C4 Falcon 80 Review

This is to be my first ‘product review’ and how it came about was through the fins I’m about to review…

I am a professional Freediving Instructor and judge (I do it full time for a living as opposed to being just a weekend instructor) and I currently work with, have dived and trained with some of the top freedivers and Freedive trainers in the world. Based on this and my own experience I hope my opinion carries some weight and helps others to form an educated opinion when buying some of the products I will start to review in this blog from time to time.

A year ago before returning to Dahab I managed to track down a pair of the almost ‘mythical’ C4 Falcon 80’s.

 

Shot taken on the day of purchase

 

The Falcon 80’s differ from the Standard Falcon’s in that they are slightly longer (almost 1 meter – not so much fun when travelling!) and as a rule come in one stiffness (which is equivalent to the soft (or 25 stiffness) blade available in the standard C4 Falcon.

Knowing how sought after these fins were I was more than slightly excited when I managed to buy a pair which had been in the water less than five times in 8 years and which had been stored so well they were still in the original box (note the condition they were in). The owner had purchased them to take to Greece, they arrived a bit late, and after a few test dives he went to Greece without them, got back and stopped Freediving (and became a pilot)…the fins never saw water again.

 

Here is what happened next:

 

Two weeks later I had returned to Dahab, Egpyt and was very excited to try out my new Falcons. In factory condition (apart from a few stickers I added for aesthetic value:) they looked amazing and got quite a bit of attention when I took them out.

I had used the fins for less than one month for casual diving meaning that I used it a few times to do some shallow dives (FRC’s and dives to less than 35 meters) and perhaps two or three times while instructing. Then, without warning and during Freedive Dahab’s annual Triple Depth Competition, I was sitting on the FDD platform in the middle of the Blue Hole next to Linda Paganelli when she pointed at my fin in utter shock. I looked down and saw that the blade on my left foot was dangling at a very strange angle…the blade had snapped.

Crack over screw holes (the sticky substance is Duct Tape residue)

 

The blade had snapped right in a perfect line over the two screw holes used to attach it to the footpocket. Ironically Lotta Eriscon (with whom I also work) had a pair of C4 Falcons (standard 25’s) which she had been using for about 2 months snap in exactly the same way only a few weeks before.

It became clear that the reason the blades were breaking is because of a design flaw: The blade is too soft to be drilled. If drilled at the point of inflection (where they bend)  -exactly where they were drilled -, the blade is weakened and they tend to break…not rocket science but still a hard way to learn. I then started googling C4 Falcons and breaks and the same story kept popping up: Break over the bend right in line with the holes.

 

Strike one:

Bad Design

 

My first reaction was to follow up on the Guarantee number (found at the bottom of all C4 blades).

After explaining exactly what had happened and how disappointed I was in this simple design flaw which I’ve come to find was quite common, the response I got was this (quoted):

 

Dear Mr.Jacques,

The Falcon 80 in the photos are made in 2002. This pair of blade has 9 years old. The guarantee is 2 years.

We stopped the production of those blades some years ago.

It’s 21 years that C4 made fin’s holes… If the holes were a problem we should have them removed.

Could you please tell us where are you from?

Thanks and Best Regards,

C4 Staff

 

If your Italian-English isn’t up to par here is a quick translation of the sentence concerning the holes:

 

“C4 has been producing fins which have been drilled (for foot pockets) for nearly 21 years. If the drilling were the reason that the blades were breaking we would have stopped doing this a long time ago…”

 

Fair enough the guaruntee was out of date but I disagreed with the matter of the screw holes and sent several examples (including images of our different broken Falcons) to illustrate my point. Several follow up emails later I still received no replies. C4 had blown me off…

 

Strike Two:
Very poor customer service, especially considering I was writing from a Freedive Centre (potential clients maybe?)

 

SO

 

What do I actually think of the Falcons 80’s:

 

C4 Falcon Blades…less than a month of diving

 

 1. They are too soft.

 

Blade stiffness comes down to personal preference, but now being able to compare the softness of the 80’s to a range of other far more efficient soft blades I can say that the 80’s are way too soft. Diving even at the shallow depths I got to try them on (never more than 35 meters with Falcons), they felt like ribbons on my feet and as much as I wanted to believe that they were efficient, they weren’t. I know several top freedivers have done crazy depths wearing these blades, but so have the same divers wearing Cressi Gara’s! I suppose smaller divers (women for example) wouldn’t feel this lack of push the same way a bigger guy would…as I said, for me (personally) being an average sized guy they are too soft.

