A leash. The importance of how to put it on...and take it off!

Leashes are a hot topic with the recent tragedy at the Gorge. And deservedly so! The industry is crafting great suggestions about how to get more folks to wear them, and some very valid and creative ideas are being floated (pardon the pun).

That said...one safety topic regarding leashes, that I feel often gets overlooked is the proper use of them. And in some situations, how to quickly detach a leash. That's right. Just like in surfing, there are rare times when you need to detach ASAP. And not doing so can be dangerous. Whether the board is underwater, caught on debris or anther wayward board, getting pulled down river while you are safely holding on to something. Or when paddling an OC1, after a huli and you need to flip the canoe which can require a detach.

All in all, your craft is likely to be your best friend, therefore securely wearing a leash keeps your board or canoe's floating goodness near and dear to you. But also once in a while, its time to give it distance in case it becomes a liability. So putting on your leash correctly, and knowing how you did it, is important. Keeping it secure when you need it-and able to release if it becomes necessary.

A few helpful tips I have found on keeping it secure, out of the way, and easy to detach under duress include:

  • Always attach the leash in the same direction. - Find the most comfortable, reliable to stay on, and easy to detach way for your least to attach. Then always attach it in the same manner so you are not fumbling around under water. (*Personally I like to pull upwards towards toes instead of down towards heels as I have more range of motion that way. However you may find benefits of the other direction. Find the direction that works best for you.)
  • Always try and place the 'grab tab' or 'grab loop' in the same location. Whether you have it front of your ankle, outside your calf, inside, or whatever. Again try and place the portion you pull on to detach in the same location. So long as you know where it will be and aren't fumbling around for it. Plus as you paddle you are more used to it in a certain location, and its not a distraction for you. Giving your full attention to the waters and paddlers around you.
  • Make sure the leash is sufficiently tight. Some folks like to make it loose, but doing so can defeat its value should it come under tension. Also proper tightness means if the time comes to pull the tab, it doesn't just spin the whole ring on your leg. We are not saying lose-circulation-in-your-foot-tight. But that it is not so loose as to spin as you try to pull it off. Practice off the water with it too loose and you will see what I mean.
  • Practice detaching. There is muscle memory associated when we rehearse something enough times. And reaching all the way down to your leg, searching, pulling correctly and then moving it out of your way can be a lot of steps in a split second. But with practice, can be one smooth motion.
  • Inspect your equipment. Just like your board or canoe, look it over before and after each paddle. Is the velcro starting to fray, or have debris in it that prevents solid connection? We want to make sure a craft floating away at a high speed does not cause it to accidentally detach. Is there anything that might limit your ability to attach or detach (like a goop of Solarez that is bonding or blocking the velcro from your last minute ding repair?)

All in all, you should make the leash placement part of your preparation ritual before each paddle. Secure...check! Normal location...check! Able to quickly find the tab and know which way to pull...check! Keep in mind, detaching might be something you have to do while underwater, upside down, or with your eyes closed. You might be hurt, cold or otherwise disorientated. There might also be a time where you have to use the opposite hand to detach (injury, holding someone or something, etc.). So while having practiced a certain way, also be ready to try doing so with the other hand.

I am glad to see safety getting attention, although sad when tragedy is what spawns the dialog. Leashes can certainly help OC, Surf-Ski, Prone and SUP paddlers in dangerous situations (if you think you can swim faster than an empty oc1 or sup on a windy day think again). But with the use of them comes the responsibility of knowing how to use them. So know your equipment. Be safe. And Have Fun!


p.s. If anyone has suggestion, corrections or advice, I am always eager to learn more on the topic, and in no way consider myself an expert.

Other helpful Safety Articles to check out

Cali Paddler Team Writer Clarke Graves

Team Writer Clarke Graves - If there is water, he will paddle it (regardless of craft). Clarke is a surfer turned paddler who grew up in San Diego but has traveled every corner of California enjoying its beauty and appeal. He has had the privilege of racing SUP, OC6, OC2, OC1, Prone and can't wait to hop into a dragon boat and surf-ski for an extended length of time.

One of Clarke's goals is to paddle as much shoreline in California as he can, with as many paddling friends who are willing to join him. If you have an idea for Clarke to write about or any questions, send it our way and we will pass it along!

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