Since 1971 they've come and they've gone. We've seen and used hundreds of them, never taking much notice, just relying on them to do their one job, the job they were designed to do.
Called “kook cords” by some of surfing's original roots community, the surfboard leash wasn't really accepted in the early years. Apparently, it made for soft, lazy surfers and poor swimmers. If you watch some of the pioneers like Duke Kahanmoku and Tom Blake, they didn't use them at all. That said, they were Olympic standard swimmers and incredible watermen, plus they didn't have the crowded line ups we find today.
To avoid having to make the long swim back to shore to retrieve his board, Santa Cruz surfer Pat O'Neill developed the prototype for the leashes we see today. Not only did this mean less swimming, but it also meant your board was less likely to get smashed on the rocks or on someone's head.
The first leg rope's needed some work and sounded kind of dangerous. They were made out of surgical tubing, wrapped around the wrist and attached to the nose of the board. The surgical tube was super-stretchy and resulted in a high-speed rebound of the surfboard, which sounds like a recipe for disaster, just ask Pat's dad, Jack (founder of O'Neill wetsuits). He famously lost his eye to a whiplashing surfboard.
We've come a long way since then and so has the leash. Since 1978, urethane has been the main material used to construct surf leash. There was a survey done and results were 99% of responding surfers use a leash whilst in the water. However, since the '80s, not much has really changed in the way of design...till now.
Introducing the FCS Freedom Leash
The designers at FCS have tweaked and revamped our run of the mill leg rope and good on them for doing so, it's been a while since anyone offered us anything new and exciting in this area. They've done a good job and they have some cool new features on offer. FCS has aimed the Freedom Leash at high-performance surfers and competitors, which is great and hopefully in the very near future, we will start to see these new features filter down into their existing products for the everyday surfer. So why could this tether possibly be better than others? Let’s take a look at the revamped leg rope...
The Cord- They say it’s a revolutionary cord, that by diameter, is stronger and lighter than any other cord on the market.
It’s a two-layered affair and it kind of looks like a posh mobile phone charger cable. The inner part is made of Polyurethane which is then wrapped in a nylon webbing. The idea is that the inner cord gives it the strength and stretch. Then the nylon webbing stops it from over stretching and helps bring it back to its original length. The nylon should also make it tangle free.
Moulded Ankle Cuff - They’ve gone for a really minimalist look and thinned it right down by taking much of the padding away, which reduces drag.
Anti Twist - On the inside, they’ve added some silicone raised grip rings that will reduce the chances of the cuff spinning around your ankle after a wipeout.
Pull Loop - This feature has been vamped up with a plastic/rubbery loop that sticks out, which makes it easier to find and pull off.
Rail Saver - It’s the same wrap and secure system as any other leash. They’ve gone for a sleeker construction to minimise drag and make it lighter.
Extended Stem - This is the bit that sticks out from the ankle. They’ve made it longer so it keeps the cord away from the ankle/leg/foot, which helps avoid tripping up on the cord and minimises that tangled leash scenario.
The Velcro - They’ve used the new more expensive premium version, which is meant to hold better and doesn’t fray as much, this means it will last longer. Not that I’ve ever encountered much of an issue in the past.
Wet Water Weight - Because they’ve used a lot less material that soaks up water, it results in a lighter leash when you are actually using it in the water. It also means it will dry sooner.
Testing - The leash was tested in Portugal in waves from 2ft to solid 7ft, on beach and point breaks. We were maybe a little over eager to test the limits of the FCS Freedom Leash and we must state that it intended use is from 1ft to 5ft.
Looks slick and minimalist - It looks the business and it’s a cool bit of kit. It's hard to imagine a leash being cool, but when you see and touch the leash for the very first time, you'll see what we mean.
Doesn’t twist on the ankle after wipeouts - It’s a small detail, but I found the raised silicone circles a great feature that works really well.
Pull loop is convenient - The new loop is a nice touch and one of our favourite additions. We all like to look cool when casually stepping out of the water and artfully peeling off our ankle strap in one suave move, this will help you do that. It also came in handy when my hands were cold and I couldn’t feel my fingers, the loop was good to be able to hook my finger into and simply pull it off.
Velcro high quality and holds tight - It’s weird, I’ve never had an issue with past velcro, but this new premium version is really good. It seems to secure and fasten really tightly. It also looks like it won’t fray as much as the old version, but time will tell with this.
Extended stem keeps the cord away from the foot - The extended stem is a good design taken from some of the knee/calf leashes and this helps reduce tangling and tripping over the leash.
Less drag in the water - Some will argue that no-one can feel the difference between a thinner comp leash and a full diameter leash. The Freedom and comp leashes seem to slice through the water better and feels less draggy than a normal leash. This might be psychological or not, but I do like the feel of a comp leash and I do believe it will give competitors an added edge to the performance.
Lighter when wet and dries quicker - It will be good as a travelling leash to cut down on weight and I like that it dries quickly, this means you can squeeze in a last minute surf before your flight, without then having to travel with a soggy leash. First world problems…
Reviewers Note - Most of the cons really only appeared when we tested the leash in bigger conditions, which isn't really the leashes fault, more user error as it's only intended for smaller surf.
Price - 45€ is the cheapest price I could find. That’s 10€'s more than a normal comp leash from FCS
Feels a little harsh around the ankle with less padding - The ankle cuff looks cool and minimalist, but when first putting on the leash, it felt a little stiff and harsh on the skin. Maybe a little extra padding wouldn't go amiss, just for the bigger set waves or wipeouts.
Nylon chaffing - Nylon chaffing, it’s a real thing and now we can get it from our surfboard leg rope. During a big session, I had the kind of upside-down wipeout where the cord wraps around the ankle, threatening to tighten and take off the entire lower leg. I straightened my leg and outstretched my foot in the hope the leash would just slide off and unravel without any fuss. It did slide off, but I did get little nylon chaffing where the cord was tight against the skin. Ok, so it wasn't serious 3 degree burns, far from it, but noticeable all the same. Then I noticed my delicate wimpy fingers were sensitive from the cord running through the hands, either when tugging the leash or simply letting it run through my fingers. Again, it wasn't life threatening as such, but a funny little detail that I and others have noticed whilst using this leash.
Conclusion - I’m sure it comes to no surprise when we tell you it works as any good leash should. To be honest, neither were we and we'd expect nothing less from the folks at FCS. The everyday leash has been unchanged for some time and I actually like the refinements they have made with the Freedom Leash. I was hell-bent on disliking it, I mean come on, as I think I already mentioned, it’s just a leash after all.
It looks cool and it looks slick as hell. The improved and added features are neat, especially the pull loop, extended stem and the velcro. I hope we start to see these added improvements in the existing range from FCS for the everyday surfer and not only for the mere elite few.
For small to medium waves, this would be a good go-to leash, especially if you’re travelling or living out of your campervan as it is light and it dries quickly.
The leash is designed for 1ft to 5ft surf. We tested it in big surf(head and a half overhead) and the leash naturally overstretched, what was a 6ft cord is now a 7ft cord, but again, that's our fault for taking it out in bigger conditions.
Is it worth forking out the extra dollar for this leash? If you enjoy the little luxuries, then I think the upgraded features are worth the money. If you don't have the spare cash, then fear not, it would be more than ok to opt for a cheaper comp leash on which we know and rely on already.
Disclaimer: Under new rules which we think are quite cool, we have to actually tell you how these test items got to us at the Bunker. The product was supplied to us by FCS. We were not paid for this review. We have tried to be as honest as possible and FCS have had no control over what we decided to write. Not one bit, no sir. We like to remain honest, true and untarnished. Thank you for reading.