SUP Leashes - Your Tether to a Safer Place

Posted date: 09-November-2022

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.

The leash is not a SUP accessory, it a SUP necessity.

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 in waves or fast flowing water and it instantly becomes a serious hazard to others.

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

Which Leash is the Right One to Use?

The typical river will hold far more danger beneath the surface than it does above. Unseen objects primed to snag and tangle the leash of the unsuspecting paddle boarder litter our waterways. It takes very little to become ensnared by debris and find yourself in a life and death struggle.


The coiled leash sits on top of the board when you paddle rather than dragging behind you.  It is shorter than a long leash.  The risk of snagging your leash on water objects is minimized.   The coiled leash is not to be used for SUP surfing. 



The straight leash is not suitable for flat water paddle.  It drags in the water as you paddle, and can get caught on objects, weed or similar, resulting in a sudden jerk that will see you flying off your board.  It can also get caught around objects making release difficult.

The straight leash is used in SUP surfing.  The same leash as surfers use.   Specially designed for the length of your board and to minimise recoil. 



Which Leash Attachment Should I Use?

The leash is connected to the leash plug on the board.  The other end of the leash is connected to you. Then there are different ways to attach the leash to you. 

  • Ankle leash
  • Waist leash belt


The ankle leash is attached to your ankle or to your leg (calf, near knee). The ankle leash is worn by surfers. 

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 their 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 belt is worn around the waist. The leash is attached to the back of your belt (not your ankle or calf).

Quick Release 

If you get into difficulties and your leash gets caught on debris or around other hazards, and you can quickly release the leash and free yourself. 

Ankle leashes and waist leash belts have quick release mechanisms. 

  • Ankle leashes have the quick release tag on the ankle strap
  • Waist leash belts have a toggle on their belt. 

The waist belt leash may be easier to release from your back, rather than to reach down to your ankle / calf.

If you are using a waist belt leash, and a buoyancy aid, be careful that the buoyancy aid does not cover the toggle release.   

Where to Wear It?

When out on your paddle board of course! Joking aside, 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 harks back to its surfing roots. It is used in open water such as coastal bays and also comes into its own in the surf.

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 considered for those taking to the rivers or areas with higher potential for entanglement. 

Quality Matters

Leashes should have swivels at both ends to minimize twisting.   

The quick release should be easy to release and good quality materials used. 

The Water Environment is 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 to keep you safe. 

The one critical element whose paramount importance trumps the lot is you. Understand your own ability and understand the water conditions.  

  • Do not go into fast flowing water.  
  • Stay away from hazards, like boat moorings and rocks
  • Don’t go out in river mouths
  • Don’t go out in tidal flow changes. 

If in doubt, don’t go out.