How To Choose the Right SUP Leash | An Important Piece of Safety Gear

A properly selected SUP leash is a vital piece of safety equipment that every stand up paddle boarder should use regardless of where they are paddling. A leash keeps the board tethered to the paddler so that the paddler is never separated from the board.  This is critical for safety because the board can be a lifesaver when the unexpected happens and flotation is needed.

History of the Surfboard Leash

Early surfboard leashes made from cotton rope have been recorded since the 1930’s but usually the credit for the first usable surfboard leash is given the Pat O’Neill the son of famous wetsuit creator Jack O’Neill.

In 1970 O’Neill attached a length of surgical tubing to the nose of his board, attached with a suction cup, and the other end simply looped around his wrist. The idea is that he could also use this to pry and pull the nose around for snappy turns on the wave. Of course, being attached to the board was a huge progression in Surf sports meaning you would not need to swim back to the beach after every fall to retrieve your board. This led to more time surfing and less time swimming as well as less damage to boards from collisions with beaches and rocks.

Leashes have come a long way since then with a host of technological advances in equipment aiding their progress and making the leash safer for the rider. Surfing (straight) leashes are designed to get the board away from you to avoid injury, but tether it so you can access the board faster on recovery.

The SUP leash has evolved from the surfing leash taking into account that the rider generally falls at a much lower velocity than on a moving wave, so the coiled leash evolved to spring the board back to you gently and avoid the drag on flat water that comes from having excess cord.


Types Of SUP Leash

There are several types of SUP leash, so you will need to choose the right one for your needs. As much as each leash is designed for a specific purpose or type of water it often just comes down to personal preference. If you paddle on the lake flat water and like using a straight leash there is nothing that will stop you with the one caveat being moving water and breakaway leashes which we will discuss.

Straight Leash >

This is the most basic type of leash, with a cord of a fixed length acting as the tether. It is the type most used by surfers to avoid the rebound effect where a coiled leash pulls the board toward you after a fall. Typically surfers will choose a leash the same length as their board but the 'rules' are a little more flexible for SUP.

Coiled Leash >

With this type of leash, the cord is coiled (think of an old-fashioned phone cord) so that it stays short to prevent dragging in the water, but extends to its full length when stretched. The coil extends on separation and then rebounds pulling the board back towards you. This leash was popularized as the go-to SUP leash and is a style many are comfortable with.

Hybrid Leash >

This type of leash is coiled for half of its length and straight for the rest that we have developed specifically for multi-discipline SUP use. For example, a 10-foot hybrid leash cord may have 5 feet of straight cord and the rest of the original cord length is coiled. The reduction in effective length due to the coiled section prevents the leash from dragging in the water, and the tangling and rebound potential are greatly reduced compared with a fully coiled leash.  Designed with our Lake - River - Coast philosophy it allows the same leash to be used from flat water to surf.

Quick Release / Breakaway Leash

Paddling in a river or other body of moving water involves hazards that require carefully considered methods of leash use. Leashes are important for keeping the paddler from being separated from the board, but can also lead to drowning if the paddler is held underwater by a leash tangled on rocks or vegetation in a moving current.

For this reason, leashes used in a river/moving water environment must have a release mechanism that is always reachable by the paddler. Wearing an ankle leash on a river or similar moving water situation is dangerous and must be avoided at all costs because it can be impossible for a paddler entrapped by the cord to reach their ankle to release the leash. The leash must be attached to the paddler above the waist, usually to a lifejacket or a belt, and must have a means of releasing instantly and reliably.

Specialized leashes with quick-release attachment systems have been developed to address this problem, although at this point in time Earth River SUP does not manufacture a commercially available option. Specific training on technique, safety, and leash use from an experienced and qualified instructor is an absolute necessity for anyone considering paddling on moving water.

Straight Leash


Coiled Leash


Hybrid Leash


The Importance of Using a SUP Leash

It is inevitable you will fall off your paddle board at some stage.

This could be while surfing the biggest of waves, or while simply reaching for that bottle of water on your deck.  Even the best and most experienced SUP riders find themselves in water every now and again. Once you land in the water and orient yourself as to which way is up, then it's time to retrieve your board.  With the correct leash, this is an easy task of simply reaching and swimming a little and using the leash to bring the board back to you.

Your SUP board is the most important safety device you have and your leash keeps it tethered to you.

If you fall while not wearing a leash you may find the board is nowhere near you.  A board moves very quickly on its own even with little current. Now you have put yourself in a potentially dangerous situation that requires you to swim toward your flotation device.  There is nothing cool about not wearing the correct safety gear in our sport, and a leash is an essential piece of gear for every paddler.

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