Leashes are pretty important. They do a few handy things. First, you’re not swimming into the beach every time you fall on a set wave. Your precious surfboard isn’t getting bashed against the rocks, either. And perhaps the best thing they do — unless you’re a strange, selfish person — is they protect other surfers from your wayward knife as it bounces through a crowded lineup. Oh, there are surely a few redeemable things about surfing without a leash, like the strange feeling of freedom one gets and learning how to surf without simply doing flyaway airs with no sense of where your board is going. But for the most part, leashes are a good thing. Since it’s always leash season, here are nine of our favorites.
The Best Surf Leashes of 2024
Best Overall Leash: FCS All Around Essential Leash
Best Longboard Leash: Creatures of Leisure Longboard Knee Leash
Best Budget Leash: Abahub Surfboard Leash
Best High-Tech Comp Leash: FCS Freedom Helix Comp Leash
Best Overall Surf Leash
Pros: Secure fit, easy to take on/off
Cons: Not rated for waves above 8′
Thickness: 7 mm
This is our pick when you just need a no-nonsense leash that will do what it’s supposed to do. It hits all the right notes on comfort, secure fit, and ease on putting on and taking off. You really can’t go wrong with this one for most waves – although it’s rated to 8′ so anything above you might need a stronger leash. But for most people and most waves, this is our go-to option.CHECK PRICE ON EVO CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Best Longboard Leash
Pros: Quick release tag, comfortable
Cons: Can be tough to find in stock
For the days when you gotta leash the log, a comfortable and unobtrusive leash is important so you don’t regret deciding to wear a leash (usually the right decision) the second you start cross-stepping to the nose. You’ll also want a leash a bit longer than the board you ride to prevent the dreaded snap-back if you do make it to the nose.
With that in mind, pay attention to the length when purchasing. If you plan on getting to the nose of your board, and the board is anything over 9′, go with the 10′ version. And if you’re having trouble finding the leash in stock, our second-best pick for a longboard leash is the Dakine Longboard Calf Leash. What gave Creature’s leash the edge over the Dakine longboard leash is Creature’s quick release tag at the cuff that allows you to get your leash off fast in a sticky situation, not a bad idea if you ask us.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Best Budget Leash
Thickness: 5.5mm – 7mm
Length: 6′ – 10′
Amazon’s Choice for “Surf Board Leashes.” All we really have to say about it is that it’s cheap – more than 50 percent cheaper than the average leash you’d find at a surf shop, actually. If that’s the type of leash you want, and not one from a trusted manufacturer, buy this one, it should do the trick.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Best Comp Leash (High-Tech)
Pros: Light and strong, quick release
Hate leashes? This one’s for you. The FCS Freedom Helix leash features a corn-based Bio-resin that results in a lighter and stronger cord. The helix shape of the cord and overmould allows for responsive shock absorption without being too elastic where it would snap back on you. It also has a quick release if you need it, to give you added peace of mind when charging the heavy waves. The whole unit is lightweight and responsive, and just what you need when you want a high-performance leash.CHECK PRICE ON Amazon CHECK PRICE ON EVO
Best Eco-Friendly Surf Leash
Pros: Made from eco-friendly materials
Cons: Not as durable as some other options
Length: 6’0 – 9’0
Sympl Supply Co has made a full commitment to sustainability, meaning you can choose any of their products with the peace of mind that you’re choosing a low-impact product. Their surf leashes are not only made of recycled plastic bottles, but they look damn good too with minimalist styling and a range of unpretentious colors.
