Hand Tied Leashes - Are they Better?

Hand Tied Leashes - Are they Better?

Its happened to everyone. Its that time when you make the decision to part from your surfboard. Whether bailing under a clean-up set or exiting via “swan dive” out the back, you know you'll be OK. You have your trusty leash, connecting you to your board. But then there's that moment. Its almost a moment of freedom. Freedom from the constant, regulated pull of the surfboard. Freedom from the grip of the wave. Freedom from … wait … you suddenly realize your out the back, sets rolling though and a long, long swim to back to the shore. You slap the water out of frustration as if to point blame at the ocean. You turn toward the beach and start your swim. Why? Your leash broke!


So, why do leashes break? Are some better than others? Why are our Hand Tied leashes our #1 selling leash for large, powerful surf? Isn't it old technology?




Through the mid eighties nearly all leashes were constructed via hand tied knots (although some companies were experimenting with injection molded fittings and PVC glue). Hand Tied leashes could be trusted and therefore had the majority of the market. As we entered the nineties, technology had improved, and injection molded fittings and stand-off towers became the norm. This allowed for double swivel leashes and less tangles around your foot. Performance of a leash took priority over strength. Companies added different thicknesses to accommodate different wave sizes and strengths, supposedly matching leash strength to wave size. Hand tied leashes soon became the cheap beginners leash. Over the next couple decades the performance of leashes improved and hand tied leashes were all but absent from the market. Leashes swiveled better, standoffs held the leash away from your foot and stretch and flex had been designed into the leashes. Gimmicks had become the selling point. Yet, one thing is still common. Leashes break.


Nearly 15 years ago we had been propositioned to make a big wave leash. Gary Linden was tired of traveling to Isla de Todos Santos to return with wrecked boards and broken leashes. There was a gap, a group of surfers that had been ignored. Big wave surfers were a select few. They could care less about gimmicks, popular brands and what people thought. All they wanted, was to catch the biggest wave possible. As leash brands focused on the growing entry level market and small wave performance surfing, the big wave community was left with a leash designed for small waves. All the performance gimmicks were built into big wave leashes, yet one important factor was left out, strength!



At this time nearly all leash production had been moved offshore to China. Requesting a leash to be built to a specific task was nearly impossible. Surfers were constrained to what was currently available on the market. Yet the market didn't have what was needed. At this time Stay Covered was focusing on performance leashes, just like any other company. The only difference is that we still made our product here in the States. This is the time that Gary Linden came to us with a request for a stronger leash. Our first thought, thicker cord equals greater strength, but there's a catch. Since we didn't have fittings for the thicker cord, it had to be hand tied. We knew that Hand tied leashes were strong, but were concerned that we would sacrifice the performance aspects of the leash. Gary didn't care. He wanted a leash that didn't break. Strength first!


This is when we built our first hand tied XXL Big Wave Leash. Gary now had a leash that lasted a winter at the famed “Killers”. A big wave leash that lasted a winter? For a surfer who would sit in the bowl and take “clean-up sets” on the head, this was unheard of. Maybe there is something to the strength of Hand Tied leashes. But it wasn't without fault. We soon discovered many new weak points. We had to add more velcro, change stitching patters and add more bar tacks. As we solved one weak point, another would present itself. It took and few years of trial and error, a few boards on the rocks at Todos Santos and a fuming Gary Linden (“what the hell did you guys give me”), but we finally got it right. We finally had a leash that could withstand a couple winters of big surf for the most devoted big wave surfer. Strength was the #1 priority.


As a few years passed the XXL Big Wave Leash slowly grew in popularity among the core big wave surfers. The strength of Hand Tied leashes was proven to be effective. We then decided to develop a slimmed down version for large powerful waves. When you step up to a bigger board, why use the same leash? Taking the construction of the XXL Big Wave Leash and slimming it down to a size to fit large, powerful surf, we created our Heavy Duty Hand Tied leash. We wanted to create a whorkhorse that could be used by core surfers everywhere when the surf got serious . We now had a leash that put strength first.


So … Are they Better? The Truth!


It seems like a simple question. Better? I would have to say no. Its similar to saying is a pickup truck better than a sports car. It depends on what you need it to do. Performance leashes (.ie double swivel molded leashes) have their place. But, as you wouldn't use a sports car to haul a load of mulch, you wouldn't use a comp leash at pipe. There is a specific duty that each leash is designed for.


