Friday, December 7, 2012

Exocet WindSUP 10 - not for surf?


As I briefly posted before, I damaged my Exocet WindSUP 10 last Sunday. Today, I heard back from Exocet (through Sailworld Cape Cod) that "there is no warranty when the board is damaged in the surf".

Do they mean that the WindSUP should not be used for wave sailing? The conditions last Sunday seemed easy enough, here are a few pictures from the time that we sailed that the Coast Guard Beach cam took:


Wind was around 10-15 mph. I am a beginner at wave sailing, with about three previous wave sailing days (two in planing conditions, one in light wind on the WindSUP). Last year, we spent six weeks on Maui during the summer and sailed almost everyday, including a number of days at Sprecks when small summer waves were breaking. Yes, those were summer waves, but they sure were bigger than the waves last Sunday.

However, I am a pretty decent light wind sailor (3rd in freestyle at the 2012 East Coast Windsurfing Festival). After reading lots of posts of the iWindsurf forum, I had gotten the impression that the WindSUP 10 would be a great board to get into light wind wave sailing, and bought one at full price at the local dealer. But nothing prepared me for the board breaking the second time I tried it in waves.

I have occasionally damaged windsurf gear before: in the last 3 years I bent two booms when running aground during speed runs; poked holes into maybe four sails during various crashes; and dinged the nose of my Skate when a gust hit me in a loop exercise catapult. I positively hate breaking equipment, but with about 100 sailing sessions a year, the level of damage was tolerable. I also understand that waves will increase the chances that something breaks, which is why we decided not to go out on two previous visits to Coast Guard Beach, when the waves were higher. Last Sunday looked manageable, though...

The first time I went out, I did everything right - I watched the waves for a while, picked a spot where few waves broke, and followed the advice of a local wave surfer to just get through the shore break and then swim as fast as I could into cleaner water. It worked like a charm, and I had a blast. The second time, I spent too little time observing the waves, and went out to early and perhaps at the wrong spot, which is why I got washed. I recovered the gear within maybe a minute or at most two, and made it out of the water without any problems. When I saw the damage to the board, I was quite surprised - it definitely looked like way too much damage what happened. Here are two more pictures of the board:

The top of the board actually has three long lines in across the board, which extend to the sides. It appears that the board buckled, and then kept bending at a couple more places.

I have owned four Exocet boards in the past few years, and still have three of these. Two of the boards have had structural problems that seemed out of proportion to what happened to them. When I bought the WindSUP 10, I got the AST version because I hoped that it would be more durable than the wood version - but it seems that did not help at all. For a board that is almost twice as heavy as my wife's Fanatic SUP, it seems way to fragile, at least for beginners in moderate waves. I thought that maybe I got a lemon, but Exocet's reaction does not support this - maybe they have seen a lot of similar problems? After this experience, it is extremely unlikely that I will by another Exocet board in the future. I can't really recommend the WindSUP to friends anymore, either, quite the opposite. I will get this board repaired, but I do not think that I will let anyone else try it in the future.

The broken board has added to the windsurfing frustration this fall, which has been the least-windy fall in years. Light wind SUP sailing might be just what helps to get through this wind-less time, but I don't have a SUP right now. Even when I get it back, I will be hesitant to go out with it in any interesting surf - it might just break again! So I started looking for a more robust alternative, and discovered the 10'6 Ace-Tec Wind SUP from BIC. The board has about the same length, volume, and width as the Exocet WindSUP 10. It does not have a daggerboard, but the daggerboard on the WindSUP is disappointing, anyway: it wants to come out of the board when trying to move it into the "down" position; and when the wind gets stronger, so that a traditional longboard (or even my Kona Mahalo) would rail up, the WindSUP does not rail, and instead just feels quite unbalanced.

One argument often used for the Exocet WindSUP is that it planes quite well for a windsurfable SUP. However, the BIC Wind SUP also seems to plane well and early - just look at the this video (from 3:45 on), where the guy planes without any whitecaps in sight. BIC mostly downplays the wave suitability of the board, but at least one top SUP racer and windsurfer seems to think it's plenty of fun in waves.

The biggest reasons to go for the BIC, however, are durability and price. For the longest time over the past 10 years, my go-to boards were made by BIC: a Techno 293 and a Nova 120. Both boards took lots of abuse over the years without any problems whatsoever, and the SUP uses very similar technology. The older boards were a bit heavy, but the weight of the BIC (13.5 kg) is actually a bit lower than the weight of the Exocet (13.9 kg). The BIC is also a lot cheaper, with a list price of $1,100, compared to $1,600 for the Exocet. Paying $500 extra for a boards that weighs the same, but is more fragile, just does not make sense. I may get the BIC just to have a board that I do not need to worry about as much!

Let me end this post by repeating what Exocet seems to be telling me:

Do not take the WindSUP into the waves, unless you are an expert,
or at least willing to replace the board!



