Ditching the Surf Leash: 5 Legitimate Reasons (and Why to Ignore Them!) 

5 Legitimate Reasons to Ditch the Surf Leash

In honor of the new law change in Byron Bay, where the Byron Shire Council can now legally fine surfers who don’t wear a surf leash or legrope in the water, I’ve decided to slap on a white wig, ink up my quill, and have a good ol’ fashioned argument with myself. 

I’ve written about surf leashes in the past and my complicated opinion on them persists.  

On the one hand, I truly believe that surfing without a leash can be a good thing. 

So, I’ll first play the leashless devil’s advocate and offer 5 legitimate reasons why you should try surfing without a legrope (Australian for surf leash).  

Then, after I’ve done that, and hopefully convinced you that surfing without a leash is not as bad as the Byron Bay Shire Council has made it out to be (a fineable offense), I’m going to refute each of my 5 previous points, and argue the other side in favor of using a surf leash.   

Sound good? 


And awayyyyyyyy we go!

1. Surf Leashes are dangerous.

I’m not talking about surf leashes themselves being used like whips a la Indiana Jones, although that is dangerous.  

It’s the fact that a surf leash attaches a sharp, pointy, heavy, hard surfboard to your leg.  When you fall and get eaten up by the white wash, that board is flying around you like a wrecking ball attached to the end of a live firehose.  

That’s dangerous.  

We can refer to our good friend Derek Hynd, who lost an eye in 1980 after the spring back of his surf leash caused his board to “skewer” his right eye.  

Or Jack O’neill, founder of O’neill wetsuits, who also lost an eye because of the doings of a surf leash.  Why do you think he sports that badass eye-patch?

Jack O'neill and the eye patch he wore after losing his eye from a surf leash accident. Credit: Dan Coyro

Not to mention the many tragic deaths that have taken place over the years when surf leashes have wrapped around coral reefs or gotten stuck on rocks and drowned surfers in head deep water. 

There’s also incidents where surfers have been tangled in their leashes after nasty falls, especially on bigger waves, sometimes resulting in death. (It is suspected this is what led to Mark Foo’s passing at Maverick’s in 1994).

Without a leash, none of these things happen.

Ditch the leash.

2. Surfing without a leash makes you a better and more stylish surfer.

The vast majority of people don’t surf the right way when they have a surf leash attached to their leg. 

Instead, they immediately start in with these ridiculous attempts at hacks and snaps and cutbacks and airs. 

They never learn the true foundational elements of wave riding. 

Yeah, they can stand and do a few things, but more often than not it’s forced and machine-y. Gives you that metallic taste on the back of your tongue.

With a leash, so many people go straight to flinging their boards around like frisbees.

With a surf leash you can fling your board around with no consequences. Credit: Surfer Today

Instead, ditch the leash from time to time, and experience what it feels like to ride a wave with no safety net. If you fall, you lose the board. You have to swim in.

And it will happen, but that swim is good for you.  It teaches you about cause and effect.  You do this, and this happens.  Learn from it.  It builds character, and it makes you more comfortable in the water and, therefore, a better surfer. 

Your whole approach and mentality towards wave riding changes when you take off the leash.

It forces you to not only surf within your skill level, but it shows you where you’re lacking and need improvement.  

You inevitably learn to surf each wave the way it’s meant to be surfed by you.  It teaches you to read the wave and move with it based on what you know you’re capable of — this notion, right here, is the essence of developing an individual style.

Without a leash, you can start to truly evolve your own unique approach to riding waves.

Do me a favor, type ‘Gerry Lopez’ into Google and browse through the many images. Not many leashes in those photos of a younger Gerry at Pipeline, are there?

Gerry Lopez surfing without a surf leash. Credit: Art Brewer

Gerry Lopez is regarded as one of the most stylish to ever surf, and he developed his surfing prowess without a leash. He was forced to develop his own approach based on his unique skillset. That skillset happened to churn out one of the most stylish surfers on the planet, but would it have been unlocked in the same way had he had a surf leash strapped to his ankle?

I’m not saying you’re going to surf like Gerry Lopez if you ditch the leash. My point is that, we maybe don’t have a Gerry Lopez if he grew up surfing with a leash.

To develop a style you need to have a unique point-of-view. For surfing, that comes with drawing different lines and doing different things on the wave based on your ability.

With the introduction of leashes and mitigating the consequence of losing your board when you fall, it seems that style and unique approaches to waves have also been muted.

It feels like one big blob of sameness.

Ditch the leash from time to time and see how it changes the way you ride a wave. I’m sure it will surprise you.


3. Surf leashes kill surf etiquette.

Part of the etiquette of being a surfer is looking out for those around you.  Being aware of the situation and acting accordingly.  

