If you’re shopping for a surf leash, you might be a little confused about the many different options available.
Why are there so many different leashes when they all basically serve the same purpose and which option is best for you as a beginner, intermediate, or pro?
Thankfully, it’s not as complicated as you might think, and there are really only a few basic types of surfboard leashes that you need to know about.
Regular surf leashes are typically around 6 feet long and a quarter-inch thick, but leash lengths and widths vary by brand and type. These surf leashes are made for the average surfer, someone who is either surfing for the first time or on a regular basis and isn’t concerned with the fine details and improvements provided by other surf leashes.
Also known as “all-round leashes”, they are often around 7mm thick but the width and leash length can vary.
Competition Leash (Comp Leash)
The competition leash is thinner, lighter, and creates much less drag in the water. Competition leashes are so-named because they are designed for pro riders to be worn during competitions.
Most comp leashes are just 5mm thick and this allows for a lot of speed and minimal drag. However, they are best suited to quiet and calm conditions and thicker leashes are better when surfing large waves.
A pro leash is thin without sacrificing safety. They are typically used on larger surfboards than competition leashes as greater volume means that the board will be pulled around and placed under more strain.
As the name suggests, longboard leashes are designed to be worn on longboards. They are available as ankle leashes and calf leashes, which means they attach to either the ankle or the calf.
Big Wave Leash
While competition leashes opt for a thinner and more lightweight design, big wave leashes go in the opposite direction. They are thicker and stronger to withstand the force of bigger waves.
Many big wave leashes are around 10 feet in length and they also feature a quick-release mechanism that allows the surfer to discard them if they are caught in a dangerous position.
What is the Best Surfboard Leash?
The best surfboard leash for you will depend on the conditions you’re surfing, as well as your experience level.
As a beginner or intermediate, you should be okay with regular surfboard leashes and longboard leashes. Unless you’re looking for a minimal speed improvement over playful conditions or security over bigger waves, regular leashes are more than enough.
For pros and competition surfers, it’s really a toss-up between comp/pro leashes and big wave leashes, with the former being more suitable for choppy conditions and the latter for high waves.
Do I Need a Surfboard Leash?
Yes. Not only will surfboard leashes prevent damage to your board, but they also prevent you from injuring other surfers.
Most surfers choose to wear leashes these days as they understand the safety benefits, as well as the convenience. What’s more, the fact that there are many different types of leash—ones that are suited to all wave conditions and surfboard sizes—means that there’s no excuse not to wear one.
History of the Surf Leash
The earliest surfboard leashes can be traced back to the 1930s, when American surfer and designer Tom Blake attached a 10-foot rope to his board. The cotton rope was attached to a belt around his waist but it proved too dangerous and so he dismissed the idea.
In later decades, other homemade leashes were invented, including a “footline” created by a surfer by the name of George Hennebutte. These early leashes never really caught on, though, and it wasn’t until Pat O’Neill’s input that things finally changed.
Pat O’Neill is credited with developing the first surf leash as his design was safer, better, and more widely adopted than anything that had been done before.
O’Neill’s design consisted of attaching surgical tubing to the nose of his surfboard using a suction cup. The other end of the tubing was looped around his wrist.
In addition to securing the board, it was also thought that the surf leash could be utilized to perform certain tricks and maneuvers, but that never really came to fruition and the idea was scrapped when surfers realized it made more sense to attach the leash to their ankles or calves.
The first companies to mass-produce and sell surfboard leashes were Block Enterprises and Control Products, both of which were based in Southern California.
At the early stage of their history, surfboard leashes were still being made from rubber tubing and this created some serious problems. The board would snap back quickly and could injure the surfer. In fact, the inventor’s father, Jack O’Neill was using an early iteration of the surf leash when the board snapped back in his face and caused him to lose vision in his left eye.
Over the years, many changes have been made to the surfboard leash, including the material used in its construction, the way that it is attached, and the mechanisms by which it can be freed from the board and surfer.