May 02, 2021 7 min read

Importance of an SUP Leash

Women on an SUP board with ankle leash

Whether you’re new to paddle boarding, or you’ve been doing it for a long time, there are going to be situations in which you fall off. The reality is that no matter whether you want to get your feet wet in something as small as a river or as big as the ocean, the current could quickly take your paddle board away.

The Parts of a SUP Leash

If you’re looking at SUP leashes and which kind is right for you, it’s important to know what a leash is and why you need to wear one all the time, regardless of your experience.

Let’s take a look at the  different parts of a SUP leash, what they’re for, and how they work.

Parts of an SUP leash

The Cuff

The cuff is the part of the leash that you attach to your leg or ankle. It’s important that the material of the cuff is comfortable, but secure. Higher quality cuffs will have more layers of neoprene to ensure protection and comfort while you paddle board, and if you fall.

Pay attention to how much Velcro is on the cuff, too. This is what secures the cuff to your ankle and keeps it there at all times. Some may have a small key pocket inside, and a pull-tab for easy removal is also a convenient feature, especially when your hands are wet.

The Swivel

The swivel is what attaches the cuff to the cord, and is a feature where  you can truly differentiate a subpar quality leash from a high-quality leash. It should allow freedom of movement in the cuff, to avoid tangling.

This is what makes your leash incredibly useful in surfing and other paddle board activities , The best leashes on the market today come with swivels at both ends of the cord so your leash won’t ever get tangled.

The Cord

All parts of your leash are important, but the cord is critical. It needs to be engineered to stretch quite a bit, but thick enough that it won’t break under pressure. In general, the thicker the cord, the more heavy-duty it is.

However, the thicker the cord, the more it will produce drag in the water, which will slow you down, so you’ll want to do some research and find the right balance for you. A thickness of 8mm gives most people a good combination of strength and durability with minimal drag.

Unlike traditional surf leashes, paddle board specific leashes are typically coiled. This feature is designed to keep the leash under control while you are paddling, away from your feet and has no risk of tripping you up. The coil then expands when needed to give you the required space between you and the SUP if you fall into the water. This safety feature is incredibly important if you are SUP surfing and being tumbled in the waves. 

The Rail Saver

The rail saver is at the opposite end of the leash to the cuff. It’s the connection point that attaches the leash cord to the SUP and protects the board from any damage.

It should have at least 2 layers of Velcro to keep you fastened to your paddle board at all times. If you connect it properly, it should hang over the back of your paddle board and run around the tail of the board offering protection to the rails.

If fall, this applies tension to your leash, which could damage the rail saver if not properly tethered. Paddle board leash designs have long and wide rail savers for the best protection.

The Leash String

This is the part that connects your leash to the paddle board. It is fitted to your paddle board’s leash plug, which should already be installed. Leash strings are lightweight ropes made of nylon kernmantle, sometimes called parachute cord.

They’re tied in an overhand or a double overhand stopper knot. It should be burned on both ends to keep it from fraying. Your leash string should be short enough that it doesn’t hang over your board when it’s connected but still allows the rail saver to move freely.

Reasons for Wearing a Paddle Board Leash

Women wearing red SUP leash on her paddle board

Regardless of what anyone tells you, you should always wear a leash. It’s your single most important safety device when paddle boarding (with perhaps the exception of a life vest, should you choose to wear one). A leash keeps you attached to your board at all times, but it also keeps your board away from other people.

When taking a tumble in rough water or far away from the shoreline, your leash can be the difference between life and death. It’s your lifeline to a vessel that floats and will keep you safe when you’re tired, hurt, or can’t get back to safety on your own.

Much like a seatbelt, it may feel uncomfortable at first, but you’ll soon get used to it and may even forget it’s there. Hopefully you’ll never find yourself in an emergency situation, but if you do, you’ll be glad you have one.

Choosing The Perfect SUP Leash

Man paddle boarding on lake wearing SUP ankle leash

Finding the right leash for you may take some experimentation, but here are some general thoughts on the types of leashes available that may make it easier for you to choose.

