Surfboard leashes were invented back in the 1970s. At the time, many considered the leash to be hazardous, arguing that it increased the risk of a surfer colliding with their own board or becoming trapped. At the same time, however, the leash meant the surfer was constantly attached to their board, making it easier to retrieve it and ensuring that it didn’t become a hazard for other surfers.
Leashes have changed over the years and are now stronger and better than ever, with Velcro attachments that prevent entanglements. But the argument against their use continues to rage and many surfers advocate surfing without a leash.
They insist that the surf leash acts like more of a restraint, holding them back and limiting the natural connection that they have with their board, a connection that makes it easier for them to “feel” the waves.
Cons of Surfing Without a Leash
Leashes are used for a reason and if you’re surfing without a leash attached you won’t get those benefits and may suffer as a consequence.
Some of the downsides of surfing without a leash include:
Risk of Losing Your Surfboard
When you wipeout without a leash, you risk losing your surfboard. It doesn’t matter how tightly you hold onto the rails when paddling and how careful you are when riding those waves—eventually, it’s going to leave you and you may never see it again.
The waves will probably take it back to the shore and you should be able to find it again, but still…it’s embarrassing and there are other risks as well.
Risk of Damaging Your Surfboard
A surfboard may look like a solid piece of kit. It’s buoyant and to an extent, it’s also durable, but the coating can scratch, ding, and dent, and when that happens the foam inside can become waterlogged.
If you wipeout and your board heads for the rocks, it could suffer irreparable damage. At best, it will be costly to repair; at worst, you will need a new board.
It’s Potentially Dangerous for Other Surfers
You don’t just wear leashes for yourself. You also wear them for other surfers.
Imagine you’re surfing at full speed. You have prepared your line, you’re in the groove, and everything is going well. But out of the corner of your eye, a 7-foot bullet comes careering into your path, collides with your board, and knocks you into the surf.
It could cause you to wipeout and make for a frustrating incident. It could seriously injure you.
If the other surfer was wearing a leash, they wouldn’t lose control of their board and you wouldn’t have such an issue.
Pros of Surfing Leashless
If leashless surfing is potentially dangerous for you, your board, and other surfers, then why would someone choose to detach the leash?
A leash shouldn’t have a major impact on aerodynamics, but it can snag on seaweed and other obstacles and this could slow you down. It’s rare, but it happens and it is very frustrating when it does.
When such incidents occur, they can ruin your ride and seriously hinder your chances of catching a wave. If it has happened to you in the past, you’ll understand just how frustrating it can be.
It Improves a Surfer’s Movement and Control
A surf leash is like a crutch. It’s something that you lean on and something that prevents you from standing on your own two feet. If you don’t have a leash attached, you’ll need to be more purposeful with your movements and your control, and that will teach you to be a better surfer.
When you surf leashless, you also have more control of your footwork as there is nothing holding you back.
No-leash surfing won’t automatically give you great board control, but it could certainly help you to transition from a promising surfer into a pro.
How to Surf Without a Leash
To safely surf without a leash, keep the following in mind:
- Learn the Moves: Proper paddling is essential and you’ll need to learn how to duck dive, turtle roll, and maintain a solid grip on your surfboard at all times.
- Wax Your Surfboard: A waxed surfboard will allow for a smoother and more controlled ride. The wax will help you to stick to the board and you’re less likely to bail.
- Grab Your Surfboard: When you’re wearing a leash, you can afford to be a little more carefree when it comes to board safety but when you’re leashless, you need to grab your surfboard as soon as you leave the wave.
Summary: Riding Without a Leash
If you’re a beginner surfer, you need a leash. There is no doubt about it—you’re simply not experienced enough to protect yourself and your board without it. You should also wear a leash in busy areas because at that point it’s not just about your safety, it’s about everyone else around you.
Think of it like wearing a facemask to protect against a certain pandemic-causing disease. Sure, it will limit your risk of inhaling germs but its main purpose is to prevent you from spreading those germs to other people.
If you’re a skilled surfer who understands how to surf without a leash, and there aren’t too many other surfers paddling nearby, you can try leashless surfing for yourself. Just remember that there are some serious risks involved.