Holeshot Horror Story

Boarding the plane from Atlanta to Dubai was a bit like living an Oakley product placement. The average military contractor hasn’t a clue what “low profile” means, and the gate was awash in desert tan cargo pants, coyote brown backpacks, and ballcaps that were carefully selected to look as if they’d just been grabbed at the last minute. Most contractors perform support functions like janitorial, fire fighters, chow hall management, or communication but apparently we all want to look like bad-asses and Delta operators. That means wearing Oakley sunglasses. And Oakley backpacks. And Oakley ballcaps, boots, and beanies.

I was in a Land’s End green hoodie and Guess jeans hoping to look like a dude-bro that hadn’t quite been able to leave his frat behind. Oakley backpack, Oakley beanie… Okay so far. But wearing my Oakley “assault” boots gave me a sudden urge to look even more like an Oregon hiker next deployment and less like a Spec-Ops wannabe.*

Mental Note: Change up my gear next time. Also, maybe call it “stuff” instead of “gear”.

So why do contractors festoon themselves with so much Oakley product? Because Oakley makes good stuff and gives a 50% discount to military, cops, firefighters, EMTs, etc. through US Standard Issue. And they generously extend that offer to contractors with a military ID.

Which leads me (finally) to the point of my story: a review of the Oakley Holeshot watch. Spoilers: it’s not going to be a great review. But despite that, I still want to commend Oakley up front for the generous discounts they provide to men and women in uniform. Oakley makes quality products and it’s a very honorable thing for them to slice profit margins so significantly for folks willing to risk their own lives to protect ours without much pay in return.

My story begins over a year ago, back in October of 2011. I was headed out for my first deployment as a civilian field tech for satellite equipment. I hadn’t done much research about my destination and really didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I didn’t want to take the Seiko Kenetic my dad bought me into anything described as “field conditions”. So I finally ponied up the cash and ordered the lust-worthy Oakley Holeshot 10th Mountain Division I mentioned last blog entry. (A quick aside: I’m pretty sure this is the first watch I ever bought for myself.) It was backordered, so I had it sent to my parents to forward on to me once I was “in country”. I was so anxious to get it! I couldn’t believe I’d spent $325 on a quartz watch, but it was a Swiss movement! Surely that carried some cachet.

Being my first “serious” watch, I was a little taken aback when it arrived and I tried to start using it. For one, the 10th Mountain Division looked like this on their website:

This is what’s advertised as the 10th Mountain Division.

But the case (actual body of the watch that houses the movement) I received was the same standard black any Joe Schmo could order through Oakley Custom on the civilian side. Disappointment #1.

Actual Holeshot

This is what you actually receive.

I’m not going to lie, that was a pretty big let-down. But then I actually had to read the manual, because the chronograph function really threw me for a loop! See in the above images how the large second hand would appear to be moving, while all the sub-dials are fixed at 12 o’clock? In reality, that’s not even a little bit close to the truth. The large second hand in the main dial stays resolutely as 12 o’clock and the small sub-dial at the 6 o’clock position is the functioning second hand for the clock. It took me twenty minutes of pushing buttons on the watch trying to make it function as I thought it should before I finally caved in and read the instructions.

Once I got this all figured out however, the watch was GREAT. It took me some getting used to the rubber strap, but I really enjoyed the weight of the watch. It felt like something of substance on my wrist. And since men’s watches had been getting larger and larger since my last new one in 1997, I liked the larger case. It looks good aside from the color misrepresentation and the 47.5 mm case isn’t so large as to be gaudy (opposed to most of Oakley’s offerings). I find tachymeter scales to be a bit silly since they require known distance points in order to function (and if I had those, I’d probably have a speedometer or GPS already), but it’s unobtrusive. And since my deployment was in the Seychelles I got to put the 10 bar water resistance to the test and took the watch scuba diving. It holds up. More than that, the hands are so wide and luminous material so effective that was extremely readable whether at night or 30 meters underwater. The sub-dials for the chronograph don’t move while it’s timing, but once you hit “stop” or “lap” they quickly spin into place for an accurate reading, and rotate back to “0” when you reset. And once reset, the main second hand and top two sub-dials point straight at their respective zeros, looking like some kind of awesome trident.

