When it comes to any sport involving the water, safety is always paramount. For Stand-up Paddle Boarding the measures that a person can take to ensure they are safe out on the water are reasonably wide and varied in their approach.
Within the list of devices and aids that a person can utilise, sits the leash. A ‘must have’ in the world of SUP safety. That vital tether that keeps us attached to our boards is our lifeline. It stops us from becoming cut adrift in an ocean of trouble where many other aids suddenly seem a little less important, or entirely redundant in the face of a board gently disappearing over the horizon.
It would be fair to say, the leash is not a SUP accessory, it is a SUP necessity.
Why is it so Important?
What is it that makes the leash number one in the SUP safety charts? The simple answer is that it keeps the paddler attached to their board at all times. It is the difference between being a few feet from the safety of your deck, to being a few hundred feet away and in potentially life-threatening trouble.
Being attached to the board also means you limit the danger to other water users. Lose your board and it instantly becomes a serious hazard to yourself and others.
Consider the leash your tether to a safer place for all.
Which leash is the right one for me?
The coiled leash is used for flatwater paddling, as its coiled form means it can sit on top of the board when you paddle rather than dragging behind you potentially catching debris in the water. In addition, it is generally less likely you’ll get this springy piece of kit tangled underfoot if you like to move around on your board.
A coiled leash is not suitable for taking your SUP into the waves due to the increased possibility of your board launching back towards you like a homing missile.
Is tied around the ankle or calf.
THE WAIST LEASH
The newest and most recent development in stand up paddling is the waist leash. It is worn around the waist. The biggest benefit of this leash is that it is easy to reach if trouble kicks in. The ankle leash means you need to reach down to your ankle to release the leash. Many people with a surfing background are experienced in doing this, so the use of a waist or ankle leash is a personal choice.
A coiled leash is attached to a waist belt. The leash will not drag in the water meaning it is less likely to become snagged when paddling.
The straight leash is used for SUP Surfing. The long leash must be the correct size for the board. A springy coiled leash isn’t suitable as it gives serious board recoil – where your board bounces back and hits you.
Long leashes are not to be used in flat water paddling, as they can drag in the watch and catch debris. Catching a bit of foliage, branch or seaweed can mean your board comes to an instant stop, catapulting you into the water!
Where to wear it?
The typical leash will be worn in one of three different places on the body. The ankle, the calf, or the waist.
Each placement is chosen largely with location, comfort, and conditions in mind.
The ankle leash harks back to its surfing roots. Tried and tested amongst surfers who may find themselves caught underwater.
The calf placement is the choice of many SUP racers who seek less drag in the water and also those who might move around on their board a little more than most. The extra elevation reduces the risk of stepping on the leash when shifting. Also great on open water.
A waist leash is an option for paddling in flat water only and is not to be used in the surf.
All leashes must have a quick-release mechanism.
Quick-release is standard for ankle leashes and has been perfected over the years specifically with surfers in mind. Waist leashes should also have a quick-release mechanism.
The leash should also have two good quality swivels, which means if you twist underwater, then your leash will twist with you.
Use of Leashes
Understanding the parts of the leash is critical in your use of the leash. Know how to use your quick-release mechanism for any type of leash you are using.
Check the leash for any damage. Does it have cuts or nicks in it? If under pressure, or where the leash is stretched very tight, the leash can break. Check the cords holding the leash to the board – are they tied correctly so won’t become loose and detach you from your board.
For waist leashes, check the quick release on the waist belt is in good working order.
Once a choice has been made, the options when it comes to making the purchase are vast. The online marketplaces of the world are abundant in leash buying opportunities, but making the right choice here is as critical as choosing which style of leash to opt for.
Quality is key. Leashes should have components that do not easily seize up due to exposure to water and saltwater conditions. As mentioned above, double swivels are essential for all leashes.
Do your research. Generally, the cost of a leash in comparison to other bits of kit, won’t break the bank. But don’t be immediately tempted by the cheapest option out there. Consider the vital role that is to be played by this tether and use that as your starting point.
More important than the leash
Despite the obvious importance to never paddle without a leash, it is equally important to understand that, much like buoyancy aids and VHF radios, the leash is only an aid. It is not a guarantee.
The one critical element whose paramount importance trumps the lot is you. Understand your own ability and accept your limitations as a paddleboarder. Build your skill set, build your knowledge in regards to location, weather patterns, water flow, and the other intricate details that can affect a day on the water.
Never go into fast-flowing water. Never go into surf that is behind your experience.
And most importantly, don’t push it.
If in doubt, don’t go out.