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How do you Choose a Surfboard Leash?
Your surfboard leash is an essential piece of your surfing equipment checklist and a critical component to your, as well as your surf groms', safety in the water. What exactly is a leash, and how do you choose a surfboard leash?
Here's everything there is to know, my salty people.
Leash Vs. Leg Rope
Before we drop into things, I first want to clarify that a leg rope and a leash are the same things! "Leg rope" is simply used more in Australia, whereas in the US and other regions, you'll commonly hear this piece of equipment referred to as a "leash".
Nowadays, surfers tend to use both vernaculars regardless of where they are from!
What is a Surfboard Leash?
Your leg rope is basically your lifeline in the water.
It's a long urethane cord with one end attached to the tail of your surfboard (via leash tie and velcro straps) and the other to your ankle. Your surfboard leash will keep your board secured to your body in the water, and with your board being your flotation device in conditions big and small, you can see the importance of wearing a leash.
Have to bail on a closeout? No worries, surfboard leashes are seriously strong, and they'll keep your board from being swept away to avoid swimming to the shore countless times.
How to Choose Surfboard Leash
Choosing your surfboard leash will depend on various factors specific to your surfboard, skill level, and the average conditions you ride.
Leg Rope Size Guide
First things first, you'll want to start with the size of your leg rope.
In general, you should choose a surfboard leash length that is equivalent to slightly longer than the length of your surfboard.
So, if you're riding a 7'0" fun shape, you'd want a leash that's at least seven feet long. If your board was a 7'6", you'd want to round up to an eight-foot leash.
I always suggest rounding up if you're riding a longboard because of noseriding. So if you've got a nine-foot log, opt for a ten-foot leash to give yourself enough slack to freely cross-step on the deck.
With longboard leashes, you'll want to choose a particular type of leg rope that attaches to your calf and not your ankle to further reduce tripping while walking on the nose. If you're new to surfing, you might find my guide to kid's surfboards to be a valuable source of critical surfing information!
What Happens if My Leash is Too Short?
A leash that's too small for your surfboard will increase the chance of being hit by your surfboard when you bail, and lesser slack will hinder your surfing as a whole.
Because the board is held so much closer to the body, there's not as much room between you and your surfboard after you fall.
With waves, whitewash, and no control over where your board might go, that means a greater chance of bonking your noggin'.
If this surfer's leash were too small, it could slingshot the board back and hit him! Luckily, it's the right size, and there's plenty of wiggle room.
What Happens if My Leash is Too Long?
At the end of the day, it's better to have a surfboard leash that's too long than it is to have one too short.
If your surfboard leash is too long, this will simply increase the amount of drag you feel, and the added slack means a higher chance of tripping on or getting tangled by the leg rope. It also means that there's a bigger bail radius, which is the distance between yourself and your board after you fall, and that increases the chance of your board hitting another surfer, so just keep that in mind.
Leg Rope Type
Performance shortboards & small competition leashes for progressive surfing.
There are also a few types of leg ropes to choose from, and the primary difference lies in the thickness of the urethane chord, measured in millimeters.
The thicker the chord, the stronger the leash, and here's how you'll use this information when choosing a surfboard leash.
1. Competition leashes
A competition leash is the thinnest available surfboard leash, typically 4.7mm. Because it's thin, this leash produces the least drag and is ideal for progressive, on-rail, and aerial surfing that requires high speeds. With such high stakes in professional surfing, minuscule effects on the performance of your board matter, and that's why they choose the smallest possible leash.
A regular surfer might choose a competition leash for their small wave/hybrid surfboard, as they are plenty strong in small conditions while resulting in the least amount of interference.
2. Standard Leashes
A standard surfboard leash typically measures around 7-8mm in diameter, clearly thicker than a competition leash and, therefore, stronger.
To promote safety in the water, your average surfer should always opt for a standard leash size to avoid breakage and swimming to the shore in gnarly currents. Why not, right? Yes, there's technically more drag versus a competition leash, but unless you're throwing buckets out the back or tossing air reverses, you're really not going to notice it.
Standard leashes will keep you safe and secured to your board in pretty much any range of conditions imaginable besides those that fall into big waves, so they're safe, versatile, and often the go-to choice for your average ripper.
3. Big Wave Leashes
This probably won't matter much to you, but if you're one of the needles in the haystack who enjoys adrenaline induced by life-threatening mountains of water, then a big wave leash, anything over that 8mm diameter mark, is for you!
However, these are only for big wave paddle boards! Tow-in surfing is a different story.
4. Longboard Leashes
Longboard leashes are similar to standard surfboard leashes in terms of diameter, measuring in at 7mm. Again, these leashes will strap to your calf (not the ankle) to lift the urethane chord higher above your feet and reduce tripping while walking on the board.
Parts of a Surfboard Leash
Now that you know how to size a surfboard leash let's go over the various components of one for enhanced knowledge of your equipment.
The Leash Cuff
The cuff is the circular end-attachment of the leash, the part that straps around your ankle via velcro to secure the leash (and therefore the board!) to the body.
The Leash Swivel
In order to allow for a free, uninterrupted range of movement, the cuff is attached to the chord by a device known as the swivel. This means the leash can twist and turn freely (360 degrees) via the bearing without interfering with the surfer.
The chord is the long, rope-like part of the leash. Made of polyurethane (skateboard wheels are also made of urethane!), the chord is subtly stretchy and super freakin' strong!
The Leash Tie
The leash tie is a small piece of rope (separate from the leash itself) looped into your surfboard's leash plug. In doing so, this gives you a place to attach your leash to the board via the rail saver.
The Rail Saver
The rail saver is the velcro piece used to attach the leash to the leash tie. You want to ensure that your rail saver covers the rails (the edges/sides) of your board when the leash is tugged. If the leash tie touches your rails at all, then it is too small, and the thin rope can slice through the tail of your board.
Being thick and soft, the rail saver is designed to prevent this from happening, hence the name!
Try knotting the leash tie to shorten it or using a smaller one, re-attaching the rail saver, and pulling on your leash. You're good to go if the rail saver covers the board rails when you pull the leash!
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