Molded Double Swivel leashes have evolved to maximize strength without sacrificing performance issues. These include the proper amount of stretch and swiveling action to prevent tangles. Although great leashes for the majority of surfers worldwide, they do not come without fault. The biggest weakness is in the construction method. Nearly all China made leashes use a construction method called over-molding. This is where the polyurethane cord is put into an injection molded machine and the end fittings are over-molded onto the leash cord. Although this is very effective at building leash ends with a strong bond, it also leaves an etching. This is from the molds clamping tight enough to create a seal around the polyurethane coard. No matter how much stretch and flex is built into the design, the etching will always be there. When shock is applied to the leash from a breaking wave, it is this etching that is the weak point. This is usually a concern when the waves have some degree of power.


So are Hand Tied leashes unbreakable? No! But time has taught us that they are more durable and last longer than molded leashes.


Why? We believe that its in the construction and the elimination of plastic molded fittings. Hand tied leashes uses a specific knot that tightens upon itself as its pulled. This is then sewn into the leash cuff via rope, webbing and bar tack sticking. By not using plastic fittings, it allows the stitching, webbing and rope to absorb the shock of the leash, reducing the amount of force put upon the cord itself. But this is not without fault. Although we have designed the knot to tighten on the non-loaded side of the polyurethane, it still slowly tightens upon itself when pulled.

Even though we have found this to be a slow process that happens gradually over time (and the design of the knot slows this even more), the market has proven the hand tied knots to be stronger than molded leashes (mainly due the etching in the urethane on molded leashes). Time has told us, via returns and feedback, hand tied leashes are more durable and tend to last longer then their counterpart. Therefor, we believe that no one leash is better than another, but rather the surfer needs to make sure they are using the right equipment for the right conditions.


Is it right for you?


No leash will never break, but proper preparation can reduce the chances of that happening. First and foremost a surfer needs to know their limits for their skill-set. If your surfing a half mile out to sea, be sure you can swim a half mile (or more due to conditions and currents) back to shore. Leashes are not designed to replace good swimming abilities.


Using the proper leash can reduce your swim time. Usually a surfer can match a leash to the power of the wave. If your having trouble deciding which leash to use, opt for the larger/thicker one. If you want the piece of mind that a leash will hold, as your surfing cold, sharky waters, opt for the hand tied. You'll be glad you did.


If your surfing your overhead, dredging beach break river mouth, a molded double swivel leash may be best for you. Should it be Comp or Standard? If you chose a comp be prepared to swim, but the performance of a thinner, less drag leash may be the difference of making a few more barrels. If you don't want to risk a swim, go for the standard. Maybe that extra bit of confidence will push you deeper in the pack.


If you want to buy one leash you want to last a long time in small to medium waves, go with the Heavy duty Hand Tied. There will be a little more drag and less performance, but the hand tied leashes will win out for durability and longevity.


*** Following is a guide on performance vs stretch for our line of Stay Covered leashes. ***

  • Molded Competition Leashes

    • Thinner = Less Drag

    • Thinner = More Stretch

    • Double Swivel = Performance

    • Small to Medium Waves

    • Light to Medium power

  •  Molded Standard Leashes

    • Medium Thickness = Slight Drag

    • Medium Thickness = Medium Stretch

    • Double Swivel = Performance

    • Small to Medium Waves

    • Medium to Strong Power

  • Molded Big Wave Leashes

    • Large Thickness = More Drag

    • Large Thickness = Less Stretch

    • Double Swivel = Performance

    • Sacrifices Leash Drag for Strength

    • Medium to Large Waves

    • Light to Medium Power

  • Heavy Duty Hand Tied Leashes

    • Large Thickness = More Drag

    • Large Thickness = Less Stretch

    • Sacrifices Leash drag for Strength

    • Sacrifices Double Swivel for Strength

    • Medium to Large Waves

    • Medium to Strong Power

  • XXL Big Wave Leash Hand Tied

    • X-Large Thickness = Increased Drag

    • X-Large Thickness = Decreased Stretch

    • Sacrifices Leash drag for Strength

    • Sacrifices Double Swivel for Strength

    • Large to X-Large Waves

    • Strong to X-Strong Power

  • .400 XXL Big Wave Leash hand Tied

    • XXL Thickness = A lot of drag

    • XXL Thickness = Pulls Really Hard

    • Sacrifices Leash drag for Maximum Strength

    • Sacrifices Double Swivel for Maximum Strength

    • X-Large and up

    • Maximum power waves

Previous post Next post

1 comment

  • I agree that hand-knotted leashes are better, especially in cold and sharky waters like you’re saying. Kind of hilarious, but you should look at cold and sharky surf leashes, they say they are unbreakable?!

    Dave on

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published