I liked this watch. I get buyer’s remorse before even buying things: I walk around with clearance priced BluRays for 10 minutes and put them back on the shelf. So to have had no regrets spending $325 on a quartz watch is really saying something for me. Sure, I was bummed enough about the case color that I’m mentioning it for a third time already, but aside from that I enjoyed the watch so much I planned on buying more from Oakley and even contemplated buying them as gifts for friends and family.

Then the start/stop button for the chronograph feature quit working. I couldn’t really understand why, since I’d carefully rinsed the watch with fresh water after every dive along with the rest of my equipment. And it didn’t quit working until six months after I’d returned to the states! For lack of a better term, there simply no action in the button press. No distinctive click. It was just dead. The lap/reset button still operated properly, but without a functioning start button, what good does that do? So I looked up the warranty information, contacted Oakley, and here’s where the story gets really bad

Edit: I am officially an idiot. I’m going to leave the original text that I wrote, but line through the parts are not applicable. Why aren’t they? Because it turns out the “issues” I was having with the watch could be set and corrected by the user. The instructions to do so are on page 10 of the user manual. But even though it was my fault, Oakley kept bringing my watch back in. Finally, they set it for me, but over the phone one of their wonderful customer service reps told me what my problem had been. They put up with me being a real jerk and moron and STILL took care of me. I’ve meant to update this entry for a while to reflect that but forgotten, so thanks to the recent comments motivating me to get these corrections made.

Oakley’s customer service people are great. I’ve harassed them at least three times now (keep reading) and they’ve been responsive each and every time. It’s wherever these things are getting “repaired” that’s inexcusable. When you contact Oakley, they send you a form to fill out describing the problem. They request you return this form, a picture of the problem, and proof of purchase. Once they have this (to determine if it’s actually a warranty issue rather than abuse, I imagine), they send you a UPS packing slip. If there is a warranty issue, Oakley pays for shipping both ways. Writing this review is almost painful in some ways, because I really do think they want to take care of their USSI customers.

Obviously, if Oakley is paying shipping as a courtesy to their customers they’re not spending extravagantly for overnight service. Between that, their backlog of work orders, and actual repair time my watch was gone for almost a month. That’s a small price to pay for a free repair, except my watch came back looking like this:

The first time my watch came back from "repair".

The first time my watch came back from repair.

The 1/10th second sub-dial now zeroed or reset to something like eight and four fifths! Aside from the hand being off by 1/10th, and aside from the hand never actually aligning with an actual digit, this is something that should have been obvious at even a cursory visual inspection! This isn’t some hidden, internal issue or a fault that only appears “when you do this”. This was careless workmanship on a watch I’d paid good money for, with the understanding it would be a working product. I was ticked. I emailed Oakley again about this issue and sent them a photo within five minutes of unpacking the watch they’d sent me. (I also mentioned the case color being wrong on my first RMA slip, but I guess that didn’t warrant correction). So they sent me a new UPS packing label, I sent my watch back to be repaired from the first repair, I waited another few weeks and they sent it back like this:

Second time back from warranty just means a third time out for a claim...

Now the sub-dials functioned correctly (remember, the one at 6 o’clock is always moving as it counts seconds for the clock), but the second hand on the main face that works for the chronograph zeroed on :59 rather than :00! Argh!!! Again, the watch had been sent back to me with an obvious flaw that would have been caught if there was even a cursory inspection before sending it back out! What gives here?!?! Maybe I heard the phrase “Attention to detail, Airman!” shouted too often when I was active duty, but this just sent me over the edge. Twice now, all it would have taken was for somebody to have looked at the face of the watch and seen the three hands weren’t zeroed before they called it good-to-go. I don’t know if I’m willing to call it shoddy workmanship (the mechanisms at least functioned like they should), but the attention to detail was appalling. This obviously isn’t a place where the jeweler is going to be signing their name to validate their work. Of course for only $325 I don’t really expect that kind of treatment. But for a company with the audacity to sell a quartz watch (Minute Machine) for $1,500 and $3,500 for a special edition?!?! A little pride in workmanship wouldn’t be out of line.

[Ed. – The following has been re-written for accuracy.]

Conclusion-

If you want to spend the money on an Oakley watch, knock yourself out. It’s your money and fashion sense, and they take care of their customers. I recommend the following three tenets, but Oakley really is okay in my book.

  • If you want a fashion watch try a Fossil or even a Swatch. Don’t exceed $500 when spending under $200 is easy.
  • If you want a tough watch buy a Casio G-Shock or similar.
  • If you want an inexpensive Swiss Mechanical, buy a Xetum.
Both hands still visible when stacked, due to hollow cut in their body.

