The Ultimate Guide to The Surf Leash

by Oct 9, 20201 comment

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 includes everything you need to know about the surfboard leash – how to attach a surfboard leash to your board, which size to buy, and whether you actually can surf without a surf leash. Read on, Stay Stoked! 


  • History of the surfboard leash
  • What are the parts of a surfboard leash
  • What are the different types of surfboard leash
  • How do you tie a surfboard leash string
  • How do you attach your leash to your surfboard
  • How do I choose the right surfboard leash
  • Our recommended surfboard leashes
  • No Leash? 
  • Final thoughts


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). 


Features of a surf leash

Ankle Strap |  The part that wraps around your ankle. It’s nice to get a leash with a padded ankle strap.

Ankle Strap Release Tab | Not all leashes will have this tab – It makes getting the leash off a lot easier.

Swivels |  Most leashes will have at least one swivel – Ideally you want two, and you want them to be stainless steel so they will not corrode after being in saltwater repeatedly. The swivel prevents your leash from getting seriously tangled. 

Detachable Rail Saver |  The rail saver was invented, to well, protect your rails – without it, the urethane cord would damage the sides / rails of your board whenever you wipeout. Detachable rail savers are pretty standard these days. The fact that they are ‘detachable’ means you can quickly and easily remove the leash from the surfboard. 

Leash String |  Many leashes have a leash string or leash cord attached or sewn in to the leash. If your leash does not have one attached, no worries, you can just buy a leash string from your local surf shop for a couple $$.

Plug Buddy (Ocean and Earth leashes only) |  This is a RAD idea! I have been stuck soooo many times trying to push a fat leash string through the small gap in the leash plug (see the guide further down below  ).  The Plug Buddy makes it so much easier to get the string through the leash plug – allowing you to get in the water in no time! 

Urethane Cord |  The main part of the leash is made from poly-urethane. Thin cords at around 4-5mm are used in competition or ‘comp’ leashes, whereas thicker leashes for bigger boards and bigger waves will be around 7-8mm.


There are lots of different types of surf leashes which we’ve listed below. 

1. Comp or Competition Leash | These leashes are thinner, lightweight and generally pretty short compared to a standard surfboard leash.

Upside is that the drag they produce when paddling (or surfing along a wave) is lower than a regular leash.

Comp Surf Leash

2. Pro Leash |  Most of the bigger surf brands these days will have some form of a higher end or ‘pro’ surf leash.

These leashes will use more premium materials, have more padding around the ankle strap, and more deluxe features across the board. Many of these leashes will have a great warranty so can be worth paying the extra $$.

FCS Premium Leash

3. Regular |  Your basic stock-standard leash. For your average Joe, these leashes are fine, and most will come with things like a detachable rail saver, double swivels and so on. If you surf just on the weekends, or on vacation, this regular leash is a solid option.

Regular Surfboard leash

4. Longboard Leash |  These leashes will be long – 9ft, 10ft or even 11ft long. They are thick too at 7mm or 8mm thick, and you normally can choose between an ankle strap or a knee/calf strap. Having the leash attached just below your knee makes walking the board a lot easier, which you will be doing once you are a competent longboarder.

Longboard Surf Leash

5. Sup |  Similar to a longboard leash, these are thick 7-8mm, and long, 9ft or longer. Also, similar to a longboard leash, a SUP leash can be attached at your ankle or at your knee depending on your preference. Some SUP leashes can be coiled like a telephone cord so the cord stays close to the rider and out of the way – but remember, if you fall, the board can ping backwards at you if you are moving quickly!

SUP Coiled Leash

6. Big Wave |  As the name suggests, these are thicker and a bit longer than your regular leash -They will be around 8mm thick, and about 8ft long. Some big wave leashes have ‘quick release’ tabs so you can pull the pin and disconnect from your leash if you are ever in trouble in the water – see the pic below.  

If you’re ready to buy, skip to our Top 10 Leashes

Big Wave Surfing Leash


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

My favoured technique is outlined below. 

Step 1

Grab your regular leash string or cord (most leashes are supplied with one or you can get one at your local surf shop for a couple of $$. Here’s one I found in the back of my van.

How to tie a surfboard leash string

Step 2

Keeping both strands of the cord together, make a figure of eight shape with a small overhang – shown below.

How to tie a surfboard leash string

Step 3

Poke the ends of the cord through the loop you have created on the left and pull to create a knot.

How to tie a surfboard leash string

Step 4

Pull each end to tighten the knot

How to tie a surfboard leash string

Step 5

Make sure the knot is super tight so really give it a good pull! 

How to tie a surfboard leash string

Step 6

Time to attach the cord to your board. Poke the looped end of the cord into the bottom section of the leash plug. 

