Wakeboarding Helmet design & function have been largely under-developed due to limited user & activity research & standards.
Typically using existing whitewater rafting helmets as the standard for wakeboard helmet design, increases the risk of injury to the user. Focusing on the user and the activity, provides insight on where the product can be improved; creating a product that surpasses expectation in an industry largely overlooked.
Wakeboarding Helmets utilize helmet standards designed for user-safety for a separate activity
Whitewater Rafting & Kayaking include hazards that are not common in motor-boat sports; specifically, rocks. As a result, whitewater sporting helmets are designed to withstand impacts from such hazards. Resulting in a heavier, more robust helmet that is over-qualified for watersports with limited danger of encountering dense objects.
A common issue in watersports, occurs when the participant crashes/falls parallel with the water. In this instance, the helmet can collect water and pull the user's head in the opposite direction. The helmet strap, can choke or stretch the User's neck, causing more long-term discomfort than serious injury; but the issue is concerning nonetheless.
One of the more common injuries in watersports involves ear-drum perforations (blown-out ear drum). This occurs when the User crashes in a certain way, his/her ear can "cup" the water causing rapid influx of air into the ear canal. Although this injury is concerning, user research indicates a preference of 4:1, to leave the ears uncovered when participating in watersport activities.
Existing whitewater helmets require thicker, dense plastics to protect against dense objects. This increases weight while enforcing a design that is bound by full head shape & coverage. More surface area & total coverage is essential for the safety of the User when dense objects are a frequent hazard- however, increased surface area in motor-boat water sports actually increases the risk of head trauma: When the most frequently encountered hazard is helmet-to-water collisions, increased surface area increases resistance; thus, increasing impact. Is total head coverage entirely necessary? Furthermore, is the product achieving or working against its promised function?
Find ways to cut down on weight
Make smarter design decisions that improve functionality
Maintain a sense of style
Using lighter & flexible plastics combined with a reduction in helmet's total surface area will reduce helmet weight. Specific cut-out areas eliminate increased surface-to-water contact, resulting in less impact; while also addressing the bucketing issue. Ear coverage will be an optional feature/accessory.
Surface Area & Materials
Traditional EPS Foam liners absorb and resist impact with dense objects; this is replaced with a flexible material similar to "memory foam" that provides comfort while minimizing impact with less-dense objects. In addition, a more flexible, lightweight plastic allows the helmet to bend and twist on impact with water. While the foam hardly improves on weight, the change in plastic selection with decreased surface area makes for a lighter helmet.
The helmet decreases surface area with large openings spread across the dome. Full helmet coverage increases surface area- increased surface area combined with water impact increases impact and frequency of concussions.The use of flexible materials and reduced surface area creates a product that displaces water in a more structured manner. Essentially, providing coverage where necessary.
The open dome also addressed bucketing issues through helmet shape and strategic placement of thru-ways. Traditionally, helmets revolve around the head and stop at forehead height on the front and rear. This was due to limited user research, manufacturing constraints and movement constraints. Only recently, helmets are wrapping around the back of the head to provide protection from impact to the back of the head (whitewater sports, skateboarding, snowboarding etc.). By wrapping the helmet around the back of the head, bucketing hazards are less likely to occur. In an instance where bucketing is a problem, water simply flows through the helmet and out of the rear openings. In addition, vents are placed near the temple and ears, allowing water to flow through the helmet in either direction while directing air through the helmet when the User is active.
PRODUCT : PROTOTYPE
A prototype was created as a proof-of concept to validate material selection, water displacement and directionality.
Ear protection is provided as an optional accessory. User research indicates a common dislike for ear coverage for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to breathability & diminished hearing.
Snap-on ear accessories are provided with one optional feature: with or without waterproof Bluetooth earphones. Earphones allow the user to listen to music from the boat, but also decrease breathability and awareness of surroundings. Ear accessories without the Bluetooth feature maintain awareness of surroundings and are more breathable. In either scenario, the vents on the helmet strategically direct air toward the ear area, and the ear accessory's primary function of reducing the risk of ear-drum perforation is maintained.
The prototype began with a master mold sculpted from automotive clay. This allowed for continued revision and research before the prototype was cast.
MOLD & CAST
Although the final product will be injection formed plastic, the prototype was cast with fiberglass and resin for the sake of R & D costs. A silicone mold was created from the sculpted clay, in which resin & fiberglass were cast.
DISPLACEMENT & THRU-WAYS
Through testing, we were able to determine that all water displacement and thru-way solutions were valid. This research provides the primary foundation on which the product is built upon. The product is more functional and tailored for the activity.
Although the product improved in weight, functionality and style- more research is required for proper fitment for multiple users. Ideally, for matters of manufacturing costs, the helmet is designed to be a "two-size-fits-all" product. Specific issues involve the wrap-around element at the base of the head, designed to reduce the risk of bucketing. This element performed its function, however, it decreased certain (small-head) User's mobility by preventing the User from leaning the head all the way back. As a result, the helmet's shell-shape and form requires additional iterative research to determine better User mobility and head movement.