Best of the Rest
Best Big Wave Leash
Pros: Heavy duty, quick release cord
Cons: Heavier than other leashes (you’ll only want it for big waves)
The quick-release clip, minus the Pe’ahi overkill. XM Surf More Leashes are made in San Clemente, CA and have been trusted by surfers around the world since the 1970’s when Surf More was at the forefront of developing leash technology such as the velcro cuff and urethane cord. This is the leash you reach for when you know it’s going to be big.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Best Comp Leash (Basic)
Pros: Light, comfortable, silicone grip inside cuff
Cons: Doesn’t work well in big waves
FCS’s Comp leash series are great for the surfer who doesn’t surf the biggest waves on a day-to-day basis. They’re made not so much for strength, but to be light, super comfortable, and relatively durable. Don’t use this one if you’re surfing waves over, say, 6-feet regularly. The silicone grip on the inside of the cuff is a massive win though.CHECK PRICE ON EVO CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Best Eco-Friendly (Basic)
Pros: Key stash pocket, double swivel technology
Cons: Not a reputable brand…yet
Length: 5’6 – 10’0
If you’re looking for a solid brand made for and by real surfers who care about the environment, look no further than Wave Tribe. While it’s not one of the heavy hitters in the surfing industry (yet) the folks over at Wave Tribe make gear that they use themselves, so they make it the best it can be. They have some of the best board bags on the market that last seemingly forever and protect your surfboards better than pretty much anything else on the market, and the leashes are built with the same mindset. Want more? They’ll replace your leash for free if it breaks within a year, no questions asked.
We’ve chosen their longboard leash for inclusion here because, well, it’s a dang-good longboard leash. With double swivel technology, this thing’s not getting jammed up. The whole thing is made of recycled materials, and it’s just as strong — if not stronger — than any other leash. Same goes for the velcro. It’s not coming undone. These leashes have been thoroughly tested at places like Maverick’s and Teahupo’o. And of course, they’ve got the handy little key stash pocket.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Best SUP Leash
Pros: Calf strap, coil design
Cons: Hard part coming out of cuff must be lined up correctly otherwise it’s bothersome
Dakine has been a leader in surf accessories longer than many of you groms and ex-groms have been alive. Over their decades of innovating, they have steadily come up with an arsenal of essentials designed to make your day out on the water hassle-free. So it’s no surprise that when SUPs came along, they would make leashes that check all the boxes for comfort, durability, and safety.
The coil helps soften the jarring effect on big bails with such a big board. The calf strap helps even further allowing you to place the leash where you’ve got a bit more meat on the bones. But fear not if you prefer to have it on your ankle, they also make the same leash with an ankle strap.CHECK PRICE ON BACKCOUNTRY CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
|FCS All Around Essential Leash
|Creatures of Leisure Longboard Leash
|Best Longboard Leash
|Abahub Surfboard Leash
|Best Budget Leash
|FCS Freedom Helix Leash
|Best Tech Comp Leash
|Sympl Supply Co Re-Leash
|Most Eco-Friendly (Premium)
|XM Big Wave/Power Clip Leash
|Best Big-Wave Leash
|FCS Competition Essential Leash
|Best No-Frills Comp Leash
|Wave Tribe ECO Surfboard Leash
|Most Eco-Friendly (Basic)
|Dakine Coiled SUP Calf Leash
|Best SUP Leash
Surf Leashes Buyer’s Guide
The History Behind the Surf Leash
To wear a leash or to not wear a leash? It didn’t used to be a question. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the surfboard leash was commercialized by Pat O’Neill (Jack O’Neill’s son). The original surf leashes were made from a stretchy materials that often resulted in the board snapping back at you after you fell. As a result, surfers were leery about wearing a leash as it often posed to be more of a threat. But, as technology progressed, leashes improved and became a staple in the lineup.
Parts of a Surfboard Leash
You probably don’t think of your leash being composed of multiple parts, it’s simply just your leash. But there are a few different components that go into a good surfboard leash.
The part that attaches to your board is called “the rail saver.” You’ll want to make sure this folds over itself multiple times and secures tightly with velcro to ensure your leash stays attached to your board so it can do its job. The actual stringy part of the leash is referred to as the cord. The part of the leash that wraps around your ankle is known as the cuff. Sometimes, the cuff will include a key pocket so you can easily stash your key while you shred. Finally, the section that attaches the cuff to the cord is called the swivel. The swivel provides free range of motion and helps prevent the leash from getting tangled.
How Thick of a Leash Should I Get?
While it might be hard to distinguish one surf leash from another, thickness is one factor that can make or break (pun intended) your leashed-surfing experience. Leash thickness is measured in 16ths of an inch or millimeters. Competition (or “Comp”) leashes hover around the five to six millimeter mark, and big wave leashes, such as the Dakine Peahi Leash, can get up to 11mm.
