Coiled vs. Straight SUP Leashes: What Works Best?

Stand up paddle boarding (SUP), is a popular and rapidly growing water sport that can be enjoyed by riders of all skill levels. But there is a lot to learn about the equipment needed to do it properly for those folks that are just getting into the sport. Obviously paddle board choice matters, but accessories are important as well. In this article, I’m going to explain paddle board leash types and why they matter.

The best type of leash for SUP depends on your preferences, though most paddleboarders prefer coiled. Coiled leashes get tangled less and don’t create as much drag in the water. However, straight leashes can be safer if you get caught in the surf. 

The choice between a coiled and straight leash for a SUP depends on intended use and rider preference. And while most experienced stand-up paddleboarders do prefer a coiled leash, there are advantages and disadvantages to each type.

About Straight Leashes

Straight leashes are what is most commonly found among surfers, and when they migrate to paddle boarding, they often prefer a straight style leash just because it is the type of strap that is most familiar to them. 

Advantages of Straight Leashes

Experienced surfers will know that a straight leash can help to keep your board far away from you if you get caught in the surf, which is an essential thing for safety, as noted by Green Water Sports. If you have a leash that is too short, or perhaps a coiled leash, your board may stay close in the surf and end up hitting you, which can be extremely dangerous. 

That being said, the safety advantage in the surf is just about the only advantage that a straight leash has over a coiled one. 

Disadvantages of Straight Leashes

Straight leashes are generally as long as the board that they are attached to (or at least they should be), which means that there will naturally be quite a bit of slack in the leash when you’re standing on your paddleboard. This can cause a couple of different issues. 

  • A straight leash will drag along in the water, creating quite a bit of drag as it does. Additionally, if you’re paddle boarding through shallow water, the strap can drag along the bottom of the body of water that you’re in and get caught on several different things, as well as make it harder to paddle as a result of it dragging on the floor and providing resistance. 
  • Another inconvenience related to the length of a straight leash is their proclivity for constantly getting tangled. With all of that slack on the leash, they are bound to get tangled eventually, and you can surely expect them to do so if you chose to use one. This can at best be a minor inconvenience, or at worst a serious safety issue if you get tangled in your leash after you fall off of your board. 

There is a safety advantage to straight leashes, but most of the people that prefer them do so out of familiarity. For many paddleboarders, a straight leash is what they’re used to with other water sports, so it’s what they like to stick to when paddle boarding as well. 

In summary:

  • Pros of a Straight Leash
    • Safer when caught in the surf
  • Cons to a Straight Leash
    • Can get tangled easily
    • Creates drag in the water
    • Can get caught on the things in shallow water
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About Coiled Leashes

For the people that do not want to go for a straight SUP leash, the other standard option is a coiled leash. A coiled leash is exactly what it sounds like: a leash that is designed to coil up, eliminating all of the slack that is associated with a straight leash. This offers many different advantages compared to the traditional straight leash. 

Advantages of Coiled Leashes

To start, a coiled leash will be much sleeker to wear and will be far less likely to get tangled up when you’re paddle boardingA coiled leash will sit nicely on top of your board and will rest comfortably between you and the leash plug that it is attached to. 

A straight leash, on the other hand, will hang off the edge of the board, be challenging to manage, and can get to be a pain to deal with as a result of its length. For this reason, coiled leashes tend to be far easier to deal with than straight SUP leashes. 

Another benefit of coiled leashes as cited by Isle Surf and SUP is that they create far less drag in the water, as a result of their ability to sit on top of your board, entirely out of the water. This means that they will not only create no drag in the water, but they will also not get caught on anything in shallow water, too. For the folks that have dealt with it before, having a straight leash constantly pulling at weeds in shallow water can get very frustrating, and a coiled leash is a great way to avoid that problem. 

Disadvantages of Coiled Leashes

Despite all of these benefits, though, a coiled leash is not completely without flaw. Because of the way that it is coiled, these leashes have quite a bit of spring in them, meaning that if your board flies away from you in the surf, the coiled leash is likely to pull it back, where it could hit you and do some serious harm. For this reason, coiled leashes are not only not preferable in the surf; they are straight-up dangerous. 

Just like straight SUP leashes, there are both advantages and disadvantages to a coiled leash. Having said that, the benefits of using a coiled strap are generally preferred to the benefits of using a straight one. 

In summary:

  • Pros of a Coiled Leash
    • Less likely to get tangled
    • Doesn’t create drag in the water
    • Won’t get caught on things in shallow water
  • Cons of a Coiled Leash
    • Can be dangerous in surf due to spring-back

Different Types of Leashes for Different Applications

Many paddle boarders will buy a complete package that includes a leash, and they may never think of changing it out until it wears or breaks. As you can tell by the above descriptions of coiled and straight leashes, they have different characteristics and use cases. One type of leash may better in some cases, while other circumstances would be better suited to the other type of leash. With this in mind, it is essential to understand the situations wherein one kind of strap has a clear advantage over the other. 

Racing

Many people who stand-up paddleboard for more than just a weekend activity do so competitively, and one of the arenas wherein stand-up paddle boarding is most competitive is racing. Racing SUPs is an increasingly common sport, and as a result, the people that are involved in doing it are looking for every advantage that they can get as far as having the right equipment. 

While the board and paddle are admittedly more important than the leash as far as racing is concerned, having the correct type of strap can also make a difference. More specifically, SUPBoarder Magazine cites coiled leashes as being the preferred choice among SUP racers. 

This is a result of coiled leash’s ability to sit completely atop the board and, as we mentioned, avoid creating drag in the water. Straight straps, on the other hand, will drag along in the water, creating resistance and slowing the paddleboarder down while racing, which is something that should be avoided as much as possible. 

