How to Choose the Right SUP and Surf Leash | Perfect Paddles

In Instructional, Learning, SUP Gear Recommendations by Daniel

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If you're confused by SUP and search leashes, learn everything you need to know below!

SUP and surf leashes

Do you know how to pick out the right leash for the right environment or activity? If not, in this article we discuss everything you need to know about SUP and surf leashes!


When it comes to SUP, there are a few accessories you must have. These include a good paddle, a working PFD that is either a vest-pack or inflatable, and a high-quality leash. 

With these three accessories you are ready to hit the water. 

But for some paddlers, maybe like yourself, knowing what type of accessories to buy can be confusing. 

While we’ve covered topics like board purchases and paddles in other posts, today we’re going to talk about leashes. 

A standard SUP or surf leash comes in two forms — they’re either straight or coil. With two options it seems like the choice would be simple. 

This isn’t always the case. That is, if you don’t have the knowledge necessary to choose the correct leash for a given activity or environment. 

To understand what you need and when, today we’re going to cover a brief introduction to SUP and surf leashes.

Starting first with coil leashes…

SUP leashes


This type of leash is perfect for flat water paddling, river paddling, and racing.

The coil keeps the leash out of the water and prevents it from dragging behind your board. While it might seem insignificant, the drag caused by a leash can actually slow your movement through the water. 

This is important when you're trying to paddle distance, through a river, or go for the win during a race.

When the coil keeps the leash from dragging behind you, it reduces resistance and will also prevent you from snagging your leash on any debris such as rocks, trees, sticks, etc. 

This is important when it comes to river paddling. If you have a straight leash while on the river, you are almost guaranteed to snag it on a rock or a stick. When this happens your board stops short and you fall forward. Always use a coil leash while on the river. 

In addition, a coil leash can act like a spring. Instead of a long straight leash that lets the board drift with the waves or the current, a coil leash will make your board rebound back towards you.  

This action can be helpful in a river setting if you are caught in a current. Or if you’re in a race and need to remount as fast as possible in order to maintain your position. 

One thing to keep in mind — be sure to keep your eyes open as you resurface in case your board recoils faster than expected. You do not want to be hit in the face! 

Purchase a coil leash if you:

  • Paddle flat water
  • Paddle rivers
  • SUP race

SUP leashes


Use a straight leash when surfing.

What is considered a pro for the coil leash — spring back, not dragging in the water, etc — is actually a negative when in the surf.

And a dangerous one at that too.

When surfing, it is important to always know where your board is when you fall. SUP surf boards are big and heavy and can cause serious injury if they were to hit you in the surf.

If you use a coil leash in the surf, the board stays closer to you and can rebound back into your body.

In addition, coil leashes tend to tangle very quickly in the surf. When your board is pushed and pulled by the whitewater, your coil leash can become a tangled mess which makes for an extra chore (and an unnecessary one) when you head back to your vehicle.

In fact, the tangle can become so difficult to fix, you might be better off tossing your coil leash away and grabbing a straight one before your next time in the waves. 

Purchase a straight leash if you:

  • Surf

SUP and surf leashes


A little curveball here...

There are leashes out there that have a small section of coil to keep it out of the water without the rebound action of a full coil leash.

For example, a 10’ hybrid leash has 5’ of straight cord and the rest of the original cord length is coiled. This will prevent the leash from dragging in the water without having a tangled mess or rebound potential from a fully-coiled leash. 

A hybrid leash can be a great alternative if you don't want to purchase two different leashes for each activity.

Purchase a hybrid leash if you:

  • Plan on participating in SUP surfing
  • Flat water paddle and only want to purchase one leash

Quick Release or Break Away Leashes 

This type of leash can be straight or coiled...

But its primary feature comes in the form of an attachment that allows the user to quickly detach the leash in certain situations — especially in emergencies.

Paddling in a river involves hazards that require you to be aware of your leash at all times. Leashes, of course, are important for your safety by keeping you tethered to your board. But they can increase the possibility of drowning if you are held underwater by a leash that is tangled on rocks or other vegetation in a fast current. 

Due to this increased danger, leashes used in river environments should have a release mechanism that is within your reach. The important part here is — within your reach

In these types of situations when you can become entrapped by your leash, it can sometimes be impossible to reach your ankle. To avoid this, the leash must be attached above your waist — either to your life jacket, belt, or other secure spot where you can instantly reach without having to contort your body. 

