Unleashed on the nose. Dave Boehne. Photo: Kenworthy

Unleashed on the nose. Dave Boehne. Photo: Kenworthy

Opinion: Going Without A Leash

I recently stood on shore at a local beachbreak watching fun peaks from one of the season's first south swells roll through. As I stretched and strapped on my leash another standup paddler approached the lineup from the outside. He got down on his knees, choked up on his paddle and stroked between two groups of three or so prone surfers. A set approached and he tried to go for the first wave, despite the surfers around him vying for it too. His board shot skyward and was caught in the whitewash, tumbling away from him as it shot towards the sand. He swam through the rest of the set and came up to the beach, thanking me for trying to grab his board as the whitewater sent it careening past me.

"You should wear a leash," I said and paddled out, not really wanting to enter into a full-blown discussion about the topic.

Who surfs without a leash? It seems to go one of two ways: Either beginners who should, or experienced standup paddlers that prefer the freedom of going without.

This is the part where I'm supposed to tell you to always wear a leash. And yes, if you are a beginner, you should ALWAYS wear a leash when standup paddling. The waters we practice our sport on are dangerous and unpredictable whether it's the ocean, river, lake or stream. Leashes can make paddling in these places safer if used correctly. This is especially prudent in the surf zone where there are often other people to consider.

But let me say this: Sometimes, I like to SUP surf without a leash. Sinful words, I know. But it's the truth.

A leash can get between your toes, wrap around your ankle or get on top of your other foot when you're cross-stepping or trimming, particularly on race boards, downwind boards and longboard SUPs. They can be a pain.

So, usually, when I'm riding these boards in mellow conditions, I go without. I believe it makes me a better paddler. It makes me think a step ahead. What will happen if I fall and lose my board right here, right now? It makes me a more proficient swimmer (and paddle javelin thrower). It makes me more conscious of others in the lineup. It makes me a better judge of waves I can make—or can't. It encourages me to slow down and make sure I'm controlling my board, which can come in handy in big waves where your leash can break (something that's happened to me many times) and one must be more calculated in general. Basically, I like the challenge of surfing without one and the ocean experience that comes with that.

I know many of you might not agree with this. The main question I hear from leash acolytes is, "What if your board hits someone?" It's true: if you lose your board in the surf, it could knock someone's lights out. But I go leash-less at spots that aren't crowded. And, as mentioned, my senses are heightened when I go without. I'm not saying bad things can't happen to good people, because they can. But I could also run someone over wearing a leash in a crowded lineup.

Really, it's a question of personal freedom. There are many times when you need a leash: big waves, crowded lineups, offshore days, heavy wind or paddling through a populated lineup as a beginner (a no-no in general) like our friend at the beginning of this story. But there are many times when you can go unleashed. And it can be benefit to your paddling. Be smart about it.

The choice is yours.

More opinions here.