Leashology: Why SUP Paddlers Should Wear a Leash

Leash, Rob Rojas, Adler Paddler, Chris Aguilar

This is the first article in a two-part series discussing SUP etiquette.

Featured Photo: California paddler Rob Rojas rounding the final buoy at the 2016 Adler Paddler in Long Beach, California.

What is a Leash and Why Should You Wear One

You are doing a sport which involves standing on a liquid. This means you will fall, a lot. Most people do and I was no exception. However, with a couple of pieces of equipment, a leash and a PFD, falling won’t be a problem. Falling is fine and normal. Falling means you’re pushing the boundaries of your skill, which is how you learn new things. Falling and recovery are also an important skill.  So, don’t be alarmed or upset or disappointed if you find yourself in the drink. Repeatedly. 

A leash is, simply, a cord that attaches you to your board. Originally designed for surfboards, wearing a one means you will remain tethered to your board. This is very convenient, but also can be life-saving. A PFD is an excellent piece of equipment; it will hold your head out of the water. However, your paddleboard is also an excellent piece of life-saving equipment, and it will keep your entire body out of the water. Strangely, the US Coast Guard does not require a leash as mandatory safety equipment. They do require a bizarre and potentially dangerous arrangement if followed to the letter. According to their regulations, “Just as with other boats, children (12 years old and under in California) must wear a life jacket. Adults must have one onboard. PFDs must be Coast Guard approved and either Type I, II or III.” This means that an adult must have a PFD attached to his/her paddleboard but does not need to be wearing it. Nor does he/she need to be attached to his board. For standup paddlers, this is a terrible setup. Once you fall, nothing prevents currents, wind or waves from carrying your board away. If there’s a breeze, the attached PFD will even act like a sail, helping the wind push your paddleboard in the worst direction possible, away from you.

Let’s be honest. Most of us don’t live in a tropical paradise. We live where there’s a season called “winter”. In many parts of the world, especially the West Coast, even if the air is warm, the ocean never really is. When paddling in these locations you want to get out of the water quickly, and a leash is vital. I’ll share an incident which proves my point. I live in New York State, and a few years ago I paddled on a lovely late-fall day. The air was in the 60s but the water had dropped to the 40s. No matter. I was a reasonably experienced paddler and had a trusty 5mm wetsuit plus a PFD. For those of you not experienced with wetsuit sizes, this is pretty thick, like a layer of blubber. I had only one small problem: I had forgotten my leash. But hey, no problem! I’m careful. What could go wrong? Well, it started innocently. I started roasting in that thick suit, so I opened my wetsuit at the neck. This allowed delicious, cool air to flow down my torso. Much better. Then I fell. My fall fired the board forwards like a torpedo. As I came to the surface, 45º F water began gushing into my wetsuit. Not good. A forty-foot swim is normally no big deal, especially with a PFD, but when you have shockingly cold water pouring down your chest, that distance get much, much longer. When I finally hauled myself on my board, I felt like the front of my body had been slapped, really hard. It took almost an hour to recover from that dunking.

So wear a leash, okay? It really makes a difference.

This is the first article in a two-part series discussing SUP etiquette. The second installment will be published on March 17, 2016.

Related Content:

Tragedy Trumps Triumph at the Gorge Paddle Challenge: A Case For SUP Safety

How to Choose a SUP Leash

Ian Berger
About Ian Berger 64 Articles
Ian Berger grew up in love with the ocean, so discovering stand up paddling was a bit of revelation. Once he bought his first paddleboard, he realized this was the sport for him. Ian Berger lives in Peekskill, NY with his wife Kirsten and three children. He teaches middle school English and drama, and also has a passion for writing, which he shares with his students. Every morning Ian wakes up to write — sometimes science fiction or comic Young Adult novels, sometimes plays, but very often about stand up paddling. The Hudson River is his home turf, and you can usually find him there when the weather is good.

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