Paddleboarder drowns in Whangamata and a discussion on leashes

Mullet Columns, The Mullet 1 Comment

We read this tragic story from the stuff.co.nz website about the death of paddleboarder Amie Russell whose leash got stuck under the keel of a boat, she was held under, couldn’t release her leash from her ankle and drowned. According the the article, Amie fell off her board. The current swept the board to one side of the boat and Amie to the other. The leash caught on the keel, pulling her under. She and friends were unable to release the leash from her ankle and she was held under. She had friends with her who were trying to help, but they couldn’t release her ankle in time to save her life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her friends and family for their tragic loss.

Full article here: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/77450466/caught-leg-rope-led-to-teenage-paddle-boarders-death-in-whangamata

Leashes Save Lives is a great thing

We are in full support for the “leashes save lives” movement by industry and families and friends of paddlers we’ve lost. The most common way people get in trouble is by being separated from their board. Leashes will most likely prevent 99% of situations where people fall off their board, most often in windy, rough conditions, and the board is blown away at a rate at which they can not catch up to it. Leashes can and will absolutely help save lives.

This is especially true when you consider that most new and rental paddlers tend to have their PFDs under a bungee on the deck of their board. If they are separated from their board and it floats away from them in either current or wind, they are at the mercy of conditions and their ability to float, swim, or to be rescued.

It’s important to choose the right kind of leash and pfd for the right conditions or location

According to the article, “Amie’s father, Darrell Russell, said stand-up paddle-boarding is a growing sport and he wants his daughter’s death to raise awareness of what can happen. ”

In that spirit, here is some information on choosing the right kind of leash and leash safety. It is vitally important that paddlers wear the right kind of leash for the right kind of setting. That also means it’s vitally important for rental and tour companies to also provide the right kind of leash for the right kind of setting and the appropriate PFDs.

There are basically three kinds of leashes: Ankle or surf style, coil and quick-release.

Surf -Style, Straight Leash

These are the most common types of leashes we see in SUP. They consist of a 7mm-9mm cord connecting your ankle with a neoprene cuff secured by heavy-duty velcro to the leash string and leash plug on the tail of your paddleboard. This is the type used in surfing and surf zones. To secure and remove this, you need to close or open the heavy-duty velcro on your ankle.

This is not the kind of leash you would use where there is submerged or floating structure such as trees, buoys, rocks. You would not use this in current or whitewater. Why? Because if there is current and the leash or board is snagged or stopped and you are being pulled by the current, it can be nearly impossible to release the velcro on your ankle. This is also not the ideal type of leash for races as the leash can trail next to and behind your board and other paddlers can get their paddle stuck in it. I actually pulled the feet out from under another paddler in a race where my paddle caught a leash on the catch and the combined forward movement of the other paddler and the sudden yank on his ankle had catastrophic effects. He was fine, but yelled, “why. WHY!” at me. I felt horrible and waited until he was back on his board to continue to race.

There have been two deaths in Florida by paddlers who were SUP surfing and wearing their leashes. One leash broke and the other was intact but the person still drowned. Wearing a leash is the best defense, but accident unfortunately do happen even with the best preparation.

Coiled Leash (and hybrid coiled/straight)

These are the more common types of leashes we see in SUP racing. They consist of a 7mm-9mm coiled cord connecting your ankle with a neoprene cuff secured by heavy-duty velcro to the leash string and leash plug on the tail of your paddleboard. The coil keeps the leash from trailing behind your board or getting tangled around your foot. Howzit is one company that makes a really good leash product: http://www.shophowzit.com/sup-sets/

SUP coil leash

As with the straight leash, you need to close or open the heavy-duty velcro on your ankle to use it. While the coil prevents the leash from trailing or dragging behind you and is out of the way for most submerged hazards, it is still not the kind of leash you would use where there is current or whitewater. Why? Because again, if there is current and the leash or board is snagged or stopped and you are being pulled by the current, it can be nearly impossible to release the velcro on your ankle.

Quick-Release Leash attached at waist

The Quick-Release leash connects the paddler to the board and terminates at a “quickdraw”. The link between leash and “quickdraw” is a snap shackle release device that is activated with a tug on a small canopy ball. Whitewater and river paddlers often use these. Many of the top paddlers use these in races because of the ease at which you can release the leash from your belt. The Re-Leash created by Badfish, and available from Boardworks is an excellent product.

Boardworks Re-Leash

“The Re-Leash can be attached to a pfd strap, or anything near either of your hands by the carabineer, allowing for quick detachment of the leash when under load. No more long reaches to your ankle strap when you need to get away from your board quickly. “Release and Re-Leash”. The Re-Lease was originally designed for stand up paddle boarding in rivers and for surfing stationary wave, but is also an excellent low-drag leash for all types of stand up paddle boarding.”

Why a quick release is valuable:

There is also the NRS Quick Release SUP Leash

NRS Quick Release SUP Leash

The NRS SUP Leash features a quick-release waist belt so you can safely disengage from the leash during a bad swim:

  • The waist belt easily converts to a calf strap for use in surf. It’s two leashes in one!
  • The lightweight coiled leash stretches to allow full freedom of movement while staying out of your way when you’re in the action.
  • The relaxed coil is only 20″ long but extends to 11 1/2′ (138″).
  • 2″ wide padded calf strap provides all-day comfort. Secures with a hook-and-loop closure.
  • Two in-line swivels keep the leash from tangling up.
  • Belt accommodates up to a 50″ waist.
  • Included lanyard allows easy attachment to the leash plug on a rigid SUP board.

It looks like this is $49.99 at the NRS site: http://www.nrs.com/product/15991/nrs-quick-release-sup-leash

ACA Recommendation:

The ACA recommends the following for calm water with no risk of entanglement:
~ coiled leash
~ inflatable belt pack

The ACA recommends the following for ocean surf:
~ straight leash
~ no lifejacket

The ACA recommends the following for moving water or whitewater:
~ coiled leash attached at the waist with a quick release
~ inherently buoyant type III or type V lifejacket

Endnote: Coastal paddlers should be using a quick-release leash

I’m using the wrong kind of leash for where I paddle. In Wrightsville Beach, home of the Carolina Cup, there is surf and then, there are the swift tidal currents in the Intracoastal Waterway. Naturally, we have been using surf-style leashes here. But in reality, we are in a place with incredibly strong currents, lots of moving water and structure/hazzards. There are docks, buoys and moorings. Any of these can put us in the same spot as Amie. I would recommend that all of us on coastal, tide-dependant waters treat our conditions as the same as a moving river. A coil leash is definitely an good first option. However, I am going to get a quick release leash with a Re-Leash.

Here are some articles about using leashes:

Standup Journal: Why You Need A Sup Leash: This Will Save Your Life: http://standupjournal.com/why-you-need-a-sup-leash-this-will-save-your-life/

Green Water Sports: Calf or ankle? Coiled or straight? Which style of SUP leash is right for you: http://greenwatersports.com/2430/calf-or-ankle-coiled-or-straight-which-style-sup-leash-right-for-you

SUP THE MAG: TO LEASH OR NOT TO LEASH?: http://www.supthemag.com/travel/field-notes/river-sup-leash/#PbwXtkHH1KWSR9ly.97

SUP THE MAG: SUP SAFETY BASICS: http://www.supthemag.com/features/skills/skills-awareness/#gdvYgvJskKgGfJEX.97

SUP BOARDER Lets talk about SUP Leashes: https://www.supboardermag.com/2015/11/20/talk-about-sup-leashes/

CHUM Paddle Newsletter Signup