Editor’s Note: Issue 7.2

Judge not let you be judged.

american_windsurfer_john-chaoBY THE TIME this issue hits the fan, I will be somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic. The oceanic storms might be gentler than the storms which this issue might produce.

Why am I apprehensive? Perhaps it’s that old saying. “Judge not let you be judged. For in the way you judge, it will be judged unto you.” This issue is about judgement. Not that we planned it that way. It is just the way it came out. You might say, “It’s the nature of the beast”. Truth can be a form of judgement; conversely, lies, a form of misjudgment. Just as few people can tolerate lies, many people often have a problem with truth.

Facts and truth are not the same when you are dealing with complexities or trying to arrive at a reasoned judgement by sifting facts through filters of experience and preferences. Just as each sailor has his or her unique windsurfing experience as a basis for comparison, every board tester has one or more preferences to factor into an evaluation. Whenever we add technical equipment to human response, the final result will be greater than the sum of the parts. And that final result has to include an acceptance of the ambiguities inherent in the situation. Such paradoxical and contrary states keep life interesting!

Not to make excuses or to pass the buck. If the buck does stops with me then after this issue, there could be very few bucks from the industry to pass from my desk. Already, one major distributor who was not willing to be scrutinized by this magazine unless it was on their terms pulled their advertising when we refused. We all know the unfortunate reality that advertising is what keeps magazines alive, and naturally anyone who bites the hand that feeds them is certainly bound for the slim farm. We’ve been slim for a long time and we’re racing to become self-reliant and to draw support from you the readers and from outside the industry advertisers.

When an industry, like windsurfing, falls on tough times and has lost sight of growth, the first line of defense is for companies to hold their market share. After that, the game is to take over other shares. The best and most effective tool to do this is to use advertising dollars as leverage for editorial favoritism. Since equipment tests are demanded by readers, it has become a game of cat and mouse between manufacturers and publishers. A good product review will sell more equipment; naturally, the magazine will be rewarded with more ads.

This is the reality of the windsurfing world. A sport that has lost sight of a healthy entry base has equipment manufacturers fighting each other for the remaining die-hard players. The annual equipment tests have become a powerful and misleading tool. Shop owners, seeing that consumers are swayed by reviews, will only stock product with a favorable review. This practice has climbed up the food chain to distributors, in that magazine’s reviews now affect the kinds of products imported into the country.

This practice puts way too much influence in the hands of the magazine. For us to pretend that we are the authority would be the definitive misguided misjudgment. To begin with, testing equipment with the kind of variables that exist in the sport is impossible. You can spend a month testing four sets of gear and not have a conclusive result. Knowing this, we tried to do something different this year.

We contracted a writer with a journalistic reputation and gave him the responsibility of managing the test and writing the reviews. What we got is pretty much what you get in this issue. Aside from a few corrections of facts, insertion of information and deletion of personalized comments, the reviews, good or bad, are as is.

Several industry people have raised eyebrows when they realized we would print such brevity as reviews. No doubt we will be criticized. We will certainly take the blame for it. We will be grateful if we get some praises.

Let me point out a few of the factors affecting these reviews. For one, the writer is not an expert windsurfer. In a sense, we went from one extreme to another. Instead of an all-knowing guru telling people what to buy, we went to a great writer who reports what he knows well. This translates to the reality that companies whose reps spoke to our reviewer got stronger reviews than those who weren’t as accessible. This is also the nature of the beast. Journalists cannot report on information from sources who do not make themselves available.

To balance out the critical side here’s what I think we did right: Sound bites from testers. Focus groups. Compiling composite ratings from a group of people (including dealers), at different levels of windsurfing skill. And yes, these innovations will be carried over to future board tests. Let me also point out something that will be terribly right. Take note of the advertisers who continue to advertise in this magazine. They are brave souls who support free speech and who have the confidence to take constructive criticism without lashing out.

Without apology, any inconsistencies in reporting reflect the shifting essence of windsurfing itself. Whenever we step onto the water, we are navigating through a sea of variables.

The intro title of the test was well chosen, “Bogus is as Bogus Does”. We may be pointing fingers but, on the other hand, we cast no stones without expecting some to be cast back at us. While the judgements in this issue may be refreshing and entertaining, you may find that some of them lack grace. In our opinion, judgement without grace is about as bogus as you can get. So the “grace” needed will have to come from you, the reader. For everything else, we take editorial responsibility, especially in those instances where finding flaws make us as bogus as anyone else.

by John Chao

Publisher / Editor is a former photojournalist for GEO, National Geographic and Time-Life Magazines.