If you paddle on the East Coast and pay attention to people’s standup paddleboards, you’ll notice something pretty quickly. The BIC brand is everywhere. Rental fleets use them. If a sporting goods store is selling boards, it’s usually a BIC. It’s the most popular brand for casual paddlers, by far. Heck, even LL Bean and REI have their own branded versions of BIC boards. These boards are “ubiquitous”. (You see what I did there?)
As a paddler who’s always been interested in boards for the everyday user, I wanted to answer the question: Why were BIC boards so popular? It’s not like they’re the only brand out there. Yet somehow this brand gets so much traction, especially at the beginner level and with rental fleets. To explore this question further, I spoke to Jimmy Blakeney, product manager for BIC Sports.
What’s behind their popularity?
My first question to him was exactly this, “What makes BIC so popular?” He explained to me that there were three reasons. The first was that BIC boards were a great product at a great price. The Tough-Tec boards, which are their most durable and lowest priced boards, are very affordable. And this is true. These boards are priced in the $700 range, quite a bit lower than most boards of this style. If you want a lighter-weight but still pretty tough board, the Ace-Tec models are a little more but still an excellent value.
BIC boards are molded in a factory in France, a system which is ecologically much more sustainable than other processes. While board construction is not a major source of pollution, BIC builds their boards with non-toxic resins, releasing zero air emissions. Furthermore, BIC boards are built with little or no waste. All the pieces and extra material left over from the making of one board goes back into the manufacturing cycle. Workers in BIC plants work under European labor rules, which assure a safe and fair workplace.
These boards are also classic shapes. The Allround-Surf boards in particular are a tried-and-true design, been around for years. They perform well in the waves for beginner and intermediate-level surfers. These may not be flashy boards, but they are solid.
The Cross models are stable flatwater boards. They aren’t speed demons but their keeled bottoms and multiple attachment points suit beginner flatwater paddlers well.
Durable, durable, durable
The BIC durability is really the bottom line though. The Tough-Tec boards rival the toughest boards on the market, without the weight of rotomolded construction and at a very competitive price. New for 2019 is an internal redesign of the Tough-Tec boards, reducing their weight by 10–15% and adding new graphics. One other major difference that Jimmy described was a new EPS core material which allowed the board skin to “bounce back” like it hasn’t been able to do so far. This writer can confirm that older tough BICs stay watertight but tend to dimple, keeping a memory of major impacts. The 2019 models will resist this.
When I asked why the Ace-Tec boards are priced higher than the Tough-Tecs, Blakeney’s answer was surprising. The Tough-Tecs are manufactured entirely by machine, the skin heated and thermoformed around the foam core. The Ace-Tec cores go through extra steps with the fibreglass, layer constructed by hand before it’s covered with an ASA (Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate) skin. This creates a lighter but still quite durable board, which might be a better choice for more experienced riders.
As a fan of BIC, Blakeney’s responses to my questions weren’t surprising in the end. BICs are solid boards, a Honda Civic rather than a Lexus or Porsche. But here’s the thing, a Honda Civic may not make the splashy headlines, but that’s what people buy. BIC’s the same kind of product, affordable and reliable. They’re tough without too much weight, and the new models are a step towards reducing that.
BIC Sports going forward
When asked about any new models coming out, Blakeney wouldn’t reveal anything but told me BIC was always evaluating new models and they would have some announcements for 2020.
Blakeney did have news in regards to BIC Sport’s future, which includes paddleboards, surfboards, kayaks, windsurfers, sailboats and dingies. They have recently been purchased by Tahe Outdoors, a paddling company based in Estonia. For the next year or so this won’t make much of a difference to customers, but there will eventually be a transition from one brand to the other. BIC had also recently purchased the SIC MAUI brand, a high end brand of SUPs with a very exciting product line. (Take a look at SIC’s catalog and you’ll see the BIC touring shapes within. These are no longer part of the BIC brand.) Between this and the new Tough-Tecs, these are major changes for the brand.