Unleashed Truths: An Opinion

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but I just can’t let it go: the surf leash is the single most harmful concept we’ve had to endure in 400+ years of surfing.

Flown in from outer space, it mated with our ankles and proceeded to suck the spine right out of wave riding. Scant few of us, however, are requesting our boards be shaped without a leash plug. Why?

Convenience? Safety? Designs on becoming an aerialist? Or, after 30 years, has it just become part of our reality? Every board has a leash, right? I wonder how many groms today blindly accept the leash as part and parcel of the standard surf experience. I wonder, too, how many weathered souls hunch their shoulders and quietly acknowledge the leash as a necessary evil, but one they’re willing to live with even though it is clearly digging their hole for an early grave.

Yes, most of us wear leashes. The cat is out of the bag, forever. The leash is here to stay. It’s a piece of equipment that lets you quickly and conveniently retrieve your board after a wipeout or bailout. Some will say that it’s ideal for beginners, it’s a wonderful safety device, etc. All fine and good, but the leash was originally developed by and for experienced surfers who were weary of swimming after their boards. Swimming. It’s what human beings, stripped to nothing, must do when they encounter water. Most of us wear leashes and most of us have unwittingly given ourselves to this little device and have no intention of owning up to its massive implications. The leash is a modern day fact and a de rigueur piece of surfing equipment. Three decades of convenience has worn down our spirit and forever compromised our flesh. We’re not watermen. We’re absent minded tourists of the sea. We don’t want to think about the leash issue any longer. We strap on and go.

In a nutshell, the leash changed everything…more than board design, more than materials, more than Blue Crush. Chances are, many of you wouldn’t be visiting this website if it weren’t for the leash, because you wouldn’t be surfing. If you did surf, your boards would look tremendously different, for the leash actually drove design direction and choice. If you have less than a 10% chance of landing an aerial, and a 100% chance of losing your stick and going for a long swim, you’re way more likely to shun that sort of activity in favor of different maneuvers — maneuvers that increase your chances of hanging onto your board. Your board design decisions will eventually reflect those choices, all brought about by the leash. One thing is for certain: Many of you wouldn’t be spending the day swimming after your board. Many of you would take up inland wake surfing or kite surfing, or worse, golf.

Before Pat O’Neill, before Larry Block, before surgical tubing and bungee cords and Velcro and urethane, there was…swimming. Surfing was swimming. Somewhere along the way we forgot that surfing is about being in the water. The leash came along and said, “You don’t have to swim anymore. Surfing isn’t about swimming…it’s about catching as many waves as possible. It’s not about being in the water. It’s about being on top of the water, dominating your square patch of sea estate.”

Well my friends, surfing is more about swimming than surfing. The dividing line is still there and in fact beautifully present and accounted for in that one critical moment when you bail on a wave of consequence, either paddling out or riding like a king, and you get taken down, hard. You feel that oh-so-familiar steady and strong pull at your ankle. It grows to monstrous proportions, to the point of where you feel your hip displacing…and then…click!…like a fish with the hook in her mouth, she breaks your line and you know immediately and completely what has just transpired. Your $28.95 security blanket has just snapped and your sorry ass is left squirming in the briny blue…staring at a six wave double overhead set, sans board, sans floatation device.