AKRON—When I first began writing for Rubber & Plastics News, I was overwhelmed by the amount of rubber and plastics that occurred in my everyday life that I never paid attention to … and that I cannot stop paying attention to now.
One of the areas I thought we could discuss more frequently is the use of rubbers and plastics in the sporting world, from safety components to the core of the equipment to accessories. It is everywhere. Many of the sports we play and watch today could not be mastered the same without our industry, so we should give ourselves a strong pat on the back. Because of this great contribution, I want to highlight different uses in a monthly Science in Sports blog series that we will post to rubbernews.com.
To kick off the blog series, I spoke with Jennifer Tomes, director of marketing for Star Thermoplastics Alloys & Rubbers Inc., about how much thermoplastic elastomers are used across the board in sports, from archery to water sports to golf and many places in between.
Grips are an important feature on sporting equipment because they need to have both a soft touch and “grippiness” to it, Tomes explained. When Star Thermoplastics makes the material, it could have hardness to it, but most grips need to be designed with impact resistance.
When I go to the driving range, I never consider what it would be like if, when I swung the club, I would begin to feel vibrations all the way up my arm. However, that is what would happen without a proper grip.
This can go for other sports, such as mountain biking, as well.
“We can put some vibration damping qualities and attributes into the grips that will help the impact resistance for the muscular-skeletal system, and then reduce wear and tear on our bones and joints,” Tomes said.
“So it's a safety factor as well as a comfort factor.”
While thinking of golf, it is easy to see how comfort plays into the grip. However, when thinking about firearms and even fishing, the safety aspects are also prevalent.
In archery, so much is reliant on the grip.
“Archery is a really fascinating sport, and it has evolved so much from just the bow and arrow … It really has come to a point where it's really true science and an art combined,” Tomes said.
While the grip is important for vibration damping, the more important aspect is that there needs to be silence in the woods while hunting.
What would happen if Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games pulled back on the string of her bow, and it made a loud noise? It would scare away the animal she was hunting. The odds would not be in her favor.
There is a real silence to the sport, Tomes said, so creating the right formulation of TPEs is important to the total experience of bow hunting. If the vibration makes a noise, it disrupts the whole process.
With newer archery products, which are designed to have strength and power, grips must be able to absorb the vibration that goes along with that extra power, she said.
Additionally, if a hunter has a rifle sling on, it will be sliding up and down on his or her shoulder, which could be disruptive. Over time, their shoulder could start hurting without any impact resistance material there, Tomes said. By putting a soft surface on the shoulder, it allows the hunter to continue much longer than they could without that support.