Casio Surfing Timer Review DW-400

by Dave Laichtman 0



A 1989 flashback, the Casio DW-400 Surfing Timer is a unique liminal treasure. Enjoyable both genuinely and ironically, it is a non-negotiable must for vintage digital enthusiasts or those seeking to create a comprehensive collection of the era's most representative watches.

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Casio Surfing Timer Review

The Casio DW-400 Surfing Timer is not a timeless watch. It is an unambiguous doyen of late 1980s design. This is why I treasure it. Just as humanity’s loci of enunciation are as diverse as years and circumstances of birth, so too are watches’ features, appearance, and performance capabilities derivative of their situational genesis. This variegation is what imbues the weft of existence with savor, its warp with delight. Personal gravitation towards the now-fading day-glo memories of Reagan-era fashion sensibilities aside, no taste in watches could be accommodated without irrefragably non-timeless situations regularly begetting timepieces evocative thereof. Every Jaeger-Lecoutre Reverso aficionado would be left unsated were that Swiss pillar’s offerings truly timeless. Without the sociopolitical climate on the Indian subcontinent having been such that maharajas might disport so regularly in Polo that they required a watch able to defend against the rigors of incessant, humid chukkas, such a work would never have been wrought.

The specific qualities that make this watch such an exemplar of era-specificity are legion, yet not all immediately obvious. The color choices cavort wildly across the visible spectrum: liquid crystal quadrilaterals flash red and blue to indicate the passage of one and five second intervals, a Delorean-gray resin case sprouts high-polish steel pushers, a reflective bronze halo encircles the bezel, while black, white, and the dun of liquid crystal brawl garishly for the remaining real estate. These are colors in hues and juxtapositions that shout at you, and such a choice is so date-specific it might as well be shouting at Gorbachev to tear the Wall down. Several years earlier and Casio’s flagship color schemes still reflected a preoccupation with plated metals, perhaps necessary for locating watches dropped into a shag carpet’s ensconcing undergrowth. In contrast, a few years in the future would see Casio adopt the desperate coolness of the first half of the century’s last decade. Just as Tim Burton moved from the exuberance of his 1989 Batman to the existential BDSM netherworld of Batman Returns, so too did Casio’s new models eschew the Surfing Timer’s vivid excess, opting to coat their watches in full matte blacks, the better to compliment customers’ trench coats and senses of anomie.


Replete with functionality, the Surfing Timer does more than its title indicates, evidencing the characteristic futurism of its age. With Robert A. Heinlein’s death 1988, Futurism’s vision of a global pacific utopia shifted to presume the necessity of rapid technological advance. Gene Roddenberry still lived and promulgated this philosophy in the purposefully-titled Next Generation, while that bellwether of Futurist thought, Arthur C. Clarke shifted mid-novel from writing 2010 on a mechanical typewriter to a then-bleeding-edge Acorn Archimedes home computer. Reflecting this mindset, this Casio is feature rich to the point of redundancy merely to satisfy that techno lust. Time in either standard or military format is available.  At all times it shows month, day, and date. The most prominent visual feature of the dial is a superfluous Enterprise-bridge readout of minute increments in constantly-updating arcs. The eponymous surfing timer is a five minute countdown clock with mystifying tenth of a second accuracy. A split time stopwatch accurate to hundredths of a second could have been used to record lap times, or to precisely measure the hours until the first Simpsons episode aired. An alarm function is included just this side of inaudibility. Finally a bezel-mounted slide rule permits the solution to logarithmic equations to be calculated in a manner most tubular.


Polynesian princelings may have introduced the sport of surfboarding to the mainland in the 19th century to the delight of many a Gilded Age haole. However it was not until a century thence that fascination with the pastime would reach a truly fevered pitch. Southern California was the undisputed epicenter, yet the dominance of surfing style resounded through global fashion, Hollywood films, children’s imaginations. Croakies were in, Hawaiian Tropic’s tanned wahines were the “It” girls, and designers of every conceivable gadget stampeded to produce something that might capitalize on the cowabunga zeitgeist. Casio was no exception, releasing the DW-400 and several EXTREME sport cladistic cognates at the zenith of the mania, unequivocally-dated carpal time capsules these.

Regarding contemporary wear, the Surfing Timer has much to recommend itself. Surfing or no, the functions of an accurate digital watch are eminently utile. In comparison with Casio’s latest G-Shock watches, the Surfing Timer’s modest thickness appears veritably spatchcocked, unobtrusive to cuff and hand. Resin casing and digitality combine to make a watch of startlingly little heft; for those accustomed to modern mechanical watches it will suggest weightless freedom.  The rubber strap is spare but gives no discomfort, and is held fast by the only overbuilt structural feature: an oversized steel buckle signed discreetly on the interior. The 200 meters of purported water resistance are not a guarantee in a piece a generation old, but in a well preserved example should prove more than ample for shallower submersion.

Not free of flaws however, the Surfing Timer’s resin case is inexpertly finished, girded by a disfiguring seam. What appear to be screw-sealed lug holes are only cosmetic, their unnecessary cavities serving only to weaken the lugs’ structural integrity. Finally, it is compatible with no earthly fashion save for vintage wetsuits. A haberdasher’s nightmare, it will clash.


Thus the Casio DW-400 Surfing Timer parlays its most obvious attribute, its timelessnessless, into covetable cache. Any watch portending to true eternality, must possess no discernible feature, quality, strength, weakness, or inspiration; it can only be the blandest of forgettable accessories. Speaking in non-regional diction, most at home in the prisoner’s dilemma of a mall food court, such a watch is valueless, appealing to no one. Alternatively, this Casio is an artifact that speaks volumes, a horological Olduvai shard.  As it remembers, so does its bearer.

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