The impression seems to be that our sport has suddenly got a lot dearer – but is that impression born out by hard fiscal facts?
Exactly a decade ago, as the muscular fingers of the credit crunch monster was squeezing the life out of our collective wallets, mutterings within the windy community suggested that the cost of windsurfing had soared since the halcyon days of the 80s. Was this true or just a feeling brought on by austerity measures and general doom and gloom? A deep, clinical analysis of the fiscal facts revealed that not only was the kit immeasurably better, but it was on average about 3 times cheaper than it was a quarter of a century before. In fact, everything to do with the sport, notably travel and the cost of a holiday somewhere warm and windy, was cheaper. Of course the actual cost of the hardware only tells half the story. Affordability depends entirely on how much spare cash is left after we’ve paid to be alive, under a roof and with the means to get around. However, the relative cost of a rental apartment, a portion of fish and chips, a first time car and the average starting salary of a graduate, had in real terms, changed relatively very little in those 25 years. Hence the message was simple. Quit moaning, you may feel broke, but in windsurfing terms, you’ve never had it so good!
A DECADE LATER
Ten years on and that upbeat message appears harder to maintain. Windsurfing, to those who’ve been in it a while, suddenly feels more expensive. But is that feeling borne out by facts?
The industry is awash with deals and of course, prices vary between brands. So the above are all RRP’s worked out from the average costs of the 6 most recognised makes as tested in this very magazine. Since 2008 inflation has been relatively low compared to previous decades – just 30%. And yet the increase in hardware prices across the board has been about 90%.
And as for our disposable income, wages have lagged behind inflation, but the cost of certain essentials has dropped, so it’s more or less the same.
COST OF LIVING
So yes, it seems we are being asked to pay more for our favourite toys. So what’s behind it?
In the early noughties, most manufacturing moved to third world countries, where wages were low and working conditions often dubious. Those countries are no longer third world. And often at the behest of the brands, working conditions have improved and wages have risen. Inevitably those costs have to be passed on and we should all feel good about that. And then there are the currencies – both the euro and the dollar have risen dramatically (almost 30%) against the pound in the last decade. But still, is it expensive compared to what else is out there?
I was out foiling at Hayling Island last month. There aren’t many foil setups about, (the harbour is sketchily shallow in places) so it still engenders a real wow factor. As I came in, a young teenager came up to me and said it looked fun and how much did it all cost. Board and foil and rig brand new … about £3.5k. “That’s not bad.” He said. He wasn’t an entitled rich brat, he just knew the cost of things and said his dad’s new foiling Moth dinghy was £20k hull only. You can spend £5k on a road bike, bell not included, and as for motorsport – let’s not even go there. The thing is, if you’ve no spare cash, everything is expensive. But is it value for money? Owner of 2XS Simon Bassett is at the sharp end of retailing: “Yes prices have risen, but the fact is you don’t need so much kit these days. Sails have an incredible wind range and you can get a range of sizes to set on the same mast and boom. Whereas once you needed a quiver of wave boards, now one will do the job. Also a lot of people are centre based. They don’t own kit. We offer a hire package for £750 a year, which gives you unlimited use of all our latest kit. That’s far cheaper than a golf club membership and a lot more fun!”
ROBUSTLY GOOD VALUE
The fact remains that despite the recent rise, our sport is twice as cheap as it was in 1980 when it was booming out of control. And that’s not comparing like for like. Back then, things fell apart as you took them out of the wrapper. Kit is so much better now AND so much more robust that it often outlives its owner. John Michelin has had the same Starboard Flare freestyle board since he started coming on my courses in 2009. It’s showing signs of ageing, (aren’t we all?) but he still uses it in all conditions from the still waters of Brogborough lake, to the waves of Kerry. He bought it used for £900 and has worked out that every session has cost him just 15p. Now you really cant argue with that sort of value!
Peter Hart 28th Sept 2018
John Michelin on his 2009 Flare – 15p a go. Photo by Hart Photography.