When you go standup paddleboarding the US Coast Guard requires that you have a PFD (personal floatation device), whistle, and light on board. There are no requirements about having a leash, though most people in the paddling community would agree that in most cases a leash is the most important piece of paddleboard safety gear you can have.
Conditions on the water can change very quickly…winds, tides, currents, and boat traffic are all elements that we potentially have to deal with. If you fall off of your board, it can get away from you very quickly. And you can tire very quickly if you have to swim to chase it…especially if you are not a really strong swimmer. However, if you have a sup leash, your board will stay within a controlled radius of you. You will be able to conserve more energy, and you will be able to get back on it more quickly, and since your board is a floatation device you are going to be better off all around.
Leashes also protect those around you from renegade boards, especially if you are in the surf zone where there can be a lot of people in a small area and the speed of the wave can make your board a very dangerous projectile. And they protect your board from getting away and smashing into rocks, trees, docks, or other obstacles that can cause severe damage.
They attach to your board by running a leash loop (made of a paracord type material that is included with the leash) through the leash plug located on the tail of your board. Some boards have two leash plugs and if you put leash loops in each plug and run your leash through both you have extra insurance that if something breaks, you will still be attached to your board. They usually Velcro closed in three sections around the leash loop for extra security.
The one caveat about leashes is that if you are paddling in rivers, you should get a special kind of leash with a quick release around your waist. In rivers you can easily get hung up on rocks and branches and a normal leash with an ankle or calf release can drag you under before you have a chance to free yourself.
There are three basic types of leashes (aside from river specific ones). There are straight, hybrid, and coil. Each of those comes in a variety of lengths and ankle or knee are the two primary attachment points. The length of the leash should match the length of your board pretty closely. The cuff is a comfy, padded neoprene that wraps around your ankle or just below your knee and attaches to itself with Velcro, whether you choose ankle or knee is personal preference. Many people find ankle more comfortable, but it can be a lot of stress on your ankle if you are in the surf and your board gets tossed around in the whitewater. Some people feel that just under the knee helps keep the leash up off of your board while paddling. I think it’s mostly whatever you get used to.
1-Straight leash…this is what you want if you are surfing. They get tangled less than coiled and when they are in the water behind your board, they don’t tend to be underfoot as you move around the board. The drawback of a straight leash is that when paddling in flatwater it will slide off of your board and drag in the water, slowing you down and potentially collecting weeds and debris if those are issues where you paddle.
2-Hybrid leashes have a straight section and a coiled section. The idea is that you can use one leash for flatwater, open water, and light surfing. These tend to resist tangling better than full coil leashes, and they stay on the board a little better than straight leashes.
3-Coil leashes…these should be your go to for flatwater paddling. The coil stays put on your board much better and because you don’t spend a lot of time getting tossed around, it shouldn’t get tangled. This is also the style of leash we prefer when paddling in open water, basically anything but surfing (or rivers).
There’s not much involved in leash maintenance, but you do need to inspect your leash regularly for any cracks or other damage that could cause it to fail. We find people are resistant to purchase leashes, but when you are spending so much on your board and paddle, another $30-$40 is a small invenstment in the safety of both you and your paddleboard.