As my wife and I strolled up the sand-covered boardwalk that lead to the sand in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, I noticed a very strange sign posted to the right of the walkway. A sign I had never seen before. A sign that read, “To help ensure the safety of all beach patrons, surfers must be securely attached to their board with a leash.”
I should begin by saying that I’m a huge advocate of encouraging the use of leashes when appropriate. But the conditions were waist-high at best and hardly anybody on the beach or in the water. However, I always do my best to show respect for a spot and its local rules during my visit, so I shrugged and obeyed.
This is a topic that seems to have gotten quite a bit of buzz in the last 6 months or so. It’s a topic in which any surfer will have a black & white opinion about, and it’s something that will certainly never be resolved (except in places like Wrightsville, NC). But, I don’t think an ironclad law is the way to go.
The old-style surfing revolution is as prevalent as it’s ever been — especially in Orange/LA County. Many people call it “hipster” (which is probably the most fitting term), others call it “retro,” while others prefer to keep it pure with no “label” at all, it’s all just surfing.
Whatever side of the spectrum you fall into, leashes will always be your best friend, worst enemy, secret lover, and trusted business partner. Sometimes you wear it because it’s crowded. Sometimes you don’t because it keeps getting caught in your toes. Sometimes you wear it because you don’t feel like swimming a quarter mile if your footing fails on you. While other times, you don’t wear it because the old-style log you brought doesn’t even have a leash plug.
However, many times I see people without leashes because they simply want to look the part. They want to look like they know what they’re doing (even though they clearly do not). They want to accurately resemble the style that they’re trying to replicate. Nobody wore leashes in the 1960’s, and these modern day throw-backs certainly don’t want to look like they haven’t done their surfing history homework.
These are the people that bother me the most, simply because they’re dangerous. Not only are they without a leash, but they’re also on a 9’ 6” log that weighs more than the punching bag hanging in my garage, and they have no idea how to handle it. It really irks me when I see guys that can’t even kick out of a waist-high wave without losing their board.
The story about the kid in Byron Bay, Pascal Dattler, hit me on a personal level. He reminded me of my son. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to see my little boy go through something like that, and it really got me to reconsider my leash-related decisions.
It all boils down to knowing your limits. Everybody has the choice to wear (or not wear) a leash during any given session. But, people need to understand that it’s not “cool” to go leashless. The people that do it for the right reasons do it because it’s functional to have their ankle free from tangles. That’s it. It shouldn’t be a style thing. The guys that do it because they think it makes them look more like a legit surfer (we’ve all seen these guys) are the ones that put people in danger.
Although, on the opposite side of the coin, I have to say that I’ve had far more terrifying experiences with people sitting on the inside with their 8’ funboard securely attached to their ankle as it bobs and bounces in the whitewash because they repeatedly ditch their board to dive under each wave. It gives them a false sense of security, and can often times be way more dangerous than the occasional board washing all the way to shore.
Please be smart out there. People don’t realize that our sport is very dangerous. The ocean is a powerful thing and it should always receive the utmost respect from everybody that enters. This involves preparing and educating yourself prior to paddling out — this includes considering your leash.
Beachgoers need to keep their eyes open, and surfers need to hold onto their boards (with or without a leash). That’s the bottom line. Think about the little grommets romping and splashing at the shoreline. When matched against a speeding 9′ 6″ log, with volan glass, 12″ D-Fin, and no owner in sight… the grommets have no chance. And I’m not saying that I believe everyone should always wear a leash. I just think that you should seriously evaluate the situation each day before making your decision. It’s the responsible thing to do.