by: Marina Andriola
Why you need a sup leash, and what to do if you find that you’re not in Kansas anymore.
Perhaps one of the most important pieces of equipment is the leash, the thing that connects you to your board.
For any paddler, this little item can literally mean the difference between life or death, especially if you become exhausted while out in suddenly windy or stormy conditions.
If you are tired, lost and/or far from shore, the leash will keep your lifesaving board tethered to you. Even in a light breeze, your board, if not attached to your body by a leash, will travel out of your grasp in mere seconds.
Sup Leash Coiled or Straight? And How Long?
A leash should be about a foot longer than your board. Some paddlers prefer flat leashes that attach at the ankle, especially for surf. Some flat water paddlers prefer coiled leashes that attach to the wearer just below the knee.
The coiled leash has the advantage of not dragging in the water behind you while paddling. But for ocean or river paddlers, the coiled leash can become too easily tangled in the turbulence of white water.
All leashes are attached to the paddler with a Velcro cuff. Some paddlers prefer to leave the leash attached to their board at all times. The advantage to doing this is having a leash in place that’s always ready to go. The disadvantage is that if the leash is not securely wrapped around the board, it can end up flying behind your car like a kite tail as you roll down the freeway.
ALWAYS Wear a Leash, it Will Save Your Life
If you fall in and there is wind, current or even a breeze on a lake, river or in the ocean, your board will catch the wind and literally sail away from you. Chasing your board, especially with a paddle in your hand, is a recipe for exhaustion.
Best bet in the event of leash failure (or if you see a paddler struggling to swim while holding a paddle) is to tell them to ditch the paddle and swim to the closest board (yours or their own) or (swim/float) to safety. Paddles are designed to float and can be retrieved once a paddler is safely back on their board.
River Sup Paddlers Beware
River paddlers MUST wear a breakaway leash to be able to release themselves quickly if tangled in underwater branches. We lost one of our own last year when current and branches pulled an experienced river paddler off her board by her leash and into the water. Tangled and submerged, the current continued to pull her board forward and she was trapped. So tragic that she could have been saved by a breakaway leash. Paddling in a river (or anywhere there is a current) is not recommended for new paddlers.
Don’t Get Dragged or Knock Out Your Fellow Surfer
Do NOT enter the ocean with a standup board without a good instructor by your side. If you are not an experienced surfer, do not go into the area where waves are breaking. A board can get caught by a wave and the leash will drag you behind it. A board can hurt other people if your leash fails and the board gets away from you.
Every surf break has its own unwritten rules and a code of ethics that need to be understood if you want to ride waves on your standup board. Learn the rules. You can even find them online. Here’s a great article: Sup Wave Rules
Check The Conditions and Plan
Understand weather conditions, know what is expected and plan accordingly. If you notice a breeze at the beginning of your paddle, change your direction to paddle against the breeze, so that when you tire out, the trip back to your starting point is not a struggle.
If wind kicks up while you are out, make note of where the wind is coming from and get back to your starting point, even if you have to paddle against the wind while on your knees or prone. Keep your leash on, even if you loose your paddle. Your board is ALWAYS your most important asset.
Never Unleash Yourself to Swim in Without Your Board
In the event of exhaustion and/or increasing wind, lay down (surfer style) on your board, facing the nose. Place the blade of your paddle under your chest with the front face of the paddle facing your body. The long handle of the paddle will now extend out beyond and above the nose of your board, like a bow on a boat. Line it up with the nose of your board so it is pointing straight ahead.
The weight of your body will hold the paddle in place. In this position, you will be able to paddle with your hands (as if on a surfboard). You will make a lot of progress moving toward shore by decreasing the wind resistance that was created by your upright body.
Being closer to the surface of your board will also greatly reduce the tipping and rocking of your board on suddenly rolling waters. Never leave your board. If you fall off, get back on it. Never unleash yourself to swim in without your board. On your knees or flat on your board are the best positions for an exhausted paddler to get into, in order to get out of trouble.
1 Key Life Saving Tip While Out For a Paddle
When paddling in an area that is remote or unfamiliar, leave a clearly visible note on the dash of your car stating what time you left, the color of your boards, your first names and how long you planned to be out. If your car is checked because it is parked after hours and/or you are reported missing, this note will help your rescuers find you.
Always paddle with a friend and double your fun and safety!