A surfboard leash has a very simple main function and important side benefits. Most of the time it's an essential piece of surf gear that in the case of failure can cause you a huge amount of grief. So getting the right leash is important, and not all leashes are created equal
The key components of a surfboard leash are the cord, the cuff and the rail saver. It doesn't sound very complicated. However it's vital that each of these components does its job so you can surf with a high degree of safety and keep your focus on progressing your surfing.
Each of these main components has various sub components and features and we'll look at each in detail.
Main & Multi Purposes
Keeping Your Board With You
The main purpose of your leash is to keep your board with you in the event of a wipeout. After being dumped by a wave your leash ensures your board is attached to you and easily retrievable.
Your leash enables you to quickly get back on your board, paddle out of the wave impact zone and back to the takeoff zone.
Keeping your board at hand after a wipeout doesn't sound too important reading this, but in dangerous and bigger surf it can be a matter of your life or death.
In big surf quickly getting back on your board and using it for flotation can keep you from a drowning situation. In worst case scenarios once back on your board you can let the white water push you out of the impact zone and toward shore and safety.
In some cases when you've been dumped, if the waves continue to push you under you can reach for your leash cuff, find your cord, and pull yourself up toward the surface while simultaneously pulling your board to you. Even if you're still underwater, once you get your hands on your board, even wrapping your arms around it, you'll eventually come to the surface.
There's also situations where you might get dumped and a rip carries you out to sea. Your leash will keep your board with you so you can paddle out of the rip or keep afloat till help arrives.
Safety to yourself and others is a big benefit provided by your leash
Along with your safety, your leash aids the safety of other surfers. Not losing your board and having it bouncing around in the whitewater can prevent serious injury.
With the wide variety of surfer skill levels you can imagine what the surf would be like if there were no leashes.
Progressing your surfing means not only doing progressive moves but also taking on what your local break throws at you
Another key benefit of your leash is that by keeping your board close to you you're able to catch more waves.
Without a leash, having to retrieve your board with long swims, runs up the beach, a swim after your board if it's taken in a rip, takes a lot of time away from your wave catching.
Your leash keeps you catching waves.
In addition, because you know you won't lose your board you can try new and bigger moves, going for waves you wouldn't otherwise try. For example charging going for a barrel or an air.
It's an essential aid to your progression.
When the waves are within your ability and there's no one around surfing without a leash can help hone several valuable skills such as wave selection and completing manoeuvers you might otherwise have just bailed on
It should be said that surfing without a leash also helps refine your surf sense. Knowing you can lose your board hones your wave selection skills to make sure you choose good waves. This can be very important for contest surfing where wave selection is everything.
It also helps your determination to stay on your board and make manoeuvers rather than falling off when you hit a bump or lose balance.
So swapping out your leash every once and while, when it's smaller and not crowded, is a good thing.
The image on the left shows a tail cut that is identical to the shape of the leash string. Was a rail saver used at all? The image on the right shows tail damage even with a rail saver but check how long the leash string is, the likely cause of the damage
Before there were rail savers the leash had a tendency to damage your board.
Even now your tail often can get a crack or ding. Without your rail saver, when dumped the pressure of the wave pulling on your leash cord used to crush or cut into your rail.
Once this type of problem started it was very hard to fix and would re-occur. A broken tail would scratch your feet and also damage your leash. It was a real hassle.
So with the rail saver your leash dissipates the wave pressure on your cord over a wider area preventing board damage.
Another use for your leash is as a tie down when you're on the go and traveling.
Many a time a leash has been used to strap boards to the roof of a surf vehicle.
The velcro at the cuff and railsaver are quick attach and release, you don't need any fancy knots. The stretch in the cord provides flex to keep your load snug. The stretch, even on a 6' leash, is usually enough to crisscross your board making it super secure.
Your leash can be used for tying down pretty much anything. If you're going to take your leash on the road with you, do a double check and make sure your cord and leash connection points are good quality, in good shape, and won't break.