Of course you don’t want your leash to break, but dragging around a half-inch-thick piece of urethane cord is, without a doubt, overkill. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re unsure of what leash thickness to get go with a six to seven millimeter leash (about 1/4 inch) — durable, but not overkill. If wearing a leash really bums you out and you don’t mind swimming if it breaks, try out a comp leash, but don’t say I didn’t tell you so.
How Long of a Leash Should I Get?
A good rule of thumb is to use a similar length to that of the board you ride. 6′ leashes are usually good for shortboards, a 7′ leash for midlengths, a heavy-duty 7′ leash to use with a 6′-7′ foot board for bigger waves, and a 10′ calf leash for longboards. None of my longboards are 10′, but it’s nice to have a bit of extra length for getting to the nose of my surfboard.
Types of Leashes
When it comes to choosing the correct type of leash for your intended activity, leash labels are usually pretty self explanatory. Oftentimes, they will be labeled as a “comp leash,” “pro leash,” “SUP leash,” “longboard leash,” “big wave leash,” etc. Simply grab the leash that is in line with the way you plan on using it.
Competition or comp leashes are the most high performance leashes on the market, but are also the least durable. They are designed for high performance surfing on smaller waves. In an effort to reduce drag, these leashes are thin, typically 1/5 inch or 5 mm thick. If you plan on surfing anything above shoulder high, you’ll definitely want to opt for a more heavy duty leash because these things break easily. But if you’re contending for a title, chose the comp leash every time!
Pro leashes are a step up from the comp leash. They are still super thin and lightweight, allowing for maximum performance, but they are typically 6 mm thick. Due to that extra millimeter, they can hang in a little bit bigger surf than the comp leash. Pro leashes are also suited for a little higher volume boards than a comp leash.
All Around Leash
Most of us average Joes will do just fine with an all around leash. All around leashes are affordable, durable, and work on pretty much any wave size (save for big waves like Mavericks or Jaws).
As the name suggests, longboard leashes are meant for longboards. We’ll typically opt for a leash that is a foot longer than our board so it’s easy to get allll the way to the nose. Longboard leashes are usually thick, roughly, 7 mm to compensate for the weight of the board. See below to learn more about ankle versus calf leashes for longboards.
Big Wave Leash
These are the most heavy duty leashes out there, ringing in at 8 mm thick. These leashes are typically long to accommodate big wave guns and have quick releases to aid in safety in waves of consequence.
These are leashes that are specifically designed for standup paddle surfers. While straight leashes will do the trick, they often get in the way for SUP surfing. SUP leashes are usually fully or partially coiled to provide maximmum performance.
Ankle Leash Vs. Calf Leash
So you’re looking to buy a leash but your local surf shop offers both ankle and calf leashes. Which should you buy? If you’re a shortboarder, the answer is always going to be an ankle leash. But if you longboard, it ultimately comes down to personal preference. If you’re more of a high performance longboarder looking to do some big turns and cutbacks, then an ankle leash should be just fine. But if you’re all about tip time and cross stepping your way to the nose, an ankle leash can get in the way and be a trip hazard. While calf leashes still play interference from time to time, they sit a little higher and as a result, aren’t as likely to trip you when you’re cruising and grooving to the nose.
Features That Matter
Leash technology has been a bit stagnant as of late, but some of the new features cropping up could definitely be worth springing for. Some leashes are now coming with a silicone grip on the inside of the cuff to reduce slippage around the ankle — definitely a must-have on the next leash that we buy. Another cool feature that’s made it out recently is a quick-release loop on the ankle cuff of big-wave leashes. At dangerous reefs this can be a great idea — the story goes that Mark Foo, the legendary Mavericks charger, died at the famous big-wave break when his leash got tangled on the reef and he was trapped below the surface. Quick-releases are also gaining popularity among river-surfers due to the swift currents and plethora of tangle-hazards lurking just below the surface. You never know when it just might come in handy.
Editor’s Note: For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.