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The Deku Leaf is probably the most unique item in Wind Waker, and one of the most useful. This has a lot to do with the fact that since you acquire it in the Forest Haven rather than Dungeon, isn't used for a specific task that is found in one dungeon like most other items in Zelda games and therefore it's use is more spread across the game.

Using the Item

How the Deku Leaf is used when You press its assigned button differs depending on whether Link is standing on the ground or jumping in the air. Using the Deku Leaf while on the  ground makes Link swing the leaf, throwing a gust of wind in the direction Link faces, which can activate fan switches (by far more common in the forbidden woods than any other dungeon in Wind Waker) or blow flying enemies out of the sky. It doesn't kill them but is pretty useful against such foes before proper long range weapons are acquired, such as the bow or Hookshot. Is second use is far more widely use in the game, the ability to glide through the air.

The uses for this are fairly obvious, being able to cross large gaps and to avoid taking damage due to long falls. The Deku Leaf's use is limited, however, you can't gain any height after your jump and it consumes your magic meter. The latter point isn't huge trouble, as it drains Link's magic at a slow speed, and is easily restored. The Deku leaf is the use of magic in the game as the only other items vital for completion are not found for a long amount of the game.

Making Link reach longer distances before touching the ground is more complex. The wind direction can help or hinder Link's flight in outdoor area so the wind should be blowing in links direction to reach a good distance.  Of course you can't use the wind in dungeons or other inside areas but there are other ways to reach greater heights, which occur in the dungeons with many floors. For example,use can use Deku buds (which are found mostly in the forbidden woods, and throw Link high into the air when he hops into one) to give you a high starting jump before using  the Deku Leaf. There are also switches in some dungeons (the Wind Temple mainly) that activate fans on the floor, making an updraft that pushes you high into the air when you fly over them.

Extra Notes

In the Wind Temple (one of the dungeons which you are partnered with another character named Makar), Makar uses a Deku Leaf to fly short distances when you take control of him. He is a lot more skillful with it than Link, being able to fly higher and further than the hero.   

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