The surfboard leash has become an essential gear of the new and experience surfer but that was not always the case. In this post I will be covering the following topics:
- What is a surfboard leash and what is its purpose?
- Who created the surfboard leash?
- The controversy caused by the introduction of the surfboard leash.
- Parts to a surfboard leash.
- Surfboard leash length guide.
A surfboard leash is a length of cord that attaches to the surfer, either by ankle or calf, to the surfboard’s tail. The purpose of the leash is to prevent the surfer from losing his/her board, you won’t have to swim for your board after you wipeout. The leash has also been used, by big wave surfers, as a way to reach the surface after a wipeout and being held down by a wave.
Credit for the invention of the surfboard leash is generally given to Santa Cruz’s Pat O’Neill, son of wetsuit kingpin Jack O’Neill, who in 1970 fastened a length of surgical tubing to the nose of his board with a suction cup, and looped the other end to his wrist.
By late 1971, the leash was modified, changing the connection, from the nose of the board and surfer’s wrist to the surfer’s ankle and the board’s tail. This new leash was first sold by Control Products and Block Enterprises out of Southern California.
The early leashes used surgical tubing as part of the cord. The early leashes were dangerous because they had a tendency to spring back (because of the surgical tubing) towards the surfer after a wipe out. In fact, Jack O’Neill permanently lost the sight in his left eye due to this product defect.
And It Begins
The introduction of the surfboard leash in the early 70s, was a topic of controversy in the surfing community. Purists noted that leashes encouraged less-skilled riders to try spots they would have otherwise avoided, and that by removing the swim time from the surfing experience, lineups were more crowded than ever.
Leash advocates said it was more fun to surf than swim, and that leashes promoted a freer, more progressive brand of surfing.
The purists even started referring to surfboard leashes by these derogatory terms: “kook connector,” “kook cord,” “sissy string,” “dope rope,” and “goon strap.”
In the end, the leash advocates have won this debate because surfboard leashes are now considered an essential gear for the new and experienced surfer.
Anatomy Of A Surfboard Leash
The surfboard leash has undergone many changes, the most important being the replacement of surgical tubing (because of the snap back properties) in the cord in favor of urethane. There are four major parts to the leash and they are:
- The Cuff – this portion attaches to the surfer’s ankle and in some cases the calf.
- The Rail Saver – this portion attaches to the tail of the surfboard. The string at the end of rail saver is feed through the leash plug on the surfboard.
- Swivels – this is supposed to stop the cord from tangling upon its self.
- The Cord – this portion, the most important, connects the surfer to the board.
A surfboard leash will not last forever and should be checked for wear and tear prior to a surf session. There’s nothing like unexpectedly breaking a leash and then having to swim for your board.
Surfboard leashes come in different: lengths, thickness and colors. Color is just for personal preference and style and has nothing to do with the effectiveness or strength of the leash.
Surfboard leashes also have different attachment points to the surfer’s body. You have the ankle (the standard) and the calf leash. The calf leash was designed with the longboarder in mind and supposedly helps with walking the board because it keeps the leash out of the way.
Surfboard leashes are also made by a plethora of companies and your selection of which company you should buy from, is also a matter of personal preference.
Before selecting a leash you should consider what types of waves you’ll be surfing. The bigger the waves the thicker you want your leash. Thicker leashes are stronger leashes.
Surfboard leash length guide – The general rule of thumb is that a surfboard leash should be at least as long as the board you are surfing. If you have a 6 foot board get a six foot leash, if you have a 10 foot board get a ten foot leash, these are not hard and fast rules.
I personally like a using an 8 foot leash for any board less than 7 feet. I had a 6 foot leash on a 6 foot board, and after recovering from a wipeout, the board shot back, hit me in the jaw and fractured my jaw. I would not recommend getting shorter than board length leash for surfboards over 8 feet.
Big Wave Surfers are also known to get leashes that are much longer than their boards and some of their leashes have a quick release mechanism in the event that the leash gets stuck on a reef. Yes, your leash can get stuck on a reef and that is one of the reasons why you should always be aware of your surroundings when surfing.
A surfboard with a surfboard leash should not be thought of as a modified life vest, you should know how to swim before you take up the sport of surfing.
Choose a leash that is at least as long as the board you plan on surfing. Your leash combined with your surfboard is not a life vest, know how to swim before you surf.
Click here to read my review on the Dakine Kainui surfboard leash.
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