Most of the leashes you’re going to find at a surf shop will be between five and twelve feet long. Often, the length is determined by the size of your board, so selecting the size of your leash may be a matter of which board you’re using.

However, many of today’s SUP leashes fall in the range of 8-10 feet, and there’s one primary difference between a SUP leash and a surfboard leash; SUP riders usually prefer coiled cords.

Coiled or Straight

SUP leashes are offered in two primary styles: coiled and straight. 

Straight leashes are better for beginners because they’re easier to use. They keep you close to the board, which is their entire purpose., and they’re  also a better choice for waves as well.

More advanced boarders prefer coiled leashes because straight leashes can get stuck in seaweed or garbage, and also create a lot more drag and friction in the water. A coiled leash will extend only in the event of tension, but will stay coiled while you’re on the board, preventing the drag that can limit speed.

Ankle or Calf

Whether you wear your SUP leash on your ankle or your calf is a matter or mere preference. It depends a lot on how you ride and which type of leash may get in your way. A leash tied to your calf can pull harder on your leg if you fall, plus it will leave a tan line; so if this is something that bothers you then you might want to consider wearing the leash around your ankle instead.

This too, however, is not without its drawbacks. Some people claim that wearing the leash around the ankle can be uncomfortable - and it  can feel like it drags you through the water if you fall. However - a leash is a must, so  just know that no matter where you wear it, it needs to be tight, but feel comfortable enough to wear.

Dominant Leg

You also have to decide which leg you need to wear your leash on. It should always go on your dominant leg, which is the foot that you plant near the tail of your board when you paddle. When your right foot is your dominant foot, it’s called regular-footed. If it’s your left, it’s called goofy-footed.

The Ideal Length

Man on an SUP wearing SUP ankle leash while watching sunset

Now that you know more about SUP leashes and the options available to you, what’s the ideal length? Most paddle boarders, at least in the beginning, find that they are perfectly fine in the 8-10 foot range, and they’ll stay there for a while.

If that seems to be too long for you, you may choose a coiled leash to minimize the impact of its length on your experience. It will produce less drag and it won’t get tangled around your feet or in the debris in the water.

Once you get more experience, you will have an easier time finding the right leash for you. In addition to a leash, in the beginning, you should also always follow a coach or a more experienced paddle boarder so you’re not paddle boarding alone.

Having a partner and the right leash will ensure you’re safe in the water.


🏆 Do I need a quick-release attachment for a paddle board leash?

Most modern paddle board leash designs have a quick-pull tab on the end of the cuff’s velcro to allow a quick-release feature. This can be useful if you find yourself tangled with seaweed, or other debris in the water, and you need to fix the issue quickly. It also provides an easy way to detach the leash at the end of the paddle session.

👍 Should I wear a leash in white water?

A leash should be used at all times, especially in white water paddling conditions! White water gives a rougher ride and falling off is almost inevitable. The leash will make sure you don’t lose your SUP and have to chase after it all the way to the beach. 

The leash also ensures the safety of other people around you. White water is often filled with beginner paddle boarders, people learning how to surf, and swimmers. Losing control of a 10+ foot board can be extremely dangerous in this setting.

🏝️ Should I ever wear my SUP leash around my waist?

Only ever wear a SUP leash as designed by the manufacturer – either around the ankle or calf. Never fit the leash to another body part, such as the waist, wrist, or even neck! This can lead to serious injury.

❓ How do you attach a leash to a SUP?

To attach a leash to a SUP, you first need to put the nylon leash string securely on the leash plug that is located at the tail of the paddle board. Use an overhand stopper knot so it won’t fall out. Next, take the rail saver and secure it using the Velcro to the leash string. 

Make sure you straighten out the leash if there are any kinks before attaching the cuff to your ankle or calf. We recommend giving it a little tug close to the rail saver to double check you have fastened the Velcro correctly.

Jay Regan
Jay Regan

Chief Paddler - Jay has been surfing and paddling for over 5 years. When he's not dreaming up new stuff at GILI, he's writing articles about paddling, out paddling, or often traveling.

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