 

The blades were designed for deep diving. Because of their softness the diver feels less strain on his/her legs on the ascent meaning that finning is very comfortable and build up of lactic acid/tiredness in the legs is delayed…it does take way more kicks than a stiff blade would need to cover the same distance/depth (stiffer = better transfer of leg effort into propulsion), it just doesn’t feel too uncomfortable doing it.

 

The 80’s (and softer Falcons) would be useless whenever weight becomes a factor. Best example: Try spearfishing – If you shoot a 200 kg tuna at 20 meters how much fun do you think it’s going to be to try and get you both to the surface with fins which nearly folds double when you are only trying to get yourself to the surface.

 

The other instance would be using them for safety…its the same concept. If someone blacks out at even 15 meters brining them to the surface is going to be hell..at best, assuming the blades don’t snap:)

 

2. C4 Falcons (and a few other C4 models) ARE NOT PURE CARBON.

 

This is where quite a few people will be frothing at the mouth at such a blasphemous, insolent and absurd statement.

 

I’m sorry, but its true. Many people new to freediving are not too clued up on what the difference is between a 100% pure carbon blade and a carbon-composite blade. They look the same (visibly like carbon)…so what is the difference? Its by what they mean when they keep talking about ‘composite’ blades in their descriptions when looking at the product page. Interestingly enough C4 choose not to go into too much detail about what c0mposite means on the current C4 Falcon VGR25 product page. The proof. Mine snapped, and surprise, surprise:

 That is a layer of Fibreglass sandwiched in between two layers of Carbon…

Why? Because it is cheaper, it makes it easy to regulate blade stiffness and if the customer doesn’t see it…

 

This fact was actually pointed out to me by a professional blade manufacturer and at the time I was reluctant to believe him but after seeing it for myself there was no point in arguing. Its quite easy to check: If you have holes drilled in your C4’s (or other Carbon looking blades for that matter), take out the screws and look at the layering in the screw hole. If you see a layer of white substance sandwiched in between the carbon you have ‘Composite’ blades (meaning: Carbon + Fibreglass). As an example the C4 Mustangs are pure carbon (no Fibreglass layering).

 

This would be fine, except C4 loves to charge an arm and a leg and the problem is something like the Falcons just aren’t worth what they are being sold for…

 

 3. Another Interesting fact…

 

And this is one which you can take with a grain of salt but with a little research you might find there’s truth to it: Some C4 products (mostly fins/blades) are sold under the Spetton banner as Spetton C4 products.

 

After talking to a senior person in the dive industry who has direct interests in C4 I learned that Spetton (it’s a company) buys the sub-par products from C4, meaning that if something isn’t exactly up to standard for C4 (blades with defects in the carbon, badly fitted footpockets etc) but its not bad enough to throw away, it gets sold to Spetton (in bulk) who usually sells the same product at a slightly reduced price.

 

So beware…just because its new doesn’t mean it’s perfect.

 

Conclusion:

 

I’m sure there are a few people who have dived with these blades for years (I personally know someone who has owned a pair for 4 years) and who will argue that they are still some of the best blades on the market. In my opinion C4 Falcons 80’s and the softer variant of the standard Falcon (like the new Falcon VGR 25) are not worth what they are being sold for…even if you can pick them up second hand for peanuts, odds are they will break and in terms of performance there are far superior blades on the market at much better prices. Even if you go for the stiffer Falcons, keep in mind you are paying the price of pure carbon blades for a pair of blades which are essentially fibreglass blades with Carbon coating.

 

On top of this, C4’s customer service (in Europe at least) is pathetic. As a Freedive Centre owner this is not the first time I’ve come across C4’s lack of interest in post sale service (even for new products). At least when I buy a different brand of blades without the bogus ‘guarantee’ sticker I don’t expect service if it’s not advertised. That being said, be sure to read the terms and policies of guarantee’s before investing in any new product, having a sticker which says ‘guarantee’ can mean far less than you think.

 

I now keep the broken C4 blade (along with Lotta’s) in our Freediving centres classroom as a ‘training aid’ and show it to students when discussing equipment and blade selection…

 

Side Note:
The end to this story is not a total loss as I went on to design a pair of Pure Carbon blades (which I will discuss in a later post) which turned out to be the best bi-fins I have ever used…and other professional divers agree! The end result is so amazing that they are now being produced in limited amounts and sold through Freedive International. More on that later:)