Jeff Grell started snowboarding on a Snurfer in 1968 and is widely recognized for his invention of a boot cuff/strap device in the early 80s called Hibaks that were a prototype for modern bindings. He later worked with Sims to develop his original concept. Grell was recently granted a patent for the highback binding which could have major implications for the snowboard industry.
|The Grell Highback Patent.|
Kevin Kinnear: Why did you decide to apply for a patent on the highback binding after all this time?
Jeff Grell: So many people asked me over the years why I didn’t ever patent it. I was getting tired of being asked that question so I did it. Prior to that, I was a broke snowboarder and didn’t have the money to pursue it. Then I got some cash and spent all of it on the patent.
KK: How did come up with your concept?
Grell: The original design was built to work independently of the existing baseplates of the era that companies like Burton, Sims, Flite, Barfoot, and Avalanche already had on their boards. At that time, there was too much variation in the baseplates from one company to another to integrate the modern highback design: it needed to be something separate to work with everybody’s existing equipment.
I originally came up with a plastic cuff that fastened around the boot with two straps so you could adjust the amount of support you wanted. There was another adjustable strap that went from the cuff underneath the arch of your foot; it was like having the upper part of a ski boot without having the lower part. Having the adjustable strap go under your foot allowed the flexiblity that snowboarding needed without the rigidity that a ski boot created.
I got the Hibaks idea out at the beginning of 1984 by giving them to Chris Karol, Dave Weaver, Dave Alden, Steve Link, Jim Sechrest, Terry Kidwell, Evan Feen, and Doug Olson. The first time I competed with Hibaks was at the 1984 World’s at Soda Springs. I got second behind Terry Kidwell in the halfpipe. Prior to that, I was just freeriding with them.
Once the seeds were sown, it spread from there. Chris Karol was riding for Burton and Dave Weaver was working for Sims so they picked up on the idea. Previous to that, I was working with Flite and they were the first ones to develop the concept by advertising and helping me to promote Hibaks in 1983-84 before I starting passing them out to the riders. Initially, I was trying to sell them but no one would pay me anything so I figured I’d share–it was a sharing time in the sport.
During the 1984-85 season, Dave Weaver took a set of Hibaks to Santa Barbara to show Tom Sims. In the spring of 1985, I got a call from Tom and Dave to come work for them to develop the idea. Dave had taken my cuff and attached it to the baseplate that Tom already designed. They removed the strap from underneath the boot because it was no longer needed. But they didn’t cut the two straps off the cuff yet. So when I took what they had done and tested it, I only rode it for a minute and realized that when I leaned forward the front strap cut into the top of my foot as a result of the cuff being attached to the baseplate. So I called and told them to remove the straps from the cuff which left us with the basic concept for the convertible highback that set the standard for the industry. Nothing’s really changed that much since then.
After that, I continued to develop my ideas with the highback binding. I decided I didn’t get enough support from the standard highback and added the asymmetrical feature which was an add-on that wrapped around your calf at the top of the highback so when you’re driving with your heelside edge there’s something to give more leverage to increase the power of your turns–which is one of the fundamental concepts of my patent.
KK: What is your intent with the patent?
JG: To show people this is my invention–not to take over what’s already been done but more to protect the evolution of the binding into asymmetric designs which are now in the beginning stages of development by some of the manufacturers. If the highback binding was my contribution to the sport of snowboarding and people remember me for it, I’m happy. If I can make a few bucks on my patent, then justice is nice when you get it. It would be cool if someone would send me some bindings because I don’t have any right now.
Note: If you are interested in talking to Jeff Grell about his highback patent, he can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org