Do pro surfers use leashes? (& why it’s so important)

Back in the days when surfing was at its origin, and there was nothing other than the thrill of the ride, it was just the surfer their board and the ocean.

As the sport popularized over the 1900s, competition for waves, a growing number of people in the ocean, and attempts to push boundaries of what can be done with a surfboard and a wave created a need to keep your surfboard close and attached to your body.

So, Do pro surfers use leashes?

All pro surfers are made to make use of a surf leash while competing, however, there is no regulation or law that enforces this during recreational surfing and training.

That being said, certain beaches around the world may require surfers to use a leash for safety reasons.

Below we are going to take a deeper look into how pro surfers make use of surfboard leashes, the pros and cons of using a leash, as well as how to use a leash, where to get them, and when to use one.

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Do pro surfers use leashes?

When Were Surf Leashes Invented?

Before the 1970s there was no recorded use of a surf leash. This would mean that had a surfer bail from a wave; it would be a long grueling paddle back to the beach to pick up their board.

This, however, all changed in 1971 when Pat O’Neill (the son of the wetsuit inventor Jack O’Neill) arrived at a surf contest in Malibu with a line of surgical cord attached to his leg and the board with a suction cup.

Although Pat was disqualified from the competition for making use of the leg rope and was looked down on by other surfers for using a “kook rope,” the trend quickly took hold on the community, and now a surf leash can be found on almost all surfboards.

Are Leashes Required for Surfing?

A surf leash, as mentioned above, is not required to be used by law, the ISA (Intentional Surf Association), or other authoritative governments; however, there are a few exceptions to this standard.

Are Surfboard Leashes Required for Recreational Surfing?

Wearing a leash is not required for recreational surfing. However, that does not mean that you are not expected to use one.

Not making use of a leash is dangerous, especially when there are a lot of surfers and swimmers in the water.

Not using a leash around other surfers is disrespectful as you put others’ lives and health in jeopardy.

Furthermore, as mentioned above, some beaches may require surfers to use a leash as a safety precaution, and surfers may be asked to leave the ocean if they do not adhere to the local rules.

One case, where recreational surfers were targeted for not using a leash as in Australia, where a small law firm decided to take on injuries obtained from leashless surfers.

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Although this act from Somerville Laundry Lomax was likely a marketing technique, it does demonstrate the need for a leash when surfing in popular areas.

Apart from legal and safety issues, there is no “requirement” for a leash; however, not using one will result in you needing to constantly swim back to shore to fetch your surfboard unless you remain acutely aware of it at all times.

Are Surfboard Leashes Required for Competition?

Ironically, moving from 1971 when Pat O’Neil made use of the first leg rope and was disqualified from the competition, the ISA, in the present day, now require all surfers taking part in competitions, qualifying rounds, and other ISA related events to make use of a leash or leg rope at all times.

Stated in the ISA Competition Rule Book is the following: 

As a risk management precaution, and subject to the ISA Technical Director’s approval, the ISA has a mandatory leash/legrope policy at events, due to the potential risk to other participants.

All contestants are to use a leash/legrope while competing or practicing within

the confines of the contest site and/or any area under the jurisdiction of the contest.”

It is clear from the above statement, as well as the following section, which reads:

Free surfing with or without a leash is at the rider’s discretion however, the ISA

recommends the use of a leash if there is a possible danger to third parties.

, that the primary concern of the ISA is for the safety of other pro surfers in the water; however, they do not share the same distraction outside of competition areas.

The Importance of Using a Leash in Surfing 

There are only two reasons a surfer puts on a leash before entering the ocean: 

1. To keep their surfboards close to them.

2. To help ensure the safety of themselves and others in the water.

Using a Leash to Keep Your Board Close

For most beginner surfers, the only reason they will consider using a leash is not to lose their surfboards, which is for a good reason.

As a beginner or intermediate surfer, you will not have complete control over your surfboard (not to mention it will likely be the size of a small boat), and this can become a nightmare while you are learning how to stand up on your board.

Imagine paddling out, struggling to make it past the break on your larger board, popping up on a wave, only to bail and watch your log float all the way back to shore.

Remember, the more time spent surfing, the quicker you will improve.

Wasting your energy on swimming after your board may make you a good swimmer, but it is not the fastest way to perfect your surfing.

Using a Leash for Safety

Surfboards are sharp, hard, and can cause a lot of damage when propelled at high speeds into your head or other body parts.

For this reason, it is not only important to keep in mind general surf etiquette but to make use of a leash to protect others.

When surfing, you are responsible for your surfboard and where it ends up. Not taking on this responsibility is seen as disrespectful and will likely get you kicked out of the water.

Furthermore, keeping your surfboard attached to you is never a bad idea, especially if you are new to the ocean and are not yet fully confident.

Remember, your surfboard floats a lot better than you, and in times of worry, it can be the life support you need.

Other Advantages of Wearing a Leash While Surfing

  • More surf time and less swimming.
  • Safer when duck diving.
  • Maintain mutual respect with other surfers in the water.
  • Can be a confidence boost to know you are attached to a life vest.
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Are There Disadvantages to Using a Surf Leash?