Even worse than just creating drag, though, a straight leash can get caught on things beneath the water, which can be a serious detriment to anyone who is trying to go as fast as possible on their paddleboard. 

Coiled leashes are generally shorter than straight leashes as well, which means that they will keep the board closer to you should you fall off. This means that for racers, they can rejoin the race as quickly as possible following a spill. 

Finally, getting caught in the surf is hardly a concern for racers, so using a coiled leash will not be a safety concern in this application. For those reasons, using a coiled leash is strongly preferred when racing. For more on paddle board racing, check out Carlo’s post.

Ocean and Surf SUP

If you’re paddle boarding in an area where you may be subject to some waves or rougher water, you’re going to want to stick to a straight leash. The primary reason for this is because the straight leash will keep the board farther away from you should you fall off. This is beneficial in the surf and rougher water because it will make the board far less likely to hit you as you tumble. 

Additionally, as previously mentioned, the spring that is inherent in a coiled leash could even pull the board back at you in this situation, whereas a straight strap would be far less likely to do this. (Be sure to check out my 6 tips for paddle board surfing.)

In addition to being safer, a straight leash is a good choice since the benefits of a coiled leash are unnecessary while out on the ocean and when navigating through the surf. You will be in water deep enough that you won’t have to worry about the leash getting caught on the bottom, and you won’t be trying to maximize your speed, so drag will not be an issue either. 

For the reasons mentioned above, straight leases are the clear choice among paddleboarders who may be subject to a tumble through the surf. Not only are straight leashes preferred, but coiled leashes are strongly advised against. Again, this is because they can cause the board to bounce back at you after a fall. 

Casually Cruising

If you’re not competing in the SUP race scene and will not be going out into the ocean or navigating the surf on your paddleboard, you probably fall into the casual paddle boarder category. This is likely the most common type of paddleboarder, with many people who are involved in the sport doing it just as a fun, leisurely activity to do with friends and family. 

If you fall into this category, you’re probably wondering what type of leash you should be using. The answer, to be candid, is that it doesn’t really matter all that much, though you’ll likely prefer a coiled leash to a straight one. 

The truth is that with the safety and competition concerns being irrelevant for casual paddle boarders, the choice of leash becomes far less of an involved decision. However, a coiled leash will probably be preferable, though not outright better than a straight leash. This is because a coiled leash is generally easier to deal with, and is less likely to get tangled—an issue that is inconvenient and annoying for paddleboarders of all experience levels. 

Additionally, the ability of a coiled leash to sit on top of the paddleboard and not catch on things in the water is an added advantage, as this can become an annoyance even when you aren’t racing. 

Casual paddle boarders really should be choosing a leash based on what they are most comfortable with, and the decision between coiled and straight is not as important here as it is for the paddle boarders who are operating in a different, more intense environment. 

By the way, if you don’t yet have a paddle board, you can check out how to get started for lower cost in Carlo’s post here. But you should also know that Carlo prefers iRocker, which he wrote about here, and I’ve selected a Bluefin Cruise Carbon for my first board based on his advice, which he covered in this Bluefin brand post.

Other Leash Considerations

While the decision between coiled and straight leashes is not as crucial for casual paddle boarders, there are plenty of other leash-related things to consider for both occasional paddle boarders, as well as more experienced paddleboarders. These considerations are just as important as the discussion of coiled versus straight, so let’s take a look at some of the more important ones:

The Cuff

The cuff is the part of the leash that actually attaches to your leg, and this makes it a very important part to put some serious time and consideration into. If you choose a cuff haphazardly and without careful consideration, you may end up with a leash that is uncomfortable, which can really put a damper on an otherwise great SUP experience.

When you’re shopping for a leash, look for a cuff that has a comfortable lining and material on the inside of it. According to Isle Surf and SUPa high-quality cuff will feature multiple layers of neoprene padding to make sure that your ankle is protected when tugged on, as well as comfortable while you are paddling. It doesn’t necessarily have to be neoprene, but you should always make sure that your cuff is comfortable and heavily padded regardless of the material.


Another important cuff consideration is the amount of Velcro that it has. A good cuff will have quite a lot of Velcro, which will make it much less likely to come off when it is not supposed to. Having lots of Velcro makes a cuff safer and more reliable in the event of a fall. 

The Swivel

Another important piece that you will want to check the quality of on your leash is the swivel. This swivel is the piece that connects the cuff to the cord itself. While a high-quality swivel does not offer any comfort advantages, it is vital in its ability to prevent the leash from tangling. It does this by allowing the cord to rotate with your movements rather than twist around itself. 

A good swivel is an essential thing to have from a convenience perspective, as leashes with low-grade or, even worse, no swivel at all, will often tangle, which can be very annoying to deal with. So, when you’re shopping for a leash, make sure that you pick something with a high-quality swivel.  

The Cord

Perhaps the most obvious thing to consider when looking into a new SUP leash is the cord. This is the most important part of any leash, and serious consideration should be put into selecting a strap with a high-quality cord. 

Cords come in various thicknesses, which are measured in millimeters, with the thicker cords being more heavy-duty and more durable. Additionally, good cords will usually be made of polyurethane, a strong but flexible material. Polyurethane can stretch when it needs to but is also strong enough to avoid breaking. 

In general, you should always be looking for a cord that is thick enough and thus heavy-duty enough for your needs, and that is made from high-quality materials. 

Final Thoughts 

As has been evidenced by our discussion, the choice between a coiled versus a straight leash for stand-up paddle boarding is a balance between preference and objective benefits. Both types of leashes have their pros and cons, and one can be better than the other in certain situations. Just make sure that you know which kind of leash is best for your applications, and don’t forget about the cuff, swivel, and cord, too. 


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Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding. Click the photo for a lot more.

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