Your Leash Cord
Diameter & Length
Your leash cord is made of urethane. It's the key part of your leash in that it takes the most strain when your board is being pushed and pulled by the wave.
All cords tend to look the same, the main difference being colour, diameter, length and quality.
Colour comes down to your personal preference. It used to be that certain colours would breakdown in the salt and sunlight but now most leash colour materials are strong and stable.
Diameter and length are the main differentiaters for you leash and a guide is as follows.
For small waves the ideal leash is around 5.5mm diameter by 6' long. This diameter is thin enough to not be too noticeable if it gets caught around your feet. If it gets caught under your fins it'll be swept out once you're on the wave. It gives minimal clutter so in small surf where there's less setup time you can easily turn and pop into your waves.
It's thick enough that the 5.5mm retains its characteristics. Under the pull of a reasonably solid wave thinner leashes can overstretch and become like spaghetti losing their resilience and return. A 5.5mm leash will take the pull of odd bigger waves and retain its length and spring.
The next step up in leashes is a 7mm diameter by 7' leash for your Step Up surfing conditions. The 7' length gives you a bit of extra space between you and your board in bigger and heavier waves.
If your leash is too short you'll find the chance of ending up in contact with your board in heavier conditions increases. With big wave power behind it, an impact with your board can be hurtful.
In heavy surf there may also be times you want to ditch your board and dive under the wave. If your leash is too short you won't effectively be able to do this.
The next step up for bigger wave surfing you can go to 8mm x 8', 10mm x 10', to 12mm cord diameters. In Hawaii there's leashes that have a 30mm cord thickness. For local waves it's rare to go above 8mm. Yet it's always better to go for a thicker diameter and be on the safe side.
Another feature to look for in a big wave leash is a quick release pin. On a big wave leash there's often a double velcro overlap seal so you have to pull your leash release one way completely open the pull the second overlap the other way. This takes time.
If you're surfing at a potentially dangerous rock break, if you need to deep dive to the bottom to ditch your board, being able to pull a quick release pin will give you that bit of extra time to escape the wave.
For surfing in these conditions it's a good idea to test your leash out on dry land with a good pull. Remember safety is paramount so always check your gear and don't underestimate the leash size you need.
Discussing the features above it's assumed you've got a leash of good quality. A poor quality leash will fail in any number of ways.
Tell tale signs might indicate poor quality such as weak looking and poorly fitting materials. With the key component of your leash, the cord, it's impossible to tell the quality of the urethane used by just looking at it.
You'll notice urethane quality is almost never mentioned and that most leash hype is on the way the cord connects to your cuff and on the cuff itself. These are more visible so gain more attention.
However, good quality urethane is what makes the best leash. Of course quality urethane will take a lot more wave power before breaking.
There's more. It's not just the strength, it's that good quality urethane won't spring back too fast or over-stretch and return your board too slow. It will have just the right amount of spring.
Poor quality cords have a tendency to spring your board back at you at high speed with a high likely hood of hitting the first parts of your body to emerge from the water, your head or face.
At the other extreme, poor quality urethane can overstretch. After one big wave your board won't return at all but will always require you to pull on your leash or take several swim strokes to retrieve it. Your cord permanently becoming like spaghetti.
When this happens every time your lose your board you'll get a solid tug from the wave on your leg as there's be no spring in your cord.
Good quality urethane also seems to resist collecting grime and getting nicks. Nicks occur when your cord gets around your fins and the fin edge causes a cut. You can't see it and the way to find a nick is to run your cord through your hand. Your leash won't last too long after it's nicked.
Cuff Seal & Release
Check your leash has a quick release tab on the cuff. It should be large enough for you to easily get it and rip your leash off, as required in an emergency
Most leash cuffs are fully functional. It's rare that the velcro that seals your cuff will fail. However if you do end up with a cheap cuff it can be ripped off your ankle if hit with enough wave power.
