Jeff Grell started snowboarding on a Snurfer in 1968 and is widelyrecognized for his invention of a boot cuff/strap device in the early80s called Hibaks that were a prototype for modern bindings. He laterworked with Sims to develop his original concept. Grell was recentlygranted a patent for the highback binding which could have majorimplications for the snowboard industry.
Kevin Kinnear: Why did you decide to apply for a patent on the highbackbinding after all this time?
Jeff Grell: So many people asked me over the years why I didn't everpatent 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 topursue 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 theexisting baseplates of the era that companies like Burton, Sims, Flite,Barfoot, and Avalanche already had on their boards. At that time, therewas too much variation in the baseplates from one company to another tointegrate the modern highback design: it needed to be something separateto work with everybody's existing equipment.
I originally came up with a plastic cuff that fastened around the bootwith two straps so you could adjust the amount of support you wanted.There was another adjustable strap that went from the cuff underneaththe arch of your foot; it was like having the upper part of a ski bootwithout having the lower part. Having the adjustable strap go under yourfoot allowed the flexiblity that snowboarding needed without therigidity that a ski boot created.
I got the Hibaks idea out at the beginning of 1984 by giving them toChris Karol, Dave Weaver, Dave Alden, Steve Link, Jim Sechrest, TerryKidwell, Evan Feen, and Doug Olson. The first time I competed withHibaks was at the 1984 World's at Soda Springs. I got second behindTerry Kidwell in the halfpipe. Prior to that, I was just freeriding withthem.
Once the seeds were sown, it spread from there. Chris Karol was ridingfor Burton and Dave Weaver was working for Sims so they picked up on theidea. Previous to that, I was working with Flite and they were the firstones to develop the concept by advertising and helping me to promoteHibaks 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 soI 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 SantaBarbara to show Tom Sims. In the spring of 1985, I got a call from Tomand Dave to come work for them to develop the idea. Dave had taken mycuff and attached it to the baseplate that Tom already designed. Theyremoved the strap from underneath the boot because it was no longerneeded. But they didn't cut the two straps off the cuff yet. So when Itook what they had done and tested it, I only rode it for a minute andrealized that when I leaned forward the front strap cut into the top ofmy foot as a result of the cuff being attached to the baseplate. So Icalled and told them to remove the straps from the cuff which left uswith the basic concept for the convertible highback that set thestandard for the industry. Nothing's really changed that much sincethen.
After that, I continued to develop my ideas with the highback binding. Idecided I didn't get enough support from the standard highback and addedthe asymmetrical feature which was an add-on that wrapped around yourcalf at the top of the highback so when you're driving with yourheelside edge there's something to give more leverage to increase thepower of your turns–which is one of the fundamental concepts of mypatent.
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 intoasymmetric designs which are now in the beginning stages of development by some of the manufacturers. If the highback binding was mycontribution 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