How to Choose a Surfboard Leash

Pat O'Neill invented the surfboard leash in 1971 and it's been saving people from long swims back to shore ever since. While leashes are designed to keep your board in place during the most violent wipeouts, they can break and should not be relied on as a lifesaving device. This tutorial explains how to select a surf leash, addressing topics such as surf leash construction, functionality, and deciding between an ankle and calf attachment point.

Parts of a Surf Leash


The cuff refers to the padded strap that wraps around the surfer's ankle or calf. It is typically made of neoprene or another comfortable material and is secured with either Velcro or a quick-release buckle. The cuff serves as the attachment point between the surfer and the leash, providing a secure connection.


The swivel is a rotating joint located at the connection point between the leash cord and the cuff. It allows the leash to rotate freely, reducing the chances of tangling and twisting during maneuvers. The swivel is designed to enhance the leash's functionality and prevent the cord from getting wrapped around the surfer's legs.


The cord is the main body of the surfboard leash. It is typically made of durable materials like urethane or polyurethane. The cord connects the cuff to the leash plug, which is attached to the surfboard. The cord's length can vary based on the leash size and intended use, and it is designed to withstand the forces exerted by waves while maintaining strength and flexibility.

Rail Saver

The rail saver is a protective piece of material, often made of webbing or neoprene, that wraps around the surfboard's tail near the leash plug. Its purpose is to prevent the leash from rubbing against and damaging the surfboard's rails (the edges of the board). The rail saver acts as a buffer, absorbing the friction and impact between the leash cord and the board's surface, ultimately extending the board's lifespan.

What Length Surf Leash Do You Need?

The length of a surf leash depends on various factors, including your height, the size of your surfboard, and the type of waves you'll be riding. Here are some general guidelines to help you determine the appropriate length for your surf leash:

  1. Board Length: As a starting point, the leash should be roughly the same length as your surfboard or slightly longer. This ensures that the leash is long enough to allow for maneuverability without restricting your movements. For example, if you have a 6-foot surfboard, a 6-7 foot leash would be suitable.

  2. Wave Conditions: Consider the type of waves you'll be surfing. In larger or more powerful surf, it's generally recommended to use a slightly longer leash. This gives you more distance between yourself and the surfboard, reducing the risk of the board snapping back toward you in the event of a wipeout or getting caught in turbulent water.

  3. Personal Preference: Some surfers prefer shorter leashes for smaller waves or high-performance surfing. A shorter leash reduces drag and allows for quicker movements. However, keep in mind that a shorter leash may bring the board closer to you during wipeouts or intense maneuvers.

  4. Body Height: Your height can also play a role in determining the leash length. Taller surfers may prefer longer leashes to maintain a comfortable distance between themselves and the surfboard.

Ultimately, it's important to find a balance between maneuverability and safety. It's recommended to start with a leash length that matches your surfboard's size and then adjust based on your personal preferences and the conditions you'll be surfing in.

Thickness of a Surf Leash

There are two common leash thicknesses, known as competition and standard leashes. A competition leash is typically 3/16ths of an inch thick, but an ordinary leash is closer to 5/16ths of an inch thick. That's around 4.7mm and 8mm in metric terms, respectively. When deciding on thickness, consider the length of your board, the height of the waves, and your level of surfing experience and aptitude.

Competition Surf Leashes

Competition surf leashes are specialized leashes designed for high-performance surfing and competitive surfing events. These leashes are typically characterized by their lighter weight, thinner diameter, and increased flexibility. They are designed to minimize drag and maximize maneuverability, allowing surfers to perform more advanced maneuvers and tricks. Competition surf leashes are commonly used by experienced and professional surfers who prioritize performance and responsiveness in their equipment.

Regular Width Surf Leashes

Regular width surf leashes are the standard leashes commonly used by surfers of all skill levels. These leashes have a moderate diameter and offer a balance between strength and flexibility. They are suitable for a wide range of surf conditions and provide reliable performance for everyday surfing. Regular width surf leashes are designed to withstand the forces generated by average-sized waves and offer a good combination of durability, comfort, and versatility. They are a popular choice among recreational surfers and beginners who prioritize reliability and ease of use in their leash.

Surf Leash Attachment Point - Ankle vs Calf?

The surf leash attachment point can be either the ankle or the calf, and the choice depends on personal preference and surfing style. Here are some considerations for each option:

Ankle Attachment

Attaching the leash to the ankle is the most common and traditional method. This attachment point provides a secure connection and allows for a greater range of motion in the lower body. It is favored by many surfers because it offers freedom and flexibility for maneuvers, such as deep bottom turns and sharp cutbacks. Ankle attachment is particularly popular among shortboard surfers and those who prioritize agility and quick footwork.

Calf Attachment

Some surfers prefer attaching the leash to the calf, just above the ankle. This attachment point can provide additional stability and minimize the leash's interference with the foot movement. It is often favored by longboarders or surfers who ride larger boards because it can help keep the leash out of the way when performing cross-steps or nose riding maneuvers. Calf attachment may offer a slightly more secure feeling for those who prefer a snug fit around the lower leg.

Ultimately, the decision between ankle and calf attachment comes down to personal preference and the specific demands of your surfing style. It's a good idea to try both options and see which one feels more comfortable and allows you to perform at your best.

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