Remember, convenience is a huge factor in these situations. Always attach your leash within arms reach. 

If this situation was to occur, your best bet is to detach yourself from your board, inflate your PFD, and get to safety.

Purchase a quick-release leash if you:

  • Plan on paddling white water, rivers, and in other extreme conditions

SUP leashes

Ankle, Calf, or Waist

In addition to straight, coil, and hybrid, leashes also can be attached to different parts of your body. Where you attach your paddle will depend on what type of environment you will be paddling in.

Ankle leashes are the most common attachment point. The reason it is the most common is because it is comfortable for all types of paddling activities. When the leash is on your ankle and you are surfing, the board is pulled at a comfortable point of your body where you won't experience any pain as opposed to a calf leash. Use an ankle leash for 99% of your paddling.

So then, why would you want to use a calf leash?

Calf leashes are great for paddlers who enjoy walking on their boards in manageable waves. When your leash is attached to your calf, it doesn't get in the water of nose riding, or get tangled in your toes when returning back to a paddling position.

Waist leashes are used by those who paddle intense whitewater environments. Whitewater paddlers will use a combination of a quick-release (see above) and waist leash attachment so they have the ability to release their leashes in case of an emergency.

In these settings, leashes can be caught on river debris. As a result, a paddler can be pulled underneath the water and placed into a dangerous situation. In order to release the leash and return to the surface, the attachment has to be attached at a spot that is always within arms reach — such as your waist. If you don't plan on paddling whitewater, you won't have to worry about waist attachments for your leash.

Leash Length

Leashes also come in different lengths.

The standard size is around 10' for SUP and some longboard surfboards. Shorter, lighter boards will match the size of the board and be shorter in length.

If you're new to SUP and especially SUP surfing, it might be a good idea to try a leash that is longer than 10' to start with. This is due to the recoil action of your board in waves. The shorter a leash is, the more it will be pulled tight. And the faster it will return to you after a wave passes by. A longer leash will keep your board farther away from you in the whitewater and won't recoil as fast. This will keep you safer at all times. After all, you do not want to be hit in the head by your heavy SUP board. Especially in the ocean.

It can be difficult to find leashes above 10' in length. If this is the case, start with 10' in small waves to test how the board will recoil before you take it into any large surf.

Leash Quality

As in all things SUP, quality is king. And just like boards and paddles, not every SUP and surf leash is of the same quality. Always opt for a leash from a reputed brand that has the backing of positive reviews. This way you know when you are receiving a quality product that will get the job done.

This is especially the case when you need a reliable leash that WILL NOT break. Examples of these situations are when you are SUP surfing, whitewater river paddling, and heading out on a downwind run.

On calm, flat water days, it's less imperative that your leash doesn't break as you can remain safe in a setting such as this without one. But still, it isn't ideal.

When paddling in extreme conditions, make sure your leash is of high-quality. Test it's strength before you head out. And inspect it for any sun damage or general wear and tear.

SUP and surf leashes

Goofy Footed or Regular Foot

Our last tip on leashes has to do with your preferred stance on the board...

Especially when surfing.

In a surfing position where one foot is in front of the other, you either feel comfortable with your right foot forward or your left.

If you prefer your right foot, then you are what is called "goofy foot." 

If you like your left foot forward, you're "regular foot."

Whichever you are, always put your leash on the ankle that is towards the back of the board.

This will allow you to easily maneuver on the board without tripping over your leash when switching from forward facing to surf stance. 

Ready to Make Your First Leash Purchase?

Isn’t it amazing how something that is often an afterthought can have such a huge impact on your safety and fun while on the water?

Due to these reasons, you should be as calculated with your leash purchase as you are with your board or paddle. 

We hope this short introduction cleared up a few things regarding the types and uses of a SUP and surf leashes. 

If you’re still a true beginner in the sport of SUP, then be sure to check out our Beginner’s Guide where we cover topics like this in much greater detail. 

And while you’re here, you can also head to our Knowledge/Resources section where you will find everything you need to know about SUP from true Paddling Professionals. 

About the Author


Daniel is a travelling author with a passion for exploring new waterways and sharing his experiences with the world.

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