Leashes are a key piece of equipment for stand up paddle boarding. Leashes are used to attach the user to board so that, in the event of falling off, the paddler doesn’t become disconnected from their craft should the wind or water carry the board away.
There are three main types of leashes – straight, coiled and bungee – and they can be attached to the waist, PFD, calf or ankle. It’s a minefield for the novice paddler. We’ll guide you through the options here.
What type of leash should I use?
Firstly, straight leashes. Straight leashes are a longer version of what you’d use on a surfboard. They’re, unsurprisingly, used for SUP surfing to ensure you don’t lose your board and it becomes hazardous to other water users. The straight leash means the board won’t quickly recoil and hurt you in the way a coiled or bungee leash could. On flat or moving water journeys though, these leashes can pose a hazard as they drag in the water and can loop around rocks, branches weeds and other obstructions such as floating buoys. For this reason straight leashes are only recommended for use in the surf zone.
Coiled leashes are the most common type to find when paddle boarding. They are designed to sit on or above your board unlike a straight leash which is often dangling in the water. A leash dangling in the water can become snagged on trees, buoys and other obstructions leading to you getting entangled in a dangerous situation.
Bungee leashes work in a similar way coiled leashes; the bungee keeps the leash up and out of the water when paddling in shallow water or around obstructions.
Whilst leashes typically go around the ankle, some people opt for wearing it just below the knee especially when racing. This placement keeps the leash more out the way when moving on the board such as when performing a step back turn. When starting off, an ankle leash can be more comfortable when spending time kneeling.
Using an coiled ankle leash is completely acceptable on flat water. However, there are limitations in moving water such as whitewater, rivers with flow, or flowing estuaries. This is still the small but potentially catastrophic risk of a snag should you fall in moving water near a branch, mooring buoy, bridge stanchion or other obstacle. Imagine trying to reach down and release a leash from your ankle or calf in a few knots of tide. Put simply, it’s not going to happen.
So, where should I attach the leash in moving water?
Quick release belts are a fantastic piece of equipment when paddling in moving water. If you were to fall off your SUP or become entangled in moving water, it can be very difficult or impossible to remove an ankle or calf leash whereas a quick release belt is still accessible and easy to release.
It’s important to realise that this is not a catch-all safety solution though. There are limitations to any system and a dynamic risk assessment based on your experience and the water you’re paddling is crucial.
Even though a QR belt is easy to release, the loose end of the belt can become jammed in the buckle if the tail end is too long and gets twisted or knotted. Before using a QR belt it’s important to adjust the belt or cut if needed to ensure the tail end doesn’t extend too far past the buckle. Bear in mind that you are likely to be wearing more layers in colder weather and cut the length accordingly.
Regularly training with a quick release belt is important for improving confidence when using one as well as making sure you are able to release it when needed.
Many different manufacturers make quick release belts and there is no set standard at the moment. We suggest buying from a paddling specific manufacturer such as Red Paddle Co, Palm Equipment or Peak PS (there are other suitable brands) where the belts have been thoroughly tried and tested.
The most basic of QR belts are simply a piece or tape or webbing with a buckle to release.
Here’s a useful diagram from British Canoeing showing when each type of leash is suitable.
Importantly, make sure you’re happy with where you’re going and the kit you have and ensure you know how to use your kit. There’s no point having lots of nice kit and not knowing how it works!
Being prepared is key when it comes to rescue situations. Our SUP Fundamentals course is a great way to learn these techniques and put them into practice in a calm environment. It’s good to know which ways work best for you but to also be aware that it might always be the best method.