Although, on the most part, it is always best to make use of a leash or leg rope while surfing, there are a few downsides that you may notice arise.

These downsides may be as minute as a small amount of added drag to a hazardous tangle in your leash in the middle of the impact zone.

Using a Leash Can Obstruct Your Footwork

As a new surfer, you will likely be popping up onto your board and keeping your feet as glued to the board as possible, but as your surfing improves, you may begin to move your feet around your board.

Particularly with longboards, it is common for surfers to walk up and down their board from the tail to the nose.

This is a fun, laid-back style of surfing, as opposed to the fast-cut back and aerial type of surfing so popular in competitions.

When wearing a leash, you may find it difficult to walk along with your board without tripping over your leash, but don’t worry, just as standing up on your board took time to get used to, so will this, and in no time it will be as though your leash is not there at all.

Leash Tangles

Leash tangles, similar to the one mentioned above, are not common but can occur when you bail from a wave and are being tumbled under the surface of the ocean.

Getting caught up in your leash does not need to be a problem, and in most cases, if you simply relax and untangle yourself, you will be fine.

That being said, if you find yourself with your leash wrapped around your neck in the middle of a 10-foot impact zone, the safety risks are significantly higher.

Leashes Create Added Drag

The bigger the surface area of an object, the more friction it will create when moving along a surface.

This can be seen with surfboard sizes; for example, a short narrow board will be faster than a wide longboard.

This concept remains true when it comes to pulling a leash behind you while you surf.

As most of your leash will be dragging in the water, it will, in theory, slow you down.

That being said, the amount of drag that is created by a leash is so minuscule that most surfers will not notice a difference.

The only time this added friction may have a large impact is during competition, where even a small edge can make a big difference.

Because of this, pro surfers use thinner leashes that limit the drag.

A Leash Can Make You Careless

Just because you are wearing a seat belt does not mean that you should drive recklessly or not be aware of what is happening on the road around you.

This is also true when wearing a surf leash.

Yes, your surfboard is attached to you, but this does not mean that it is okay to throw your surfboard away when facing a large set or dive from a wave and let your board fly where it will.

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It is easy to become slightly careless when using a leash, and for this reason, many surfers choose to surf without a leash at times.

Do All Surfers Use Leashes?

To say that all surfers use a leash would be an inaccurate statement to make, but saying that almost all surfers use a leash is true beyond doubt.

As leashes are convenient, safe, and a standard regulation for competitions, there is almost no reason for most surfers to leave their leash at home.

Yes, there are those surfers such as Leah Dawson who enjoys surfing her longboard without a leash so as to not disturb her fancy footwork, but even Leah agrees that using a leash on most occasions is best.

Types of Surf Leashes

From a time in the 1970s when a leg rope was the only hint of a leash, the surf leash industry has grown and developed into five main leash categories:

  • Regular
  • Pro Leash
  • Competition Leash
  • Big Wave Leash
  • Longboard leash


Coming standard at 7mm thick, a regular styled surf leash is the most common leash on the market and the style most surfers use.

These leashes are thick, durable, and will last through the more chunky waves.

Most standard leashes, such as the Creatures of Leisure Icon, come standard in a 6-foot length; however, thicker, longer leashes such as the FCS All Round Essential are 10 feet.

Pro Leash

Slightly thinner than a standard leash, pro leashes are 6mm thick and are made to limit drag and tangle for the more talented surfers.

As a novice surfer will likely not notice the difference, pro leashes are generally used by pro surfers who are looking for something slightly more durable than their competition leash.

One example of a top-quality pro leash is the Creatures of Leisure Reliance Pro, which offers both durability and limited drag.

Competition Leash 

When a split second can make all the difference in a competition, the less drag you experience can be the line between coming first and just missing the championship.

Because of this, pro surfers use the thinnest leash possible while surfing in competitions.

These leashes, such as the FK Ultimate Pro Comp leash, are only 5mm thick and are optimized for speed. These leashes are hollow to make them lighter and are only suited for fast, small waves.

Big Wave Leash

With the added power of a larger swell, it is important to have a leash that is longer and more durable.

When big wave surfing, there is more than enough power to propel you forward without the need for a thinner leash.

With a thickness of 8mm, big wave leashes are the thickest and most durable option.

These leashes range from 7 feet to 12 feet are ideal for huge overhead waves.

Longboard Leash

Longboard leashes come in two main styles: Calf leashes or ankle leashes.

Calf leashes are popular with longboarders; they keep the leash away from your feet when moving up and down the board.

Longboard leashes are thicker and longer than regular leashes.

This is important as a short leash will bring the large board too close to you and become dangerous.

The thicker leash is also important as it can withstand the added volume and weight of the large board.


The invention of the surfboard leash was a game-changer in the surfing world, both for convenience as well as for safety. So much so that it has become a mandatory piece of equipment for all pro surfers during competitions.

Although not all pro surfers use a leash at all times, it is more common to find the pros training with a leash as the advantages are too significant to ignore.

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