Legropes: The Weakest Link
Every system has a weak link; the point where it is likely to either cause complete failure, or at best, an unnecessary decline in performance.
If we look at a surfboard as a system the weak link is obvious; the leg rope. Individual boards have individual characteristics that make them suited to certain kinds of surfers but most surfers are fairly sophisticated consumers and capable of selecting a suitable board.
The basic design of a board then is usually suited to its purpose. Much the same can be said of fin design. The range of functional shapes is fairly well understood and suitable fins for a particular board can be discovered by trial and error as the vast majority of boards have interchangeable fin systems. These various systems for attaching fins to the board are the subject of frequent criticism but, by and large, failure is rare. In any given surf session the fins are unlikely to be a problem.
Traction between surfer and board, while the cause of occasional misadventure, is usually reliable. A range of waxes for different conditions are now readily available as well as a wide variety of deck pads. Theoretically it may be better to have the deck covered with some permanent non-slip coating but all attempts to produce and market such a product have come up against the conundrum that the degree of friction has been high enough to irritate unprotected belly skin. Wax seems to sit in some frictional sweet spot, high enough to provide grip for the feet without being so high as to always irritate skin.
The leg rope though is subject to two serious problems. The first is tangling. The surfer getting to his feet can find the leg rope looped around his leading leg, trapped underfoot or stuck between his toes. All of which are likely to cause loss of performance if not complete loss of control. Keeping the attachment to the the ankle strap aligned with the Achilles tendon and stretching the kinks and twists out of the rope itself may reduce the risk of tangling but it does not eliminate it.
But these issues are as nothing to the......what can you call it? String? Boot lace? Blind cord? Whatever it is, this is not so much bad design as the total absence of design. Here we are with a thousand dollars worth of sophisticated equipment attached to our leg by a mechanism that is difficult to use, unreliable and, if not used correctly, likely to cause damage and even injury. Some manufacturers are so embarrassed by this that they do not even provide it with their product.
It may be that most problems are caused by human error but if we think about that for a moment the people most likely to have difficulty are novices and inexperienced surfers- those who are also most likely to drown or need rescuing if the cord does detach from the board. Not everyone was a Boy Scout and the correct knot is not immediately obvious. Nor is it obvious that the cord is capable of damaging the tail area of the board. Does any leg rope manufacturer actually include instructions? Not in my experience!
The solution to both these issues is a total redesign of the attachment mechanism to improve reliability and reduce the risk of tangling. An entry point to finding a solution could involve looking at how the rope actually orients itself when everything goes right. The fabric tag aligns with the stringer so a section of the rope trails directly behind the board before looping back to the ankle. This is probably the minimum drag position so designing the attachment to maximise the chance of the rope taking that position makes sense. So the mechanism needs to be a light weight, reliable connection, easy to fit and that orients the leg rope to the position of minimum drag and minimum risk of entanglement.
Anyone up for the design brief? You probably won't get rich but it would make a lot of surfers happy! //blindboy