Tracks - - Stuff We Dig -

You get a sense for how con­tro­ver­sial the legrope was when you re­call that it was orig­i­nally la­belled a kook cord, a sissy string and a dope rope. Surfers were proud of their abil­ity to ride with­out fall­ing off and, if they did, their prow­ess at re­triev­ing their craft. Iron­i­cally, when it was first in­tro­duced the leash ini­tially made surf­ing more dan­ger­ous. Early pro­to­types used sur­gi­cal cord, one end suc­tion-capped to the board's nose, the other at­tached to the surfer's wrist. When a board sprung back it could find a soft con­clu­sion in a surfer's face. Jack O'Neil, founder of O'Neill wet­suits, lost his eye to an early legrope accident, thus ac­quir­ing his trade­mark eye patch. The de­sign was grad­u­ally im­proved and most surfers were strap­ping them on to their back foot by the early '70s. Surf­ing changed rapidly and in a myr­iad of ways as a re­sult. Novice rid­ers could gain a quicker foothold in the line-up, new breaks could be pi­o­neered, count­less lives were saved and per­for­mance lev­els spiked up­wards (less time swim­ming meant more time surf­ing). Some big wave surfers still ride with­out a leg­gie to­day but their num­bers ap­pear to be dwin­dling even at for­mer strongholds like Puerto Es­con­dido. In­flat­able wet­suits and spare air can­is­ters ap­pear to be the new dan­ger­ous idea for big wave surfers. While both are de­signed to save lives (and prob­a­bly have al­ready) there is the pos­si­bil­ity of un­in­tended con­se­quences. Shane Do­rian de­signed the Bil­l­abong V1 for his peers and not the gen­eral public. It uses a CO2 car­tridge to in­flate a blad­der in­side the wet­suit which rock­ets you to the sur­face dur­ing a pro­longed hold down. "I don't want the suit to take the place of ex­pe­ri­ence, abil­ity, com­mon­sense, or good judg­ment. It's sup­posed to help make the peo­ple who are al­ready do­ing this and love to surf big waves safer," Do­rian said on its launch. De­mand for the V1 has been huge and other com­pa­nies are now of­fer­ing sim­i­lar de­vices. Spare Air – a vest or can­is­ter of emer­gency air – has been more con­tro­ver­sial with charg­ers like Mark Healey sug­gest­ing that it brings more risks than ad­van­tages. The big wave fra­ter­nity are still test­ing pro­to­types but the safety de­vices ap­pear to be gain­ing in pop­u­lar­ity. It is un­clear if in­flat­able de­vices will be avail­able for the gen­eral public and, if not, who will be el­i­gi­ble for one. Greg Long, who nearly drowned at Cortez Bank last year, has raised a more con­tro­ver­sial is­sue on Sur­fline. At what point do safety de­vices make big wave surf­ing too safe and take away its al­lure?

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