Both hands still visible when stacked, due to hollow cut in their body.

Sorry, Oakley. I’m sorry for wrongfully slandering you in this blog post for the past few months. I’m mostly outgrowing Oakley’s design sense and want something a little more classic and tasteful, but I still love my gray knit beanie (perhaps the most tasteful one you’ve ever made) and my tan SI Assault gloves will stay next to my AR-15 because they make me look all tacticool. And as far as Oakley’s design goes, the Holeshot is pretty conservative. The hands are easy to read, and the cuts in them make the face easy to read even when they’re stacked atop each other. Brilliantly thought out. Taste is subjective, and most of Oakley’s other watches are way too garish and over the top for me, but this is one watch I’m surely glad is in my collection. I’ll be wearing it for a good, long while.

*To be fair, The North Face is the second most, if not the most spotted brand name at the Afghanistan camp I’m writing this. But it still doesn’t scream, “Guess what I do!” to the entire Arab community while in transit.

22 thoughts on “Holeshot Horror Story

  1. That is a bit ridiculous.

    I also support your suggestion of a G Shock for a tough watch–I don’t do high dollar watches, but I’ve had a Waveceptor on my wrist continuously since August 2004. I haven’t even changed the battery, since there is a small solar charging ring along the outside. Might not be a “fine” timepiece, but it definitely serves my needs.

    Suddenly I’m tempted to see if I can get that Oakley discount, though I would feel a bit bad since I was never in the military. I just babysit AFRL supercomputers.

    • If you’ve got a CAC, you can probably get the discount. But $325 for a Holeshot is the cheapest watch they offer! Otherwise there’s a Transfer Case at $375, a rubber strap Minute Machine at $600, or titanium bracelet Minute Machine and the 12 Gauges at $750. I just can’t bring myself to spend that on quartz movements with frat boy styling.

      As for the “fine” timepiece statement? I’m wearing LCD right now, and I’ve got a $120 Fossil automatic right next to a $6500 TAG in my case at home. I promise you: it’s not the money you spend that matters, only whether or not you like/love your watch.

      • Good to know about the CAC–for some reason my computer on base doesn’t like the link for US Standard Issue, so I’ll have to give it a shot when I get home in the morning.

        I am definitely happy with my watch for my purposes, I originally bought it so I could have something that I didn’t have to worry about when mountain biking, and I am just super impressed that it hasn’t needed a new battery in over 8 years. I’m not super fashionable anyway, so it works out. I just had someone scowl at it during a job interview once (maybe not the most appropriate for a job interview, but it’s surely better than showing my watch tanline since I don’t have another watch).

      • Unless they’re an avid watch collector, they’ll never know from across the table that the professional-looking watch you’re wearing is just a $50 Timex or $150 Citizen…

  2. That’s a pretty good review.. I like the way that you highlight the good and not just the bad. Although I hate to break it to you, if you want a watch that is precise and will give you no trouble for at least a few year, you need to spend in upward of $5000. For under $1000.00 the holeshot is a really solid, quality time piece. Mine has given me no trouble at all so far, so I am sad to hear that yours has not been the case. Till next time ( pun intended) :)

    • I don’t know if I quite agree with your assessment, but almost. The whole point of quartz movements is that they’re both cheaper and more accurate and reliable. They just don’t have the craftsmanship and heirloom quality of my TAG. And for right at $1000 you can get a Xetum, with a Swiss mechanical movement.

      As it happens, the watch came back from Oakley for the third time, and they STILL didn’t fix it correctly. I’m done with their “service” and just going to take it to a local jeweler for repair. I’ll have to pay for it, but what’s my time worth?

  3. I understand the frustration when they fixed the watch and didn’t bother to reset the hands. I’ve been wearing the same watch (stainless steel/black face combo version) for 6+ years now and have been extremely pleased with it. The only maintenance it has required has been a battery change and when the watch was returned to me, they didn’t bother to reset the hands on mine either (like you, I was a bit perturbed). With a quick google search, I realized that by pulling out the crown to the one and two positions, I can reset the hands myself by pushing on the corresponding chrono buttons in these positions.

    Even though I own many other watches (20+), this one remains one of my favorites. I wear it nearly daily, except when I’m mountain biking or trail running (my G-shock gets the abuse of any extreme sport I may do). I just don’t want to risk slamming the sapphire crystal against a rock and shattering it on such a pricey watch.

