How do you attach a leash to a surfboard? 

How to attach a leash to a surfboard

So, you have your surfboard and a surfboard leash to go with it. At some point you will need to attach one end of the leash to your board, and the other end to your person. Doing so correctly will help prolong the lifespan of all three.

Some surfers cut corners, attaching their leash any which way and ending up with a damaged surfboard. On today’s agenda:

  • how to tie a surfboard leash string knot
  • how to attach your leash to your surfboard properly
  • how to put a leash on a softboard or foam surfboard
  • which leg you should attach your leash to
  • how to attach your leash to your ankle
  • how to wrap a leash around a surfboard

We won’t be talking about what size leash you need for your surfboard, or why you should wear a leash in the first place. These questions are answered in detail elsewhere.

surfer attaches surfboard leash to his ankle on the shoreline
Attach your leash to your ankle on the shoreline, not in the carpark. Photo: Megan Hemsworth

The different parts of a leash

A surfboard leash is made up of the velcro strap that goes around (usually) your ankle; the urethane cord; a strip of fabric or “railsaver” designed to protect your board; and a short piece of string, or parachute loop. This piece of string connects the railsaver with the plug on your surfboard.

One of the more annoying surf-related tribulations is arriving at the beach with board, fins, leash, wetsuit – all the essentials, everything you need to live your best life, except for that tiny piece of string. Without said string, you won’t be able to attach your leash securely to your surfboard.

surfboard leash string knot and surfboard leash
A typical leash string and leash string knot.

So make sure you own several, stash them in various useful places, and double check there’s one in your car / bag / surfboard / leash before you leave the house.

In some modern leashes, the leash string is literally built into the railsaver. For one thing, this means there’s no chance you’ll forget it.

The point of the railsaver, by the way, is to stop the leash string (or the urethane cord) pressing or pulling directly against the rails (i.e. the edges) of your surfboard during a wipeout, which is a common cause of damage. This is one of the key things to bear in mind when tying your leash string knot and attaching the leash string to your surfboard.

How to tie a leash string knot

If the railsaver on your leash has a leash string already sewn into it, you won’t need to tie any knots. In fact, even when they’re not sewn in, most leash strings come already tied in a nice loop, which may not need adjusting.

The point of the railsaver is to stop the leash string slicing through the rails

If you do need to tie a new knot, it’s the basic overhand knot (or thumb knot) you’re after, which is literally the most basic knot in the world – except here you’re folding the string in half beforehand, and treating the two strands as if they were one. So maybe the second most basic knot in the world.

Fold the string in half, form a loop with your new double string, and pass one end through the loop. How big the loop needs to be depends partly on the style of your leash plug, partly on the distance it is from the rails, partly on personal preference. The next section will help here.

plug buddy in an ocean & earth leash string
Ocean & Earth’s patented “plug buddy” has simplified the once-fiddly process of threading the leash string through your surfboard’s leash plug. A quantum leap in leash design…

How to attach the leash to your surfboard

Take the loop end of the string and push it under the pin (or the bridge) of the leash plug. You may need a fin key or screwdriver to push the string through. Ocean & Earth leashes come with an integrated “plug buddy” – an additional thin cord sewn into the actual leash string – which is quite handy.

Pull the loop out the other side. Now you have several options.

Option 1 (the wrong option)

Pull the loop all the way through until the knot reaches the plug and you can’t pull it any further. Then un-strap the railsaver part of the leash and re-strap it in reverse order around the leash string loop – the loop nestles in the fold where there’s no velcro.

The reason this is generally the wrong option is that the leash string may be long enough to reach the rails, which won’t be protected by the railsaver. If that isn’t the case, you’re probably ok.

If your leash string is sewn into the railsaver, this option’s kinda tricky anyway – you’d have to have fit the ankle strap through the loop, then thread the rest of the leash through.

Option 2 (the right option)

Instead of pulling the loop all the way through, just pull it halfway through, so now you effectively have two smaller loops of equal size.

how to tie a leash string knot
The correct way to tie and attach a leash string.

Un-strap the railsaver and thread the longer end through both loops about half way, or as far as the fold where there’s a break in the velcro. Re-affix the velcro folds in reverse order, each fold coming from the other direction to the one before.

It’s the same principle if the railsaver has the leash string sewn into it, except you’re only threading the strap through one of the two loops, i.e. the far loop that’s been pushed through the plug (the other loop being sewn into the railsaver already).

Give it all a good tug and you’ll see the railsaver pulls with equal force on the two loops (this also looks/feels more secure than the single-loop method). If that all sounds confusing, watch the video.


Some leash plugs are so thin and fiddly that it may be a struggle to push the loop through the hole. Try really hard, but if it doesn’t work, that’s ok.

You’ll just have to untie the knot in the leash string, then feed one end of the string through the hole, then retie the knot, then attach the leash. Only option 1 will be available to you here, so you may have to make the loop smaller when you retie the knot to make sure the railsaver is doing its job.

How to put a leash on a softboard or foamie

Most softboards have regulation leash plugs installed, so there’s no real difference to attaching a leash to a regular hard-shell surfboard. However, certain softboards may have a leash strap rather than a leash plug.

In this case you needn’t worry too much about the leash string – the railsaver part of the leash attaches directly to the strap.

Which leg should you attach your leash to?

The leash goes on your back foot, or your back ankle really, so it all depends on your stance. If you’re goofy, it’ll be your left peg. If you’re a natural-foot, put it on your right leg.

How to strap a surfboard leash to your leg

Strap the leash as far down on your ankle as you can – too high and it will just slide down to the thinnest part of your ankle, becoming loose. Fasten the velcro strap nice and tight by holding the soft fuzzy part taut around the ankle with one hand, and pulling the bristly, scratchy part taut with the other hand in the opposite direction, then pressing it down flush on top.

If the leash swivels easily around the ankle then it’s not tight enough. Make sure that the leash cord is at the back of the ankle and slightly on the outside – roughly at a 45-degree angle, pointing behind and away from you. This will prevent you from getting your other foot caught in the leash when trying to pop up (even more annoying than forgetting a leash string).

Oh, and do this part as close to the water’s edge as possible. Walking vast distances with your leash on will inevitably lead to disaster.

Longboarders, or surfers on a surfboard over 8’6, will generally choose to strap their leash around the top of their calf, just under the knee. This is partly to spare their ankles from the strain of a very heavy surfboard, partly to stop the leash getting tangled as they dance up and down the board.

You can buy purpose-built longboard leashes designed to go round the calf. But surfboards over 8’6 aren’t best suited to beginners in any case, on account of their general unwieldiness. In the wrong hands or under the wrong feet, they’re something of a menace.

filipe toledo carrying his fcs freedom helix leash
Filipe Toledo opting for the classic double-loop-pinched-against-the-rail method of leash-carrying. Hand tattoos optional.

How to wrap a leash around a surfboard

Some people insist on wrapping their leash round their fins the moment they get out the sea and take it off their ankle. You don’t have to be one of these people.

On the other hand, letting your leash strap drag along the floor behind you will get sand caught up in the ankle strap and cause the velcro to degrade. Plus, it looks unseemly and may get caught around something, possibly your own feet.

Instead, just hold your leash against the rail of your board in a loop and/or throw the end of the leash over the other side so it doesn’t get in the way.

how to wrap a leash around a surfboard
Maddie looking stoked with her immaculately wrapped leash. Photo: Megan Hemsworth

If you do want/need to wrap your leash around the fins, take care not to wrap it too tightly against the fins’ sharp leading edge, as this may result in nicks in the leash.

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