Before the leash, you had to be a really strong swimmer to even attempt surfing.
Whatever your stance on the pros/cons of the surf leash, the fact is that the majority of surfers use them and even more surfboard have a method for attaching a leash.
When used properly, the leash is another useful piece of equipment in a surfer’s tool box.
Proper use might be up to interpretation, but I think the proper use of a surf leash could best be summed up like this:
- Think of your leash as a last resort connection between you and your board – if you’re not sitting on your board or standing on a wave, you should at least have a hand on the board.
- Don’t use the leash an excuse to ditch your board – especially if there’s anyone in the water with you.
How Long Should your Surfboard Leash be?
A good length for a leash is about the same size or a little bigger than the board it is being surfed with. If you’re unsure, going with a longer leash than your board is a safer bet.
Too short a leash for your board and you risk the board snapping back and hitting you. Too long a leash and you introduce unnecessary drag and risk your board hitting others.
Leashes also come in various thicknesses.
Most of the time, a thinner leash should suffice – these tend to cause less drag and get tangled less. A thicker leash is a good choice for a surfer who falls a lot and when surfing big, powerful waves.
The majority of surf leashes are worn around the ankle.
Calf leashes are available for longboards and SUPs – these allow for a bit more walkability than an ankle leash.
Parts of a Surfboard Leash
Surfboard leashes consist of a few components:
- The cuff: velcro attachment for your ankle or calf.
- The rail saver: attaches to the leash rope on your board.
- Swivels: located at the cuff and rail saver to help prevent the leash from tangling.
- Cord: the “leash” itself.
- Leash rope: the rope that attaches the leash to your board.
Different types of surfboards also come with different methods for attaching a leash:
- The leash plug or leash cup: the most common leash attachment – a plastic cup with a metal rod that sits in the surfboard’s deck and gets glassed in.
- Longboard leash hole: a hole that’s drilled through the fin box to the deck of the surfboard to accept a leash rope.
- Leash loop: a fiberglass loop made of glass rope to tie a leash rope to.
To attach your leash to your surfboard:
- Make sure there’s a leash rope threaded through the leash cup or the fiberglass leash loop on your board.
- Undo the velcro at the bottom of the leash.
- Thread the first part through, velcro the flap back over itself and repeat until the rail save is back to its closed state.
History of the Leash
The surf leash is a relatively recent surfing invention.
It was introduced in 1971 by Pat O’Neill, son of Jack O’Neill.
O’Neill used a surgical cord attached with a suction cup as an early iteration of the leash. At the 1971 Malibu Invitational surf competition, O’Neill was banned from the competition for his leash. Many referred to the invention as a “kook cord” and believed you had to earn your stripes swimming after your board.
But in Santa Cruz and many other spots in California, a lost surfboard meant an almost certain collision with the rocks. Unless you want to repair your surfboard every time you fell, a leash made a lot of sense.
Shortly after the introduction of the leash, it started to catch on.
It certainly wasn’t perfect – as early iterations of the leash caused injuries and cracked fiberglass – Jack O’Neill actually lost his eye due to a mishap with an early leash.
Leashes got better as materials got better, and we’ve arrived at what you see today.
Leashes certainly helped with surf progression – you’re able to try more critical maneuvers in the same session without having to swim back to the beach every time you fall.
But it also lets surfers get a bit lazy with their swimming strength and gives beginners a temptation to ditch their boards.