Words: Bouke Becker
Pics: Witchcraft Windsurfing
There’s much criticism about the cost of new windsurfing equipment – in fact, it’s serious bone of contention for many riders. Long time industry insider and business owner Bouke Becker speaks about one of the most controversial aspects of windsurfing.
Talk to us about the cost of windsurfing equipment and why prices are such as they are.
Rather than just looking at the price, I like to think about the FOI (Fun On Investment) ratio of windsurf equipment. How much fun will you get back for a certain price.
The costs depends as various brands have different business, production, promotion and distribution models. Producing in Asia is cheaper but the used production methods give an average quality at best. For many weekend warrior, freeride or less frequent windsurfing it may still be OK if you accept that you may need to do a repair here and there and the deck can go soft over time. The lower quality usually is not cheaper as the distribution and promotion models used add a lot of costs. Nowadays with diminishing sale volumes, I think their business models are outdated. But their customers will be on brands that you can also find in magazines if that is a value to them. As long as they remember they paid for this. Any promotion costs will always be passed on to the end user.
The opposite is the custom builder. Production costs are much higher but the quality can be better, depending on the technical knowledge, experience and testing possibilities of the builder in question. There are considerable differences between the various builders. As most reveal what goes in their boards I can easily keep track of how far they are with their developments. But there are no distribution costs (maybe transport costs if the builder is further away) and usually hardly any promotion costs. So in the end their FOI ratios are on average better than the brands producing in Asia.
It is similar for custom sail makers. However opposite to boards, the stitching and finish quality of sails made in Asia is usually considerably higher than that of custom sail makers.
We at Witchcraft have an in between model with semi-custom production of boards in Eastern Europe with shorter transport and distribution routes. We have a waiting list so no stock which also saves costs. We do not have importers but in some countries we have dealers who may have test boards and/or sails and supply after sales support if needed. Dealers get supplied directly from the factory without importers in between. Customers can also order direct from Witchcraft. You can also test Witchcraft gear on Fuerteventura, Sidi Kaouki, Pozo, El Medano and in the UK.
Then we also have a custom board production on Fuerteventura where you can get the best of the best.
For our sails made in Asia we have a different business model. We order once a year or 8 months but we noticed it is hard to estimate what will sell the most and putting a lot of sails on stock is expensive and risky so for customers who plan their windsurf investments ahead, when we make an order we offer 30 to 40% pre-order discount on new sails. Like this customers can get brand new, current, durable high performance sails for very good prices. I think this model will catch on more in years to come. The FOI (Fun On Investment ) rate is the best you can find. Also our promotion costs are limited without PWA riders or PWA fees. We are very selective in our advertising and sponsoring selected riders costs less due to the durability and resale value of the gear.
Do you think a continuing rise of equipment costs is likely?
No, probably not. The main manufacturer of windsurf boards in the world has been working to get a monopoly position in their business, luring more and more brands in and increasing their prices once these brands no longer had any choice. For example the brands they produce for are not allowed to sell direct. But now I think they´ve reached a limit.
How far do you think this will go before it reaches the limit?
I think prices of the main brands have reached a limit and will not increase more but you never know. The world economic situation and factors such as exchange rates and the price of oil can still increase prices, especially what is produced in Asia and paid in USD.
What’s your answer to those punters who criticise kit prices?
Windsurfing is a materialistic sport, i.e. without kit you can´t windsurf and the quality of the kit makes a difference to the fun you will have on the water. However, far worse is not to be windsurfing and there is equipment to be had which is actually dead cheap that will still get you out there if you are a more gentle sailor. It matters a lot how hard you are on kit.
You don´t have to have the latest most expensive kit to have fun. You should look at the pricing of kit how good the FOI rate is. This can be cheap old used equipment which is still in a good condition but if you are heavier on your equipment you should really invest more to get higher quality equipment that can handle it. Witchcraft offer high quality, top performance equipment that will last a long time so the FOI ratio is often actually better. Not only top level riders benefit from better equipment, nailing a gybe or needing more or less equipment to cover a wind range can just as well be the difference between poor or thoroughly developed kit. Also remember that equipment does not break when there is no wind, so you have to take into account all other costs, like transport, holidays, etc. Missing out on sessions due to equipment failure actually costs a lot more than just the repair.
What’s the best route of action for windsurfers looking to buy new equipment but can’t afford full prices?
Normally, what you pay is what you get but with used equipment you have to be careful. We give guarantees on our used equipment but with most equipment sold by private persons that is not the case. For boards, the most important thing is to check if everything is still hard, if there are repairs or parts repainted and the weight is OK. Sails are easier, everything is visible, there is nothing that can hide inside, under pads or paint.
Any final comments?
Well another thing to be aware of is that fancy, high quality looking black carbon boards are in fact not very practical. Fragile, hard to repair invisibly and a substantial danger of overheating in the sun. Be aware basically…