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SUP leashes provide a simple and secure way to keep a paddler with their board. Wearing a leash should be second nature, like wearing a seat belt in a car. But do you know about the different types of leashes, and understand when and where they should be used?

History of the leash

Invented around 1970 the surfboard leash started off as a very springy and often dangerous way to prevent a board making it’s own way back to the beach. The equipment we now regard as essential to safety may have been responsible for Jack O’Neill losing his eye in 1971 from a ‘whiplashing board’. Not the best start for safety equipment!

The use of urethane for the leash became commonplace in the mid to late 1970’s reducing the whiplash effect (but not removing it) and making them far more durable. According to some sources (Surfer Magazine, 2011) 99% of surfers use one. Even with such apparent support for the use of leashes there are surfing applications where their use is questioned.

For SUP use the urethane leash has been beefed up a little to cope with the larger boards and higher volumes. But they look just like standard surfboard leashes so when buying one make sure it’s suitable for your board.

Types of leashes

There are two types of leash, coiled (commonly used for flat water), and straight (commonly used in surf and other general paddling) Both typically fit around the ankle or calf. However, these leashes are also available with a quick-release mechanism which then typically attached to a belt worn around the waist, allowing for quicker and easier release from your board (commonly used in moving water and also now popular when racing)

Straight Leash

This type of leash is ideal in the surf, because it has less spring back than a coiled leash (and therefore less chance of your board coming back and hitting you in the face!) and it trails in the water leaving your deck clear to move your feet around the board. Ideally a surf SUP leash should be at least the length of your board. A straight leash is the most universal leash as can be used in not only surf but also flat water and moving water (with a quick release attachment). So if you’re wanting one type of leash to use on flat water and in the surf then get yourself a straight leash.

Coiled Leash

These are most commonly used in the flat water SUP and race scene. Sitting comfortably on the deck out of the water, they produce less drag and reduce the risk of getting caught on seaweed, and other paddlers paddles etc… Not for use in the surf due to their spring back board potential! If you do use a coiled leash in the surf (not recommended) you can guarantee it won’t be coiled for much longer!!

How to attach a leash

The vast majority of boards will come with one or more specific leash attachment points, usually found near the tail of the board. On an iSUP this is likely to be a steel D ring glued to the board, on hard boards they are often recessed into the deck. Leashes will usually come with a length of string attached to a rail saver. The string is the connection between the board and the leash.

Surf SUPs will typically have one leash attachment point at the tail, but longer, race boards frequently come with a leash attachment point in front of the deck pad allowing a shorter leash to be used and reducing the chance of it dragging in the water.

How to look after a leash

Leashes will have a hard life! As well as being stretched, on an iSUP they are frequently looped around a rolled board to keep everything tidy, and on hard boards you’ll see them wrapped around the tail when in transit. Doing this can develop kinks in them and the urethane can easily be damaged. Therefore urethane leashes should, when not in use, be removed and kept out of the sun. It’s worth storing your leash with your board so there’s no chance of forgetting it.

Your leash is the most important bit of safety equipment you have, so check it regularly for any signs of wear and look after it. They’re not cheap, but a leash is there to save your life, so if you think it’s starting to look a bit tired and needs replacing – then replace it. Don’t just wait for it to snap!

When to use a leash?

The simple answer is always. End of discussion.

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