The Ultimate Guide to The Surf Leash

by Oct 9, 20200 comments

Have you ever surfed without a leash? Did you like the experience, or did you worry too much about losing your board and smashing it on the rocks? Either way, check out our Ultimate Guide to the Surf Leash below.


It is now pretty well established that the inventor of the modern day surf leash is Pat O’Neill, son of Jack O’Neill who founded O’Neill Wetsuits. Interestingly, the incident that took Jack’s left eye involved one of the early versions of the surf leash. By all accounts, the surgical cord used in the leash prototype was very stretchy, and, after falling on a wave, Jack’s board flew back towards him, taking out his eye in the process. Never one to waste a marketing opportunity, Jack donned an eye patch and grew out his beard, his O’Neill brand skyrocketing with popularity as a result. 

At a contest in 1971 in Malibu, California, Jack was disqualified for wearing his leash, with fellow competitors coining the phrase ‘kook-cord’. Wearing these early leashes often resulted in more injuries than ever, with boards flying back towards the surfer after they fell on a wave.

History of the Surf Leash


Many iterations of the surf leash have been tested, one of the best stories told by Mike Doyle (inventor of the first soft surfboard). When on a surf trip to Tahiti in the 60’s, Doyle’s friend Joey Cabell modified a ‘pig tether’ to use as a surf leash. The local Tahitians would tie a rope to a post and then tie a t-shirt to the other end of the rope and attach it to the pigs leg to stop them running away. Using this idea, Joey tied a t-shirt around his leg to give some protection from the shock of the wave, then tied the t-shirt to a cord, and then attached the end of the cord to the fin on his surfboard. It seemed to work on the heavy reef passes of Tahiti, but never really caught on with his return to Hawaii later that year.

70's surf leash

Development continued, with the first person to trial a Nylon leash being Peter Wright of New Zealand in the 70’s. Some years later in the mid 70’s the urethane leash was patented by David Hattrick of Yallingup, Western Australia and sold via his brand Pipelines Legrope Co. The design of the modern day leash has not changed a great deal since then, the only obvious addition being the rail saver, which then developed into the detachable rail saver (see below). 


I’ve outlined a few things to look for when you are buying a leash. Not all are 100% required, but they will make your life easier, and your surfing experience more fun! 

Padded Ankle Strap

Double Swivels (ideally stainless steel)

Ankle Strap Release Tab

Detachable Rail Saver

Sewn-In String

Plug Buddy (Ocean and Earth leashes only)

Premium Grade Urethane

You can skip to our Top 10 Leashes below

Features of a surf leash


The first thing you need to do when you want to attach a leash to a surfboard is tie the small string onto the leash plug. It sounds simple, but it can be particularly difficult, especially if the waves are firing and your buddies are already in the water! 

My favoured technique is outlined below. 

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4

Step 5


Once you have the leash string in place, you are ready to attach the leash. This is pretty easy nowadays as most leashes have a ‘detachable rail saver’.

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Check out this quick video outlining the whole process. 



There are a few factors to consider when choosing a leash to buy. 

Length and type of surfboard

As a general rule, your leash should be around the same length of your surfboard. If your board is in between sizes, opt for the longer length.  As an example, if your board is 7ft 6, I would suggest an 8ft leash.

If you are riding a 9ft longboard, you will need to consider the added weight of the board compared with regular ‘shortboards’. 


Waves you will be riding 

Small waves vs heavy Hawaii surf


Your ability





Whilst this list of recommendations does not include every leash ever made, we feel the selection below is pretty comprehensive. Depending on your surfboard, surfing ability and wallet size, any of the leashes below should fit your needs. If you end up buying from this list, hit us up, and let us know how you got on. 

Leash Name Pros Cons Buy Now
Dakine Pro Comp Leash * Great Quality

* Low Drag

* Good Price
* Only for boards up to 6ft

* Small waves only
Buy Now
SBS 8ft Regular * Super Cheap

* Lifetime Warranty

* Thick cord
* No Rail Saver

* Only suitable for foam boards
Buy Now
Ho Stevie 6ft Leash * Great Price

* Choice of Colours

* 1 Year Warranty
* Some quality issues Buy Now
XM 8ft Leash * Great Quality USA Made

* Choice of Colours

* 3 Year Warranty
* Expensive

Buy Now
SBS 9ft Longboard Leash * Great Price

* Plush Ankle Strap * Detachable Rail Saver
* Only for longboards / SUPs Buy Now
Ocean & Earth Premium Leash * One Piece Moulded - no weak joints

* Plug Buddy Included

* 1 Year Warranty
* Expensive

Buy Now
* Made Using Recycled Plastic

* 1 Year Warranty

* Great Price
* None! Buy Now
FCS Freedom Leash * Super Low Drag & Lightweight

* 2 Years in R&D

* Super Strong
* Expensive

Buy Now


Up to now we have been assuming you must use a leash, but there is the argument any purist longboarder will make to surf without a leash. I am totally one to live and let live, but I have seen instances of people surfing without leashes when either they do not have the control of their board…..

Longboarder With Knee Leash


Write some final thoughts here… 





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