SUP Leashes - Your Tether to a Safer Place

Posted date: 08-November-2021

When it comes to any sport involving the water, safety is always paramount. For Stand-up Paddle Boarding the measures that a person can take to ensure they are safe out on the water are reasonably wide and varied in their approach.

From obvious items such as personal flotation devices (PFD) to less easily considered aids like the trusty VHF radio, the paddle boarder has a number of options in keeping themselves from harm’s way when the going gets rough.

Within the list of devices and aids that a person can utilise, sits the leash. A ‘must have’ in the world of SUP safety. That vital tether that keeps us attached to our boards is our lifeline. It stops us becoming cut adrift in an ocean of trouble where many other aids suddenly seem a little less important, or entirely redundant in the face of a board gently disappearing over the horizon.

It would be fair to say, the leash is not a SUP accessory, it a SUP necessity.

And it seems simple, right? Attach the leash and away we go. Potential problems solved. Yet, as is often the case, things are not quite so cut and dried. The leash is not a one size fits all item. It is not even a one leash attaches in the same place, item. With choosing the right leash comes great responsibility, and to venture forward pre-armed with a little knowledge can go a long way.

Let’s talk leashes.

Why is it so Important?

What is it that makes the leash number one in the SUP safety charts? The simple answer is that it keeps the paddler attached to their board at all times. It is the difference between being a few feet from the safety of your deck, to being a few hundred feet away and in potentially life-threatening trouble.

Being attached to the board also means you limit the danger to other water users. Nobody wants to be taking a wayward SUP to the head as that sort of thing can really dampen an otherwise good session. Lose your board and it instantly becomes a serious hazard to yourself and others.

Consider the leash your tether to a safer place for all.

Which leash is the right one for me?


The straight leash is basically the Grandaddy of the group. A long-accepted staple of surfing, now finding a new home in the world of SUP.  Ideally this is used in the waves. The long leash must be the correct size for the board. A springy coiled leash isn't suitble as it gives serious board recoil - where you board bounces back and hits you. Long leashes are not to be used in flat water paddling, as they can drag in the watch and catch debris. Catching a bit of foliage, branch or seaweed can mean your board comes to an instant stop, catapulting you into the water! 



The coiled leash has some benefits of its own. It is not suitable for taking your SUP into the waves due to the increased possibility of your board launching back towards you like a homing missile.

It is used for flat water paddling, as its coiled form means it can sit on top of the board when you paddle rather than dragging behind you potentially catching debris in the water.  Its a choice of those seeking some speed on their SUP. In addition, it is generally less likely you'll get this springy piece of kit tangled underfoot if you like to move around on your board.


The newest and most recent development in stand up paddling is the waist leash.  It is worn around the waist.  The biggest benefit of this leash is that it is easy to reach if trouble kicks in. The ankle leash means you need to reach down to your ankle to release the leash. Many people with a surfing background are experienced in doing this, so the use of a waist or ankle leash is a personal choice. 

Like coiled leashes, waist leashes do not drag in the water meaning racers can utilise it effectively. It is less likely to become snagged when paddling. 

Where to wear it?

The typical leash will be worn in one of three different places on the body. The ankle, the calf, or the waist.

Each placement is chosen largely with location, comfort, and conditions in mind.

The ankle leash harks back to its surfing roots.  Tried and tested amongst surfers who may find  themselves caught under water.   

The calf placement is the choice of many SUP racers who seek less drag in the water and also those who might move around on there board a little more than most. The extra elevation reducing the risk of stepping on the leash when shifting. Also great on open water.

The waist leash is an option for paddling in flat water only and is not to be used in the surf. 

Quick Release 

All leashes must have a quick release mechanism.    

Quick relase is standard for ankle leashes and has been perfected over the years specificaly with surfers in mind. Waist leashes should also have a quick release mechanism.  

The leash should also have two good quality swivels, which means if you twist under water, then you leash will twist with you. 

Use of Leashes 

Understanding the parts of the leash is critical in your use of the leash.  Know how to use your quick release mechanism for any type of leash you are using.  

Check the leash for any damage.  Does it have cuts or nicks in it ? If under pressure, or where the leash is stretched very tight, the leash can break.  Check the cords holding the leash to the board - are they tied correctly so wont become loose and detach you from your board.

For waist leashes, check the quick release on the waist belt is in good working order.  

Quality Matters

Once a choice has been made, the options when it comes to making the purchase are vast. The online market places of the world are abundant in leash buying opportunities, but making the right choice here is as critical as choosing which style of leash to opt for.

Quality is key. Leashes should have compontents that do not easily seize up due to exposure to water and salt water conditions. As mentioned above, double swivels are essential for all leashes. 

Do your research. Generally, the cost of a leash in comparison to other bits of kit, won’t break the bank. But don’t be immediately tempted by the cheapest option out there. Consider the vital role that is to be played by this tether and use that as your starting point.

More important than the leash

Despite the obvious importance to never paddle without a leash, it is equally important to understand that, much like buoyancy aids and VHF radios, the leash is only an aid. It is not a guarantee.

The one critical element whose paramount importance trumps the lot is, you. Understand your own ability and accept your limitations as a paddle boarder. Build your skillset, build your knowledge in regards to location, weather patterns, water flow, and the other intricate details that can affect a day on the water.

Never go into fast flowing water. Never go into surf that is behind your experience. 

And most importantly, don’t push it.

If in doubt, don’t go out.