    • Thanks for the comment, and you’re right! The 4th and final time I sent the watch to Oakley they called me and told me what was going on. I had no idea that was something I could adjust myself. I need to edit this post to reflect that. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. Sir… I’m an avid collector of Oakley sunglasses and watches. I have several holeshots my self. And was upset when one i my watches came back with the same issue. However if you would of skimmed through your manual, or had spoken to the right person… They could of let you know that if you pull out the crown (like you’re adjusting the time) and hit the start/reset buttons…. You can adjust the chrono hands. First click the start/reset works the small hands and second click of the crown works your seconds hand on the main dial. They’re beautiful timepieces. And work wonderfully. So does the SI Discount. Except for the backorders. Lol

  5. Ya…not Oakley’s fault that you didn’t read the manual and adjust it yourself in 39 seconds… And I like the one they sent you better than the initial photo

    • Thanks for the comment- I’ve actually meant to update this post for quite some time when I realized the “problems” the watch was having was something I could correct myself. Oakley’s customer service was amazing every time and they deserve a lot more praise for putting up with me than I’ll likely ever be able to heap upon them. I’m still disappointed with the color of the case (I don’t care if you like it, so neener!), simply because it felt like false advertising and I ordered a dark smoke gray watch on purpose. But it’s been such a great watch that I’ll just wear it until the finish is worn to the color I wanted.

  6. Sorry to hear that but I have a collection of watches and Holeshot is the only quartz watch I have every bought. Please refer the Holeshot manual available ( google ) and there are instructions on how you can adjust the main ( second hand to the position you want to ). you have to pull the crown to first stage and press the b button that is on the bottom which will help you position it to 12 accurately. I hope this works. I had to reposition all hands. The further you pull the crown out – you can determine the position of one of the chronometer dial.

    sorry if I am wrong.

    • You were absolutely right. I actually had this conversation with Oakley over the phone a couple months ago and meant to update this to reflect that it was my mistake. So thanks for the reminder, and the post has been edited.

  7. I sent my holeshot in to Oakley for the second battery change, and was notified that the movement was defective/broken. It was out of warranty, so they wanted to charge me $230 to replace the movement. Previously I was extremely pleased with Oakley’s customer service, but my admiration for the company is no longer. There will be no more Oakley watches added to my collection.

  8. I too will no longer keep an Oakley watch in my possession. The small “release” clasp (that opens the titanium / rubber band broke. I sent it into Oakley for repair and was notified that it cost $260 to repair. Super frustrated that functionality is gone from such a small piece, yet I refuse to pay half the cost of the watch for this dinky repair. Frustrating….

  9. Sir, just to be clear thought the review was fair on the watch but the digs to contractors a bit over the top .You buy what you can here when you can and not when you need it because if you wait its no longer here .Granted some like the fashion statement but most have bought what they need to get by , if you have spent any real time here you should know this first hand !

    • Sorry, man, I’m standing by the digs at my fellow contractors. I wrote the article while deployed at Mazar-e-Sharif and I’m doing a rotation at Bagram as I write this response. The average contractor is not a high-speed, low-drag type and yet they often dress like it. It’s especially uncouth on a strictly civilian flight, like from Atlanta to Dubai. If guys want to put on their 5.11 tacticool tuxedo departing from Dubai to go in-theater, I get that. But parading it around outside that context and then when people ask what they do they reply “I’m a contractor”, hoping to be confused for an operator when they’re a janitor working for Fluor, is nothing but tacky.

  10. I have a holeshot I bought back in 2010 and spent $750 on it. Titanium black with orange face. Was very disappointed with the way it looked in person but kept it anyway and have grown to like it. The battery has died and I am hesitant to take it to a jeweler to have the battery changed. I took my Luminox watch to a jeweler and within a few days it started showing signs of moisture on the crystal. I called Luminox and they asked if the jeweler pressure tested it when they changed the battery. I had no idea but sent the watch to Luminox and they put a new battery in it ,pressure tested it and sent it back to me no charge. Are you guys out there with Shot hole watches having to send them back to Oakley everytime you need a new battery????

    • Honestly, I don’t think that’s something I’d worry about. Unless you’re doing stuff like diving and facing extreme pressure differences, a simple swap of the battery hasn’t given me any problems on any other watch. Of course, I always lived in the desert, until recently. Do you live in a humid climate?

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