A surfboard leash or leg rope is the cord that attaches a surfboard to the surfer. It prevents the surfboard from being swept away by waves and stops runaway surfboards from hitting other surfers and swimmers. Modern leashes comprise a urethane cord where one end has a band with a velcro strap attached to the surfer's trailing foot, and the opposite has a velcro strap attached to the tail end of the surfboard.
Prior to leashes' introduction in 1971, surfers who fell off their boards had to swim to retrieve them with runaway boards being an inconvenience to the surfer and a danger to other surfers. Santa Cruz resident Pat O'Neill is credited with popularizing the surf leash. His initial designs consisted of surgical cord attached to a board with a suction cup. At the 1971 Malibu international surfing competition, Pat offered leashes to his competitors in the event. Consequently, he was disqualified from the event for wearing his leash, dubbed a kook cord by those at the event. However, over the next year, the leash became a ubiquitous tool in the surfing world.
Jack O'Neill lost his left eye in a surf leash accident as the surgical tubing used in the early designs allowed the leash to overstretch, causing the surfboard to fly back towards the surfer. Subsequent cords were made with less elastic materials such as bungee cords.
Ultimately, urethane was the material of choice for leashes. The urethane design was patented by David Hattrick (Australian Patent 505,451 issued September 5, 1977). However, he built the prototype in 1972 while surfing an isolated surf break called Cactus in the Great Australian Bight. Necessity was the mother of invention as one of the largest breeding grounds for white pointer sharks was nearby.[clarification needed] He then settled in the Margaret River area of Western Australian initially making leg ropes of this design for surfing friends. Later in the 70's, he established Pipe Lines surfing products and developed a design that could be patented. This design also won an Australian Design Award in 1979.
Leashes are still the source of some contention in surfing today as, although they are now accepted as mandatory equipment for shortboarders, many longboarders refuse to wear them, claiming it interferes with their ability to walk up and down the board.At crowded surf spots with large waves, it is argued that the freedom of not wearing a leash is secondary to the safety of others.