Sunday, May 20, 2012

Board Review: Bic Sport Paddle Surf's Bomb Proof 10'6 Ace-Tec

Time's have certainly changed. It wasn't too many years ago that your choice in production stand up paddle boards came down to exactly two: The very surfable, but brutally narrow (a relative sliver at 26" wide) and fully banana-rockered Mickey Munoz UltraGlide or Sean Ordonez's super versatile, cleanly shaped 11'11" Big Red. That was it. Really. Sure, there were local shapers popping out a custom board now and then but if you wanted to grab something off the rack and get out on the water that afternoon you were stuck. Fast forward to, oh say, yesterday and there I am walking through Costco eyeballing a full stand up paddle package, institutionally wrapped in super-cling plastic, paddle and all. Time's have changed all right, SUP boards are everywhere and they are easy to get. But being "able to get" and "being able to surf" are two different things- and I had to ask myself if the two requirements could ever be met; are there great surfing production boards?

That was the question that popped into my mind when a friend at Bic handed me a couple of boards for review. I was told to thoroughly and completely abuse them- and oh, yeah- surf 'em too. Frankly, the construction of the boards was just plain weird- I had instant doubts about their surf-ability. These boards are made differently than anything I'd seen out there. The 10'6 Ace-Tec (Advanced Composite Engineered Technology) is shockingly light which is a total surprise given the fact that the board is completely wrapped in a plastic shell! My traditionalist, surf board sensibilities were ready to write the thing off as a freak. I was sure that there was now way that a board like that could perform at an acceptable level. But, as with many things in life, I learned that there was more here than I had first thought. 

First of all, I learned that the board's core is ultralight, non-water absorbing polystyrene. Did you catch that? The foam blank does not absorb water and it's way lighter than the foam conventional boards are shaped from. That shaped core is then wrapped in fiberglass wetted out with epoxy resin, this is exactly how conventional stand up boards are glassed. Here's the big difference, the final layer is a thermoformed plastic coat that is a virtual suit of armor for the board. Additionally, the process of thermoforming the plastic coat, sucks all the other layers down onto the foam core and almost perfectly bonds them to it. The result is a board that is frickin' ridiculously tough. Don't tell Jimmy or Mark, the Bic guys, but I actually plonked a couple of softball sized stones on them to see what would happen... result, a big bonging sound and rock bouncing off the deck... no ding- wow!

I surfed the 10'6 a few times over the course of a couple of weeks. And, the ultimate challenge, I released them to a class of sixteen year old high school newbies. The kids surfed them along what would normally be considered a surfboard death trap, a cobble stone lined point break. My impressions? The 10'6 is a nice, all-around shape that is surprisingly spry for it's size and width (31"). In high tide, shore break surf I found it to be a smooth, predictable performer with plenty of stability in the chop (again, thanks to it's ample width). Importantly, and surprisingly,  the above average width doesn't take away from the boards surfability. 

This is a board that will put a smile on a lot of faces- especially if you are new to surfing and want to transition into wave riding without the frustration of falling every couple seconds. What I really liked about the board was the foam distribution from tip to tail (technically called the board's foil), the 10'6 is nicely bladed-out, pulling thinly towards the nose, which lowers the volume and weight there. Foiling the board that way allows you to swing it around nicely on cutbacks and bottom turns. It's like swinging a bat, if you've got the 5lb warm up doughnut on the tip of the bat, you're swing is slowed way down. Now switch to a light weight aluminum bat and you're able to swing much more quickly. The same idea applies to stand up paddle boards. Swing weight is typically a weak point for many production boards, they seem to be so uniformly foiled that their nose weight is excessive. The result is a board that comes off the bottom like a dead pig. The Ace-tec constructed Bic 10'6 is so light and stiff that it almost springs out of turns- I'd love to give this board a shot in lined up point break surf where I could really get my legs into it and jam it down the line. 

Bic's Jimmy Blakeney surfing an Ace-Tec and showing what the absence of excessive swing weight (and good paddle torque technique) will do for a cutback.  Photo credit: Peter McGowan

Like, I mentioned before, the real test came when fifteen of my students fought over the boards at a local cobblestone pointbreak. These were kids who were new to stand up paddling. Once again, the width of this particular model is a real winner when it comes to beginning stand up paddlers. You should be aware that the width of a stand up board is vastly more important when it comes to stability than the length. This is a board that, through its modern construction methods, is able to come in at a very light weight while still maintaining a comfortable width that provides loads of stability. I had complete newbie paddlers cruising the point and even paddling into a couple of small waves. Best of all, when the board got away from them and went bonking over the rocks, I didn't have to worry about the board getting completely torn up (in fact, the board looked brand new even after a two days of total abuse). The thermoformed, plastic armor definitely stood up to the board eating teeth of that rocky point.

Who should buy this board? Well, I sure as heck would not mind having this, or even the 10'6's larger brother, the 11'6" Ace-Tec in my lesson quiver. These are very stable, light, bomb proof boards that could be used both in the surf and in flatwater and with that tough plastic skin, they'd hold up in a rental/lesson environment. Who else might want an Ace-Tec? I think a beginner/intermediate paddler would get a lot of mileage out of the 10'6 version of this board, especially if you were thinking of transitioning into stando surfing. If you've got access to a spot like San Onofre's Dog Patch, this board would be the ticket- the length would give you the board speed to get into those slow rollers and the shape and weight would allow you to whip that thing around.

If you get a chance to try one of Bic's Ace-Tec boards, definitely give it a shot. I think you'll be, like me, surprised at just how well this particular modern production board performs. This may in fact be the chimera of the production board world; both accessible and surfable- what's not to like?


Anonymous said...

You really do have the best product reviews around John, with all my love for sups on the shorter side i really need to get a longer one for those chill glide days at sano where i dont feel like paddling around like a squirell on Red Bull-Great Review!
Summer is coming mi amigo!-let me know when your next patch session is on the horizon.

Paddle Planet said...

Nice review John. I have a 11'6" Ace Tec for demo/rent and inventory for sale, and getting 10'6" models in near future. We are a new authorized BIC SUP dealer in Leucadia.

John Ashley said...

Hey Jon,

Thanks! Love trying out new boards of all shapes and sizes... I'll be at DogPatch Memorial Day with my dog and crew (including chili dogs). Hope to see you there (also going to W.B.'s party!).


Aloha ;-)

Chris said...

Thanks Jon
Great article, keep up the good info.

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate the quality and depth of your review. What do you think about the ACS model versus the ACE-TEC?

Ian Berger said...

I really appreciated the review. Where I paddle I need a bomb-proof board, and the Bic construction is promising.

Tobias said...

Great review John. Can't believe the board still looked fine after you let a school class use it for two days!
I've reviewed different BIC boards myself
and have to agree that they are really high quality but knocking them over rocks seems crazy :D

If you ever feel like guest posting on my blog let me know! I would be happy to have you