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Putting On The Brakes: Engineer Creates Device to Help Inline Skaters

  • Craig Ellis, front, teaches Myles Cotter-Sparrow, assistant general manager of Roces USA, how to use his patented inline-skate braking system in Quechee, Vt. on October 29, 2013. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

    Craig Ellis, front, teaches Myles Cotter-Sparrow, assistant general manager of Roces USA, how to use his patented inline-skate braking system in Quechee, Vt. on October 29, 2013. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Myles Cotter-Sparrow, assistant general manager of Roces USA, puts on an inline skate with a patented braking system installed on it in Quechee, Vt. on October 29, 2013. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

    Myles Cotter-Sparrow, assistant general manager of Roces USA, puts on an inline skate with a patented braking system installed on it in Quechee, Vt. on October 29, 2013. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Craig Ellis, right, chats with Myles Cotter-Sparrow, assistant general manager of Roces USA, before teaching Cotter how to use his patented inline-skate braking system in Quechee, Vt. on October 29, 2013. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

    Craig Ellis, right, chats with Myles Cotter-Sparrow, assistant general manager of Roces USA, before teaching Cotter how to use his patented inline-skate braking system in Quechee, Vt. on October 29, 2013. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Craig Ellis, front, teaches Myles Cotter-Sparrow, assistant general manager of Roces USA, how to use his patented inline-skate braking system in Quechee, Vt. on October 29, 2013. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)
  • Myles Cotter-Sparrow, assistant general manager of Roces USA, puts on an inline skate with a patented braking system installed on it in Quechee, Vt. on October 29, 2013. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)
  • Craig Ellis, right, chats with Myles Cotter-Sparrow, assistant general manager of Roces USA, before teaching Cotter how to use his patented inline-skate braking system in Quechee, Vt. on October 29, 2013. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

Lebanon — Inline skater Craig Ellis was tired of being embarrassed on his skates. Now, he hopes a new invention will help fix that for skaters around the world.

A retired aerospace engineer and California resident, Ellis, 55, recently received a U.S. patent for his Gravity Master braking system.

Motivated by a desire to make stopping on skates easier — hence making inline skating more accessible and safer for more athletes — Ellis spent several years designing and creating the Gravity Master braking kit following a 2007 incident that occurred while he was skating in a qualifying run for the World Downhill Inline Skating Championships.

Satisfied with a solid first run at the event in Albstadt-Ebingen, Germany, Ellis decided to go for as much speed as possible during the second run. It was a bad decision.

At an estimated speed of 10-15 mph, Ellis suffered a violent crash while attempting to navigate the course’s first hairpin turn. Though uninjured, his pride took a hit.

“The German TV channels kept showing it, over and over,” Ellis said while visiting the Upper Valley last week to promote the product. “One show showed it six times in 30 minutes. It was pretty embarrassing.

“And braking was the problem. It’s a very hard thing to do.”

Experimenting at first with a wooden dowel, duct tape and shoelaces, Ellis went through a number of failed versions before coming up with what he feels is the perfect system. Gravity Master’s vertical aluminum strut connects a composite rubber heel brake with a rubber pad — similar to a football knee pad — that rests on the top of the calf. Adjustable rubber cords connect the top of the strut to the front of the skate frames, catering to individual skaters’ heights and stances.

While traditional skate brakes require athletes to either lean back on their heels or stand on their toes — both of which Ellis finds counter-intuitive — Gravity Master’s brake is engaged by driving one foot forward and engaging the calf muscle. Ellis finds that motion to be a much more natural method for people wishing to stop or slow down.

“It’s all about driving the ball of your foot, which I think is what most people would do naturally, if they want to stop,” Ellis said. “The only unlearning someone would have to do is if they were used to braking the other way and had to get used to doing it more naturally. From what I’ve seen so far, people are making that adjustment pretty quickly because it’s so much easier (with Gravity Master).”

Ellis has allowed several professionals to test the product, including three-time U.S. Inline Downhill champion George Merkert and two-time German national champ Tobias Wohrle. Both offered positive testimonials Ellis is using in a promotional news release.

Ellis also hopes Gravity Master will catch on with skiers, who often use inline skates for dry-land training. He’s received positive feedback from three-time Olympic alpine skier Stacey Cook, who vowed to utilize the system while training for this winter’s World Cup and the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“Skiers use pretty much all of the same muscles as inline skaters,” Ellis said. “I’m trying to get as many of them as to try Gravity Master as well.”

Primarily, though, Ellis is hoping the product will help encourage more people to try inline skating — and to urge those who’ve already picked up the sport to keep at it.

“Ninety percent of the people who tell me they used to skate but they don’t anymore, say it’s because they couldn’t stop,” Ellis said.

With all parts other than the brake and calf pads manufactured in the U.S., the Gravity Master kit is available at various online retail outlets for $150 per unit. Ellis fully expects that price tag to go down as production increases.

“There’s always a curve when a product first hits the market, because there’s so many up-front costs,” Ellis said. “Once people who are really committed to the sport begin investing in it, the retail price will come down a lot.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.

CORRECTION

Three-time Olympian Stacey Cook is an alpine skier. Her discipline was misidentified in an earlier version of this story.