For some reason, when people strap on surf leashes they seem to instantly forget that.  In fact, they do the complete opposite.  

A surf leash is not doing this guy any favors.

The most egregious offense committed is when someone tosses their surfboard out from under them just before a breaking wave.

They do this because they don’t want to, or can’t properly, duck dive, so they throw the board to the side and let the wave take it on a violent ride while the leash keeps hold of it.

This is fine if no one else is around.  The problem is that it’s incredibly dangerous if there’s anyone in front of you taking off on a wave, or anyone behind you about to duck dive. 

This is one of the most dangerous acts in surfing and it wouldn’t happen if you learned to surf without a leash.  Without a legrope, you learn to hold onto your board.

A surf leash is a safety net that encourages inconsiderate behavior. 

Ditch the leash and learn how to hold onto your board in the water.


4. Surf leashes = bigger crowds.

Surf leashes cause bigger crowds.

Surfboard leashes are a huge root cause to bigger crowds in the water. 

Legropes embolden people, especially beginners, with a false sense of security, giving them the courage to put themselves in situations they shouldn’t be.  

They attempt to surf in conditions they have no business surfing.  

With a leash attaching their surfboard to their leg, they fancy themselves invincible and paddle out to spots they shouldn’t, becoming a nuisance and liability to everyone else.  

A good rule of thumb to consider: If you DON’T think you can make it out to the lineup without a leash, or you’d be in some serious trouble if your leash were to snap, then you probably shouldn’t be out there.  

The problem is that most people today learn to surf with a leash, which they treat like a crutch, or as notable finless and leashless Australian surfer Derek Hynd says, “umbilical cord.” 

With bearing on the day’s packed lineup, only a minor fraction of that number would’ve been anywhere near that outer section had legropes not been such an umbilical cord.” 

– Derek Hynd

You can’t deny that he’s wrong.  

I know what you’re thinking: “So you want all the kooks out there with no leashes?!?” 

The kooks wouldn’t be out there in the first place without leashes. 

If you ask this side of me, Byron Bay needs to flip that law and make it illegal to wear a legrope.

That’ll sort it out real quick.

Ditch the leash.

5. Surfing without a leash is how the surf Gods intended it.

Surfing was developed thousands of years ago as the ultimate way to test yourself against the power of the ocean.  Against nature.  Surfing without a leash is the purest way to enjoy it.  

And what is surfing if not a pure endeavor? Arguably one of the last in the world. Don’t dirty it up with your anklets.

If Greg Noll and the early pioneers of big wave surfing can surf Waimea on 11 foot boards with no leash, then you can manage a day at Salt Creek without one, too.

Ditch the leash.

Greg Noll never needed a surf leash to take on huge waves. Credit: Bruce Brown.

Some Valid Points, but the Debate’s Not Over

After digesting those 5 legitimate reasons to ditch your surf leash, I’m sure this very moment you’re in the backyard with a knife, ready to cut every surf leash you own in half.

Please. No. Stop.

Before you go on, allow the other side of me to proceed with my counter arguments.

For this portion, I’ll go in the reverse order, starting with 5 and working my way down to 1. 


5. Surfing without a leash is how the surf Gods intended it.

There are no surf Gods.  If there were, I’d still be in Surfival League where you can win $5k, a 3-board Panda quiver, and a Ho Stevie wetsuit. 

I prayed to them every night and was still eliminated at the very first event of the year at Pipeline.

*SIDE NOTE: Pipeline should not be the first event of the year. It should be the last. The decider.

As to the second part of the above point (“developed thousands of years ago…ultimate way to test yourself against power of the ocean…purest way to enjoy surfing…”), it’s true that surfing was developed a long time ago and, sure, surfing without a leash might be a pure endeavor.

But surfing was much different back then. 

Good thing we don't have surf leashes attaching us to surfboards like this.

If we had to do anything today the same way that it was originally developed, then we’d still be tossing rocks in peach baskets, playing football without pads, and smoking on airplanes, among many other unseemly things. 

Things change.  Things get better.  They definitely get safer.  

A surf leash is one of those developments.  Deal with it.

Wear a leash.

4. Surf leashes = bigger crowds.

I wrote an article recently on the ancient beef between bodyboarders and surfers, and I touch heavily upon crowds.  

Crowds were one of the reasons surfers first hated bodyboarders. 

Though, if you read the article, you find that that’s an irrational conclusion for surfers to have come to. 

Bodyboarders didn’t create crowds.  

If anything, they keep people from surfing because bodyboarding is so easy.  

The same logic can be applied to the surf leash.  A single tool used for surfing is not the reason more people are surfing.  

Ho Stevie makes some very nice surf leashes.

I can guarantee you no one has ever said, “Dude, I want to wear a leash so bad.  I’m going surfing.” 