Your cuff should provide comfort. Neoprene padding, like the material used on the wetsuit, is used for this. The neoprene should be soft but not overly smooth. You don't want your cuff spinning around on your ankle.
Your velcro should seal tight and once sealed your cuff should stay in the same place and orientation on your ankle. It's important that your cord projects away from your foot and body and doesn't slide around. This helps prevent it getting caught under your feet when surfing.
As equally important as your cuff staying sealed is the ability to get it off quickly. Check for a quick release tag. This is a tag that sticks up from the velcro that you can easily get your fingers into and with one pull release your cuff.
In the rare event you need to get your cuff off, you need to get it off fast. For example if you end up tangled with another surfer and you're in the wave impact zone you'll want to get untangled as fast as possible and getting your leash off is the fastest way to do this.
If you surf near rocks or on a reef break, at low tide it happens that your leash can get caught and a quick release will keep you out of serious trouble.
Some cuffs have a key pocket which is handy. It may not work for your electronic key that's not waterproof but it can be used for a locker or spare key.
The image above shows how your cuff horn should be angled away from your body and behind you, so the leash has less chance of tangling around your feet. The image below shows how if your cuff is too slippery the horn and leash will slip around and interfere with your surfing
Where your cuff and cord connect is called the cuff horn. It protrudes from your cuff and connects into your swivel and from there into your cord.
There's lots of hype around this section of your leash. Patents and all types of tech terms are used to allay fears about breakage, as this is where a lot of leashes fail.
All types of connectors both on the cuff side and on the cord side fail. Single piece cords that don't have an additional connector on the end but go directly from the cord to the swivel to the horn have offered promise but even these break.
It's almost impossible to know from looking at it what type of horn will last.
Swivels are used to keep your leash from tangling. In most wipeouts your board spins around and if your cord doesn't spin you'll end up with tangles in your leash. Tangles will interfere when standing up on your board and will also create drag behind you in the water when paddling.
There's normally always a swivel at your leash cuff at the horn. You should make sure your leash has a second swivel at the rail saver too. This type of dual swivel setup is the best way to prevent leash tangle.
Some brands promote a triple swivel. However while there may be slight benefit from extra swivel, the extra stiffness and bulk from the extra metal of the swivel is noticeable.
Swivels are normally high quality marine grade stainless steel so last a long time, and no-corrode bronze inserts are also used with the stainless steel.
A good quality leash will last indefinitely. It's always good to rinse off your surf gear in fresh water but even without this it would take years of exposure to salt and sea water for your leash start to break down.
Breakages occur for several reasons.
First if the wave is just too powerful a component of your leash can fail.
To check if cord breakage has come from wave power you can view the broken end of your cord and if it's rough then it's a sign breakage was caused by wave over-power. If the broken end is smooth then this breakage is likely from a leash.
Another common area of breakage is the horn can pull out of your cuff, or the cord can pull out of the horn.
It's rare for there to be any problems with the rail saver or with the cuff itself.
Once you've got your leash there's a couple of simple usage points.
On the left, having your leash string hang over your rail is likely to cause problems. On the right, doubling your string makes its length shorter, so your rail saver will fit in the perfect position. This doubling over also helps distribute wave power across multiple strands of string
Your leash string doesn't have to be thick but it has to be strong.
Wherever possible slide your leash string through your deck plug so that there's two pieces of string on either side. Don't have the string as a single piece and tail it around the plug. Having the doubled up string distributes the wave power over two strings.
Make sure your string length is just right so that the rail saver position is over your board tail and rail.
It's a good idea to check your string every once and a while as it can fray or the knot come lose.
Your normally don't attach your leash to your foot until you're about to enter the water. There may be times you need to run across rocks or similar, and even when walking on the sand, make sure you hold any excess leash slack in your hand.
A good habit is to hold it up against your rail. In this way there's little chance you'll trip over it.
SURFit leashes feature all the functions described above to give you the best support in progressing your surfing.