How to tie a surfboard leash string

Step 7

If the plug is tight, grab a fin key, or small tool to poke the string through the plug. I’m using a FCS fin key to help me here.

How to tie a surfboard leash string

Step 8

Once the cord is through, pull it through about half way, as shown below. 

How to tie a surfboard leash string


At this point I normally leave the cord as is, and fix the leash right now. Some surfers prefer to tie the cord onto the board which I will show down below too. BUT, the way I do it, enables you to quickly swap out a leash cord when in a hurry (when you are scrambling to get in the water for example). 

The other part I like about doing it this way is that the leash is looped through a double cord (see next pic). The other piece of cord you can see in the picture below, above my hand, is sewn into the leash (which many surf brands seem to do these days). 

How to tie a surfboard leash string

Step 10

Now, just fold the velcro of the rail saver over to secure the leash in place – You’re done! 

How to tie a surfboard leash string

Alternative method

So, if you want to actually tie the cord and have it fixed to your board, follow these steps. 

Poke the end of the cord with the knot in through the loop you created (shown in step 8 above). Then pull the end with the knot to tie the cord to the leash plug on the board.

How to tie a surfboard leash string

Next, pull the cord tight.

IMPORTANT – Make sure the cord is not too long here. You do not want the cord to extend past the tail of your surfboard. The reason being, if the cord is too long, when you leash gets pulled after a wipeout for example, the force put onto the leash cord can cause serious damage to the tail of your board.  

I’ve seen boards where the cord has literally carved through the tail like a knife, creating a ding you could have easily prevented. 

How to tie a surfboard leash string

Now the cord is in, simply loop the rail saver of the leash through the cord, then fasten the velcro straps into place.  

Notice how the rail saver is touching the edge of the surfboard, and not the leash string itself – Ideally, I think I should have made my leash string a little shorter to avoid the issue mentioned in the above pic, but I think it will be ok. 

How to tie a surfboard leash string


Check out this quick video outlining the whole process I described above.


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

Length / 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 (or bigger) longboard, you will need to consider the added weight of the board compared with regular ‘shortboards’ so you will need a thicker, stronger leash too. Another thing to consider when riding a longboard, is whether you want to ‘walk the board’ and learn to hang ten. A great idea is to use a knee or calf leash – these leashes (primarily aimed at longboarders) have a much wider strap so you can position them just below your knee. The idea being, the cord of the leash is away from your feet to prevent tangling when you are walking up and down the surfboard. 

Your Surfing Ability

If you are going to be relying on your leash a lot during a session you have to remember this will put extra strain on the leash itself. When you see some ripping surfers out at your local spot you’ll notice they almost never fall, and rarely lose their board. So the strain they put on their leash is next to nothing.

Compare that to a newbie – they will fall a lot, and also ditch their board when trying to get out back. These guys will put more strain on their leash so will need something thicker and stronger than a more experienced surfer.   

The Waves

If you are surfing small, weak waves, the strain put onto your leash will not be as great as if you are surfing 10ft Pipeline. So, consider the waves you normally ride when choosing your leash. If you are surfing regular head high waves, a standard thickness leash will be ok – these leashes are 6mm in thickness.   

Remember to consider this when choosing your leash – Don’t use a thin competition leash on your board if the waves are above shoulder high for example. 

Surfboard Leash Thicknesses

Comp leash 5mm | Suggested wave height 0-4ft

Regular Leash 6mm | Up to 6ft wave height

Longboard /big wave leash 7/8mm | Up to 10-12ft wave height 


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 ability, or the numbers of people in the water simply do not make is safe. 

I for one have been on the receiving end of a longboard, and once a 10ft SUP flying towards my head in 6ft surf so there is definitely a strong argument for compulsory leashes.

However, the freedom of riding a longboard (or any board for that matter) without a leggie is so free and natural I think everyone needs to try it once in a while. The fact that you can cross step and walk the board so much easier, it’s kinda like surfing naked!

My advice though, is to do it when there aren’t others around you could hurt, and/or if the waves are small and gutless. 

Longboarder With Knee Leash


The surf leash is now a piece of equipment that is now deemed pretty vital for our sport of surfing. As simple and primitive as it is, I cannot see many design changes that are likely to emerge in the coming years. One thing that I’ve thought might be a good idea, is to be able to repair your leashes so you don’t have to chuck them in the trash every time one snaps! If you get any ideas, be sure to hit us up at [email protected]   

And finally, friends, be sure to look after your surfboard leash because you don’t know when it will save you in the future! 

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1 Comment

  1. David Williams

    Really useful article, I agree DaKine best leash I ever had!!


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