The sole reason for rising crowds is the access we have to surfing now. The internet.  Never before has access to information on surfing and clips of surfing and remote waves and board knowledge and everything else having to do with surfing been more prevalent than today.  

Access = more people doing it = bigger crowds.  

Such is this modern life. 

Because so many more people are surfing today, it’s probably more important to wear a leash. With these crowds, you need to maximize every session. There’s no time to be chasing your board in after every wave.   

Wear a leash.

3. Surf leashes kill surf etiquette.

What etiquette? Didn’t etiquette in surfing die long, long ago?

It is true that the bloodthirsty beginners feen after waves like cheap thrills zombies, tossing their boards to the side at the first sign of white wash, leaving their leashes to do the dirty work, but that’s not the fault of the surf leash.

We should be thanking the surf leashes for their service!

I’m never a fan of throwing your board to the side without knowing who is in front of you or behind you.  You should never do that, but it happens far too often.

That’s not good etiquette, but what’s worse is if they lost their board entirely.

Even good surfers lose their boards.

Here’s an example from Newport Beach’s Wedge last week:

You should wear a surf leash, but it should never be your first option for safety.  It’s a last resort.  

And again, people are going to surf.  And many are going to be very bad at it.  Wouldn’t you rather they were wearing one?  I think so. 

Wear a leash 100% of the time when it’s crowded. Yeesh.

2. Surfing without a leash makes you a better and more stylish surfer. 

Okay.  Learning to ride waves without a surf leash is a valuable lesson and skill and training method.  This side of me also firmly believes that.  I think it teaches you to look at waves differently, and your goal on a wave changes.

However, once you’ve reached a certain level (without a leash), it’s time to put on a leash and start pushing the boundaries.  

It’s time to start trying things that you never thought were possible and without worrying about losing your board. 

I’m sounding like Mr. Miyagi, but Mr. Miyagi produced the effin karate kid, so I’m not apologizing.  

Wear a leash…when you are ready, young grasshopper.  

First, you must master the ways of the unattached.

Here’s Albee Layer on why surfing without a leash is boring:

Why would you want to surf in a way where you know you’re going to make it? How is that any fun? Wouldn’t you want to try something that’s hard?! That’s how you get the achievement in surfing, as well as anything else.”

Also, Rob Machado. He grew up wearing a leash and is on par with Gerry Lopez as far as style goes.

Boom. Roasted.

Wear a leash.

1. Surf leashes are dangerous.

Ho Stevie premium surf leash.

They can be.  But so can fuggin’ candy canes and peanuts.  It’s all perspective.  

Derek Hynd had his eye taken from him after of an accident with a surf leash, so yes, he has a right to cast them off entirely and shout to the mountaintops about their dangers.  

Everyone has that right, but that doesn’t make them right.  The question is, do the benefits outweigh the consequences?  

Have there been tragedies where you wish a person wasn’t wearing a leash?  Yes.

Have there been triumphs where a person is thanking their lucky stars that they were wearing a leash?  You betcha.  

I’m willing to bet there have been more triumphs than tragedies.  

I don’t always love wearing legropes, but sometimes I’m very glad that I’m wearing one. 

Who won: Surf Leash or No Leash?

It’s not as cut and dry as that, I’m afraid. There are beneficial things about both.

It’s a rootin-tootin stalemate!

Whichever school of thought you fall under, I hope that you sample the other side’s delicacies from time to time.

If you wear a surf leash most days, ditch it and see how your approach changes. It’ll probably illuminate a few areas that need some attention.

If you are strictly unattached, maybe you strap on a legrope once in a while and really let it rip. See how far you can push yourself. Go for broke. The board’ll be there.

Choosing the Right Surf Leash  

When you’re surfing with a leash, you need one that works for you and the board you’re riding.  It’s not as simple as picking one off the shelf. There a couple things to consider.

Choosing the right Surf Leash

How long should a surf leash be?

Generally speaking, your leash should be about as long as the surfboard you’re riding. Sometimes, it’s helpful to add on a couple of inches, but that depends on the length of surfboard and skill level of the surfer.

If you’re a beginner, I would stick with a surf leash that is no more than two inches longer than the surfboard you’re riding.

If you’re a more intermediate surfer, I would go with the length of my board as my indicator for surf leash length.

Thickness of a Surf Leash

The second factor to consider when choosing a surfboard leash is the thickness. The thickness should be proportionate to the size of waves your surfing. The bigger the waves, the thicker the leash (should we make that into a bumper sticker?).

If you’re surfing smaller waves, you can use a surf leash that is thinner and lighter.

How to Attach a Surfboard Leash

For help in attaching your chosen leash to your surfboard, here’s a video from Stevie:

Wishing you some great surf, with or without a surf leash!

Father, surfer, poet.


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