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Shortly after posting this post, I got some pretty emotional feedback from David, a fellow ABK student. He suggested that I "just get over it", and blamed "absurd warranty and liability claims" for rising prices of windsurf equipment, and predicted that windsurf shops would blacklist me for the post. Just in case someone else has similar feelings, let me clarify and add a few things:

The warranty claim
The board broke on Sunday. I also use the board for SUP touring, so I needed to repair or replace it as soon as possible. I contacted a local board repair guy who also builds custom surfboards on Monday morning. His response was that I first should check with the manufacturer , because he had seen many boards replaced after this happened.

On Monday afternoon, I drove the board to Sailword Cape Cod, where I had bought the board. Jim looked at it and said that he would contact Exocet, though he was not optimistic about their response. He also showed me a SUP that arrived in two pieces at his shop, and had been repaired by his local repair guy (a boat builder and windsurfer). It looked good, so this was the fallback option.

It then took until Friday afternoon to hear back from Exocet, who denied the claim. Jim wrote: "Exocet says that there is no warranty when the board is damaged in the surf". If that's their policy, why does it take them 4 days to answer?

Jim also gave me a quote for the repair ($280), and I told him to go ahead. The repair will not include painting (unlike the excellent repairs Donny Bowers does in Hatteras), but I plan to use the board many times before we get to Hatteras again in the spring. I asked Jim to go ahead with the repair. Jim has been really friendly and helpful in this whole thing. I am glad that we still have a local windsurf shop, and I will continue to support him by buying my gear locally when possible, even if I could get it a bit cheaper on the internet.

The liability claim
There never was one. I have not heard about many liability claims, either. Perhaps David has to deal with these things in his corporate life in other business areas, so he simply assumes it's a problem in windsurfing, too. But for windsurf boards, the general consensus seems to be that higher prices are caused by lower volumes. 

Product durability and warranty policies
I had hoped that the WindSUP would be more durable than very light SUPs. I think it is with regard to light wind flat water sailing and freestyle. Nina's very light SUP got dinged the first day she used it when the boom hit it; the Exocet WindSUP has taken similar things many times without problems. However, it was obviously not as durable as I had hoped for in the waves. Maybe I got a lemon, or maybe it was just bad luck, we'll never know. What I do know, however, is that the washing did not look bad enough to cause anything like the damage that happened.

At least here in the US, it is entirely up to a company how they deal with warranties. We could argue about legal terms, but it's pointless - nobody will sue a company because a board breaks. What this boils down to is reputation. Exocet never gave me anything about warranties, nor can I find anything on their web site. In stark contrast, North sails come with a 5-year warranty, and they also sell a boom with an "unconditional" warranty. When I recently spent $700 for my first carbon boom, the 1-year warranty that Chinook offered was very important, and the dealer (Jim again) assured me that Chinook would definitely honor it if something happened.

For some brands, high durability and good warranties are why they are successful - Ezzy is one company that comes to mind. Other companies are known for less durable products and non-existing warranties; I, for one, mostly stay away from them. But this brings another French company in the windsurfing industry to mind: Select Fins. When I started GPS speed surfing a few years ago, Select was the fin brand. Most top speeds were posted on Select fins like the Caspar. Then, several speed surfers had problems with Select fins disintegrating after very few uses, and not getting helpful responses from the company. Now, three years later, I rarely see anyone posting GPS speeds with Select fins. Everyone has seems to have switched to different brands.

Other Exocet experiences
I had eluded to other problems that I have had with Exocet boards above. Since I have also been accused of unfairly blasting Exocet, I think it it necessary that I expand on this. 
In the last two years, I have bought 2 used Exocet Warp slalom boards. I am still using the Warp 71 as my go-to board when I want to plane in light winds. The colored dual layer footpads on the board are coming off, so it's not that pretty anymore, but otherwise the board is fine. However, the Warp 66 that I bought this year was a bit more problematic. It arrived with a long scratch that the previous user had considered harmless; however, it did penetrate to the core, as I discovered when I fixed it up. I'd blame the previous user for this issue. The bigger problem was the fin box: it was a lot bigger than the box on the Warp 71, so switching fins was simply not possible. I have often borrowed fins from my friend Dani, who uses Fanatic Falcons and Starboard Isonics, and never had a problem with the fins fitting in my RRD XFire 90 or the Warp 71. Similarly, my regular tuttle fins all fit my F2 Missile, the XFire, and the Warp 71 without problems. The Warp 71, however, required it's own fin; instead of sanding the fin to make it fit, I had to add layers of tape. I ended up selling the Warp 66 the same year I got it, and the different fin box sizes where one big reason for selling it. It seems that Exocet had some quality control problems when they build the Warp 66 and 71 which resulted in very different tuttle box sizes. 

