Editor’s Note: This is a response to the epic dilemma, Leash or Leashless: Super Cool and Stylish or Just Plain Dumb? posted last week.
First off, let it be known that I’m not saying surfing leashless isn’t dumb, because for plenty of reasons, it is. It just isn’t not-wearing-a-mask-in-the-middle-of-a-pandemic dumb, as some might suggest. Here’s the dirty little secret about wearing a leash – in many ways, it can be less safe than not wearing a leash, even and especially in the crowded lineup that supposedly is anathema to the leashless. Confused? Read on.
My main complaint with leashes is that they teach you that it’s ok to mostly lose control of your board. By mostly lose control of your board, I mean have it on the end of a rope tied to your ankle flailing around like a medieval mace-and-chain. Sure, it’s still attached to you, but you really don’t have a ton of control over it. Ever heard of the “circle of life/blood circle/safety circle” in knife handling? It’s got a lot of different names, but basically, it’s a circle (duh) the radius of which is the length of your extended arm plus the deadly implement – knife, chainsaw, etc. – in your hand. Inside that circle is the potential for injury, outside of it, is safety. If you’re wearing a leash in the water, chances are you let the leash do the work of controlling your board for you when you fall, which extends that radius out to the length of your leash plus the length of your board. It’s one thing when that radius is a six-foot shortboard plus a six-foot leash (that makes 12, by the way), it’s quite another when that radius is nine-and-a-half feet of surfboard plus 10 feet of leash. That’s almost a 20-foot radius of potential injury around you.
When I’m surfing without a leash, yes, there is the risk that I completely lose control of my surfboard, but for the most part, I don’t lose my board, and that safety circle doesn’t extend much further than the length of the board away from me. With a firm grasp on the board itself, I’ve got a lot more control than any leash-wearer has (unless they make the effort to control their board by hand as well, which they usually don’t). Furthermore, I don’t surf powerful waves without a leash. Should I lose my board, it’s not going to rocket down the line into the unsuspecting teeth of a 12-year-old on a Wavestorm, rather, it’s going to gently glide into the shallows where the only thing at risk is the board’s watertightness and structural integrity, not to mention my ego as I shamefully swim in.
Done properly, the main drawback I can see to surfing leashless actually comes from the wise Albee Layer. He says surfing leashless holds you back because, to surf leashless, you have to know you’re going to make it. “Wouldn’t you want to try something that’s hard?” Albee asks. And I totally get that, I do surf more conservatively when I’m not wearing a leash, but that’s just part of the different challenges presented by longboarding, and more specifically noseriding. Instead of trying to do radical carves and slashes where I do stand a chance of falling and losing control of my board, it becomes about the noseride, the perfect poise required to dance to the front, get five (maybe even ten!) little piggies over the edge, and make it back. If I want to do those radical turns on a longboard and push myself the way that Albee suggests, I’ll wait for bigger waves (and take my leash with me).
In summary, surfing leashless teaches you a level of board control that is far beyond the control exerted by any leash-wearing surfer. That being said, if you don’t know how to surf without a leash, and this brief essay has given you the idea that surfing leashless is “cool” or perhaps even stylish, don’t just ditch your own leash, but do as style goddess Leah Dawson suggests: keep that leash on and try to go an entire session without letting the leash go taught. When you can do that, not just once but regularly, you might be ready to go leashless. And even if you are a pro longboarder, you should recognize that there will be times when the leash will come in handy – not just for you, but for those around you as well.