beat the soft big wheels that smooth out the ride and will roll over much road debris like sticks and rocks.
The downside is that they can be considerably more expensive than skateboards, they are not good for the skatepark, and are generally not set up for most of the popular tricks. There are tricks and slides you can do, but it is not a versatile as the skateboard.
Should I buy a Skateboard?
If you are going to do tricks, ride on ramps, ride in skateparks, or emulate anything they see in video games or on X games, you will need a skateboard. If your kid specifically asks for a skateboard, they will probably be disappointed if you get them a longboard. On a skateboard, you can learn how to Ollie, how to kickflip, ride pools and ramps. You can easily ride them on sidewalks and paved streets, but most setups these days have very hard wheels, so it will be rough. Additionally, the hard wheels don't roll over cracks and road debris nearly as well as the larger longboard wheel.
A great way to get started with skateboard basic balance and tricks is to get SkaterTrainer 2.0 - Single Set. They help beginners, and can also be useful for learning more advanced tricks.
Should I buy a Plastic Cruiser / Mini? (Penny, Stereo, Globe, etc).
These are fun, but not good beginner boards in my opinion. They are super unstable, not useful for many tricks, and not very customizable. They are very trendy now, but it used to be that if you got a plastic board, your parents did not love you. There may be a place for these, but I don't think the trend will last. The advantage is that these are portable and fit in your backpack, so they are fun for cruising campus or short basic transportation. They also have softer and bigger wheels than a standard skateboard, so they are a smoother ride. They are fun, but not a great selection for your only board. You have to be experienced or crazy to ride one at a skatepark.
Should I buy Razor Ripstik or equivalent Castor Board?
These have roller blade style wheels that are on a pivot. Unless specifically asked for, I would not get a Ripstik for a first board. Even then, unless they have ridden board for a while, I would still think twice about buying a razor. The short story is it's harder to learn to ride one than any board with 4 wheels and tricks are nearly impossible so you get bored pretty quick. They are trendy. Some can do tricks, but they are very difficult and advanced. You can't ride backward, Ollies are extremely difficult, even manuals are hard, and you would have to be crazy to take it to the skatepark. But, I do own one and like to ride it down the street occasionally. The carve experience is unique and fun, and not that hard if you can ride a skateboard. I see them at garage sales all the time in brand new condition...probably some kid that never figured it out.
What about FreeBord, Flowboard, Etc?
These are fun, I have several. Simulate more like surfing or snowboarding depending upon the specific board. My recommendation is to learn to ride a skateboard or longboard first.
What about a Scooter?
Fun, great for beginners and young kids to learn balance and basic tricks. If they asked for a skateboard, don't get them a scooter. If they are having trouble learning or are timid, it is a good place to start. Not a skateboard though, so proceed with caution. If they do want a scooter, unless you have a specific reason, avoid the folding ones.