What is a surfboard leash?
A surfboard leash is the cord that attaches a surfboard to the surfers leg. It helps you keep your surfboard when you wipeout. Without it you would have to swim after your board every time you fell. There is also the risk of your surfboard hitting someone in the head while running towards the shore and the danger of swimming without a surfboard through the lineup. Strong currents can be really dangerous without a surfboard. And at the end, there is a big chance that when your surfboard reaches the shore it will find the only rock there in hit it. So you can also thank your leash for less surfboard dings.
Who invented it?
The surf leash was invented by Steve Russ in 1969. Steve actually made a comment to this article explaining the circumstances of his invention, and I think it’s best to quote him:
“The surf leash was not invented by Pat O’Neill in 1971, anyone that actually knows Pat knows this fact. I invented the Surf Leash in 1969. I was a senior at Santa Cruz High school and Pat was a Junior. I was a kneeboarder and Pat was a stand-up-surfer and we cut school together to surf. He used to chide me “hey old man, are you going to crawl around on your knees for the rest of your life”. So I decided to learn stand-up. Easy it should be because I could stand on my knee-board with my swim fins on. So I made a 4’7” board and took it out to steamer lane. I rode my first wave then fell off and almost drowned. My entire experience in the ocean was with Churchill’s on. After patching my board twice I went to orchard supply and bought a cartop-carrier suction cup and some surgical tubing and made the first Surf Leash. After two weeks Pat and his friends started calling me “Gumbie” but it was what is now the Cold water classic where the Surf Leash made it’s debut. Pat asked me if I would make him one to use in the contest. It was in this contest in 1969 that he was disqualified for a competitive advantage. I spent the next two years selling Surf Leashes to all the surf shops up and down the coast of California.” – Steve Russ.
The problem with first leashes was that the surgical cord used was much to stretchy. It caused the surfboard to snap back towards the surfer. This is also the way Jack O’Neill lost his left eye.
Pat recalls: “It was extremely hard to see the surgical tubing, and when I fell off my board, the board went into the wave and stretched the tubing out 22 to 23 feet. And then it came racing back like a speeding bullet. People had never seen anything like this. They thought it was a remote control or something.“
PS: Pat O’Neill (son of Jack O’Neill – the inventor of the wetsuit) is mentioned in Russ the comment because many sources state that Pat invented the leash in 1971.
Today the modern surf leashes are made of urethane. Urethane gives just enough stretch to ease the pull on you leg but it doesn’t make your surfboard snap back when the water releases it. BTW – it is still a good idea to protect your head with your arms when you surface after a wipeout (tested:) ). Leashes come in various thicknesses and lengths. The ankle strap which is usually Velcro is attached to the urethane with metal swivels. You attach you leash to the surfboard via a leash cup. Cup is a piece of plastic with a small metal bar in it that is laminated into the tail of the surfboard. Leash is then attached to the metal bar. Some of other innovations when it comes to leashes are: quick-release, rail-savers, single and double-swivel attachments, single and double-wrap ankle straps.
How To Buy it?
Leash length is the first thing to check out. Itshould be approximately equal or slightly longer than your surfboard. For instance – for 6’7″ surfboard use a 7′ leash. If leash is to short you will feel it pulling your back leg when you move around. The surfboard will also snap back faster if the waves are bigger. On the other hand, if it is to long it will drag in the water and slow you down, it will have a will of its own and it will keep running in between your legs.
Leash thickness is related to wave size. If you will surf extra large waves, get a thicker one than normal. Usually there is a note on the leash for what wave height it is meant. The other extreme are competition leashes. In competition the main concern is speed. Thinner cords means less drag in the water and faster surfing. It is not that important if the leash breaks. Unless you are surfing small beachbreaks just use an ordinary one.
Velcro ankle strap
Make sure that it is comfortable and well stitched.
Swivel points help reduce tangling of the leash. They let the leash turn so it does not become twisted. There should be a swivel point where the cord meets the ankle strap and one where the cord meets the rail saver.
Rail saver is a wide strap section at the end of the leash that attaches to the surfboard. Rail saver protects the rail and the tail of the surfboard from the cord. As leash is thinner it can dig into the surfboard if the wipeout is hard. All leashes today have rail saver pieces.
Some surfboard leashes have a key pocket in the velcro part that comes around your ankle. If you need it check if it is big enough for your keys. The pocket can be to small for some car keys. Then again, having a big car key tied around your ankle is not very comfortable and can also be the cause for the leash to release from you ankle.
How to attach your leash?
Just use the nylon rope that comes with the leash. You can pull it through the leash cup so the knot keeps the leash in place or you can pull the loop through the leash cup and then pull the knot through the loop. Then you fasten the knot into the leash. Either way, just make surf that the nylon cord is not too long. It must not reach the rail of the surfboard as it can make a lot of damage to it during a wipeout. Make sure that the rail saver strap comes over the rail not the cord!
Not to much to tell here. Just two things – wash your leash together with your surfboard after the session with fresh water and make sure the Velcro strap if closed at all times when you are not using it. Wash away any sand that comes into it and you will be able to depend on your leash when the wipeout comes.