Surfers are judgmental people. We don’t exactly love to admit it but hear me out. Every time someone enters the lineup, they are scrutinized inside and out by the folks already bobbing in the water, waiting for their next wave and in no rush to welcome a new member to the lineup hierarchy. Most of our examination is based on what type of board a person rides, their wetsuit or boardshort styles, and of course, how they carry themselves. They are judged on their eye contact with others or lack thereof. They are judged by how coordinated or uncoordinated they are while paddling. And finally, and most tellingly, they are judged by the way they actually ride a wave.
All of these judgements are often made subconsciously in the mind of every surfer. We are constantly evaluating the skill level of strangers, comparing it to our own, and drawing conclusions.
However, there is one simple thing that is easily missed when judging the ability of a fellow wave rider. The truth is, you can tell how a person surfs long before you even see them hit the water by simply looking at their legrope (or leash).
Leashes are pretty simple devices, invented when Jack O’Neill’s son Pat decided he was sick of swimming after his craft. He tied a rope from his foot to the board and then laughed at all his mates as they floundered around, boards making their way onto the sand. He simply tugged on his rope, boarded his vessel, and paddled back out for another one. It wasn’t exactly an easy transition, though—leashes were heavily scorned when they were first invented.
The leash became a phenomenon and soon surf companies were raking in the cash selling them by the truckload. Today, we enjoy a plethora of colorful urethane ropes at our disposal, made in every size imaginable. Different types of leashes cater to different types of surfers and it is by observing the leash choice of a complete stranger that one can come to a fairly reasonable conclusion about the level of surfer that person is.
Take the six-foot comp leash, for example. This is a thin leash, built for waves in the two to four-foot range. The idea of it is to reduce weight and drag, allowing for the most radical surfing possible. Comp leashes are used by 14-year-old grommies who wear bright wetsuits and race down the line trying to get air off every end section. They also claim head dips as cover up barrels.
Next up we have a standard six-foot leash. This is the standard sort of legrope used for any board under about 6’6. It’s made to endure waves up to double overhead or so. Ironically, almost nobody uses these.
Standard seven-foot leashes, on the other hand, seem to sell by the bucketload. Every 40-year-old man who hates swimming will storm into his local shop and buy several at a time, using them for just three sessions each before disposal to lessen the risk of one breaking. They are intended for use in waves up to eight foot Hawaiian but mostly used in knee high slop.
Standard eight-foot leashes are usually connected at one end to the foot of a surfer and at the other to a shiny new mini mal. These are often found at mellow point breaks or beach breaks during sunset and golden hour on only the sunniest of days. Common accessories include flowers in the hair and wave tattoos for optimal Instagram photo opportunities.
Then there is the standard nine-foot leash. These generally belong to the grizzled old bloke sitting so far out the back he’s a dot on the horizon. Upon closer inspection, you may notice a bucket hat on his head, a 9’6 mal keeping him afloat, and a tendency to drop in on pretty much everyone.
What about no leash guy? This leash does not exist. Its purpose is to provide complete connection with the flow and rhythm of the wave, removing all limitations or distractions.
The wearer of the leash that does not exist will typically be a male with long hair. Usually found on alternative fish-like craft, the single fin log, or something asymmetrical, but always with hallucination-inspired artwork on the underside. These individuals claim that wearing a leg rope restricts their bond with the ocean and visits to other dimensions.
Thanks to this exhaustive list, next time some dude you don’t recognize paddles out at your local, a simple quick glance at the ankle will tell you all you need to know.