I’ve recently started longboarding. Not because I’m getting old (although I am), or because I think it’s hip (I’m too old to care about hip), or because I think there’s so much beauty in the subtle nuances of it (although there is). I’ve started longboarding simply because, where I live, it makes more sense. Slopey waves + shortboard = less fun. I’m no mathmagician, but less fun is not as fun as more fun. When it gets bigger and steeper, I’ll take out something shorter. I find it odd that surfers are generally broken into groups. The waves should dictate the craft. You wouldn’t take a horse-and-buggy to a Nascar race, right? When I started longboarding, I wore a leash. It’s so not cool to wear a leash on a log. Like, super not cool.
I wore a leash because I was on a borrowed board and I didn’t want to lose it and smash it to bits, or worse, smash someone to bits. Anyone who’s ever felt the terror of being directly behind a longboarder with no leash as they’re about to wear a big outside set as a big, wet hat knows: you don’t want to take ten feet of board in the teeth.
I recently read something about only “hipsters” not wearing leashes. It struck me as sort of ridiculous to call not wearing a leash a hipster thing. As far as I’m concerned (and that’s really not that far), there are a few different reasons for not wearing/wearing a leash. Let’s break them down. And of course, if I miss any, feel free to add them in the comments section at the bottom.
First and foremost, of course, there’s the longboard theory. This is the one I’m currently subscribing to. Walking is a pretty big part of riding a longboard. Ever taken a dog for a walk? You know that moment when the leash gets underneath his front leg, but he’s too excited about the walk to slow down? That’s me on a longboard when I’m wearing a leash. I get tangled up like a fly in a web, helplessly flailing around with my feet tied together. Eventually, I end up hog-tied under water while some other guy with no leash glides smoothly by, his toenails scraping my face as they hang over the front of his board.
The most important reason to wear a leash, I think, is safety. Even if you don’t suck at surfing, you fall sometimes. Don’t say you don’t, you liar. If you’re surfing at someplace like Snapper Rocks, chances are pretty good that your fiberglass missile is going move into the target acquired stage. One thing that a lot of people lack – me included… me ESPECIALLY – is common sense. If you’re surfing in a place that’s the equivalent of one of those Japanese wave pools, throw on a leg rope and save some poor soul from a horrible disfigurement. If you’re surfing in a reasonably empty place, then by all means, chase your surfboard into the rocks. Just use some common sense.
Speaking of chasing your surfboard, let’s talk about another argument, this one for not wearing a leash. Here’s the gist: chasing your surfboard after you fall makes you less likely to fall in the future, because you have time to think about what you did, and chasing your surfboard sucks. That’s the heads-side of the coin. The tails is this: Not wanting to fall because you’re going to have to swim a half-mile slows progression. A surfer is less willing to try new things if his punishment for failing is Michael Phelpsing it all the way to shore.
I also have a friend who swears that the drag from his leash affects his performance. I call bullshit on that pretty quickly, but he’s an incredibly talented surfer, and I am not. I only notice drag on a surfboard when I pick up a load of kelp, or a boat anchor.
Realistically, though, if you’re not cross-stepping or at a crowded place, the leash/no-leash conundrum isn’t all that complicated. If you like to swim, then don’t wear one. If you don’t, then wear one. But as surfing gains popularity, there are more and more people in the water. Take a look around before you get in the water. If it’s overhead, pumping, you’re on a shortboard and there’s a sea of people in the sea of water, then put on a leash. No one’s going to think you’re not cool and pour your Pabst Blue Ribbon out in the parking lot.