SUP sailing in waves
My light wind SUP wave sailing days are over - but only for now, until I have a new board or the repaired WindSUP. It's too much fun to give it up. Windsurfers have to be optimists, and I seriously hope I won't break a board every second time I go out into waves. But there are a few things that I need to keep in mind when SUP sailing on waves. Most importantly, a SUP board is a lot bigger than a short board, so the forces on it will also be a lot bigger. I am 99.9% certain that a 100 l wave board would not have taken any damage in the washing that broke the WindSUP; but I think there is a higher chance that another SUP would also have gotten damaged. Some things to do to avoid damage in the shore break are:
  1. Take time to study the waves before deciding whether to go out. If in doubt, don't go out (this rule applied a few times before last Sunday, but Sunday looked harmless enough).
  2. Before going out, take the time to study the wave patterns and the currents. Wait until you get a good idea about the sets. This will probably take longer than you think if you are a newbie to waves. I did this the first time I went out, but not the second time.
  3. Pick your spot carefully. Go out where the current goes out, not sideways, and where the breaks are smaller. Again, thanks to PK for the tip about the currents. That's still a bit hard for me to see, though.
  4. Never, ever even think about going in with your back to the waves. It's always a bad idea, but turning a big SUP around in shore break takes way to long.
  5. Keep the nose pointing straight into the wind - not just when sailing out, but also when going into shore break. If the board is partially sideways, the wave will want to turn it more, and you have no chance of holding on to it once the wave hits the side of the board.
  6. Pick the right time, and get out quickly. You should have a good idea when to start from point #2 - if not, look longer. Then, don't dawdle - if you wait long enough, something bad will happen. Don't try to be cool - if necessary, simply swim for your life to drag the board into a safe zone (another helpful tip from PK).
  7. When coming back in, ride the back of a wave onto shore, then grab the handle a the back quickly and drag the board all the way up.
I wrote this mainly as a reminder for myself, but maybe it will help other wave SUP sailing newbies, too. For me, I just have to remember to do all these things...

7 comments:

  1. Dang! It sure is a bummer that this happened right when you were starting to enjoy light wind wavesailing. It's possible that the Windsup is weaker than most sups, or that you got a defective one. On the other hand, it's possible that the stuff got washed in a way that would have broken any similarly sized board. Sigh. I guess we'll only know if we start hearing lots of similar stories from other folks with the windsup 10.

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  2. James, my bet is on back luck - either with the board being a lemon, or with the way the waves hit it. But I still think a more robust board would have survived without damage, so I'll get a Bic. Three SUPs for 2 people is not too much, anyway (especially when compared to our other windsurf boards, where board:sailor ratio is quite a bit higher :-)

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  3. sorry about the board. AST construction is good for impact but may not be so stiff when it comes to surf conditions.1-2 min rolling in the surf is a long time giving every 6-8 seconds a wave hits the board.The sail also acts like an anchor and not letting the board move with the wave but pinning it to the beach break.
    I've repaired quite a few 2 piece boards. Make sure he also repairs the bottom of the board because the laminate has been compromised by the board flexing. Once I repaired the top of a board the bottom cracked soon after a few jumps. Board is now my winter sailing board and takes quite the beating.
    Oh and it's an Exocet but I've broken other brands, rider error

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  4. I sail an RRD Wassup 8'5 and a Coreban Performer 9'6 in the waves regularly and have given both boards a hard time with no problems. When I first bought the RRD I dinged it by dropping it. The repair guy had also installed the mast track on my Coreban so he was able to contrast the construction of the 2 boards. He told me the construction of the RRD was very inferior to the Coreban. Despite the inferior construction to the Coreban the RRD has held up well to my abuse.

    Your board should not have broken.

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  5. Some years ago I crazily tried to take my Mistral Pacifico (original 11'4" version) through pre-hurricane surf, light straight-onshore wind, Fire Island. Made it a couple of hundred feet from shore, big wave took the board from me, and in the white water I couldn't catch up with it. Waves carried it all the way back to shore, and then shore break threw it up on the sand. Top batten of the sail was broken, and tore the batten pocket, but NO damage to the board. Will not try that again (though it was pretty exciting). But I routinely take the board into surf much like your 12/2 conditions.

    I agree with other comments that likely point of damage for a convertible SUP is the mast track. Unless you have a heavy wave breaking directly on the nose, you should not see that kind of damage to your board (those are obviously not heavy waves). Interesting that yours is the 10 - other reported case of similar problem is 11'8", which obviously is subjected to greater stress by virtue of its size. I feel badly for Exocet, but they seem to have a problem.

    Thanks for pointing out the BIC - hadn't seen it, looks great. Not for me (since I have Pacifico, which won't paddle surf as well, but is very good windsurfer), but will keep in mind to recommend.

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  6. Sorry to hear it. Warranty should have covered it in the waves! That's the only place to use that board. I love the way the 11'8 wave sails but waited for the 10' hoping it would paddle surf better. The weight and price of the 10' was disappointing but I still planned on getting one.

    I just put my RRD Wassup 8.5' for sale to use that towards it. But this feedback is not good. Stuff breaks and the response needs to better address the issue. I am not a expert wave sailor so this board is not for me.

    Thanks for posting. You just saved me $2K!

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  7. I commented on your other page about this, but, yeah, Exocet boards have lost their mojo. Bic may not be a flashy brand, but at least their tough. NSP too.

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