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The Exception: Kitesurfing with a Leash

The Exception: Kitesurfing with a Leash
By Brendan Richards

Originally Published in the October 2009 Issue of The Kiteboarder Magazine

I’ve heard “the surf leash is what ruined surfing.” Even if that were true, it would be hard to say the same for kitesurfing. One of the greatest developments in kitesurfing in the last five years has been the discovery and evolution of riding strapless surfboards in the waves. Regardless of whether you start riding surfboards because of light wind or for entertainment on small wave days, one thing is clear; riding strapless surfboards is fun and challenging and has only just begun. The problem is that once you start riding strapless in head-high waves or larger, the risk of losing your board causes you to ride more conservatively or spend a good part of your session body dragging after your board.

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The leash debate in kitesurfing is contentious. Threads on the forums criticize the leash’s potential to cause injury, but from my experience, the board leash has become an essential piece of equipment
when packing for any kitesurfing trip. In Santa Cruz, California, some of the best reef breaks are not kite-friendly with variable wind shadows and waves smashing directly onto rock cliffs, often with no beach in sight. In these spots, separation from your board is not an option or it’s pretty much guaranteed to end your session. With wave etiquette becoming a major issue at crowded kitesurfing breaks, routinely body dragging for your board is bound to ruin someone else’s wave. The occasional mistake is typically forgiven, but repeated fishing expeditions in the line-up for a strapless board is a surefire recipe to sour friendships, and may even create some enemies. After a couple of years of riding with a leash, my biggest concern is getting taken down in turbulent white water; the leash keeps your board in close proximity and the wave’s powerful chaos can thrust the board back at you when you least expect it. This risk is one of many, but risk is a fundamental aspect of our sport and we deal with it every time we launch a kite. Ultimately, surf leashes should only be used by advanced riders, those already committed to charging challenging conditions. If you want to experiment with leashes, make sure you invest in appropriate protective gear and check out my tips to help you get started.

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With awareness for proper board and kite handling skills , a surf leash is helpful tool in strapless riding. So here are my tips:

  • Use a medium length leash: a 6-foot leash will put the board in yourface and a 9 to 10 foot leash will cause too much drag. An 8-foot leashseems to work the best.
  • Use a cord thickness commensurate with the size of your waves -thin leashes snap in double overhead waves, thick leashes cause excessive drag.
  • The moment you are separated from your board, depower your kite by pushing the bar away from you; this prevents the kite from loading up the board leash.
  • When in the water separated from your board, bring your kite up to neutral, keeping it depowered as much as possible to prevent the board from becoming a tombstone.
  • When you are retrieving the board, use the leash – it often helps if the kite is brought to the same side of the wind window as your board.
  • Try experimenting with a calf leash. Its velcro strap is large enough to attach just below your knee, elevating a good portion of the leash out of the water and reducing drag.
  • Wear a helmet or chest protector because unless you have a surgeon for a friend or in the family, stitches can be expensive.

PROS OF WEARING A LEASH
• In big surf you can go for anything and know that your board is always within arm’s reach.
• You won’t spend half your session on a fishing expedition.
• Your friends will no longer hate you for the countless times you body dragged through their set while looking for your board.
• If you’re headed out and the lip throws right in front of you, you can jump off your board and duck dive into the wave, collecting your board quickly on the other side.
• You have a better chance of getting back on your board before the next set wave rolls you.

CONS OF WEARING A LEASH
• Bad technique can lead to endless tombstones and whizzing boards.
• Leashes inevitably add drag while going upwind or dropping in on light wind days.
• Since your board stays in your vicinity you have a better chance of getting whacked in the head.
• If both you and your kite go down in turbulent white water, the board and leash can end up threaded through your flying lines making things much worse.

Originally Published in the October 2009 Issue of The Kiteboarder Magazine

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