Jim Drake (engineer)

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For other persons named Jim Drake, see Jim Drake (disambiguation)

Jim Drake (January 8, 1929 in Los Angeles – June 19, 2012 in Pfafftown) was an American aeronautics engineer who is credited as the inventor of windsurfing. Patent disputes uncovered earlier designs by Peter Chilvers and Newman Darby such that Drake accepted that he was the third inventor of the concept. He was the engineer who perfected the concepts of board and rig layout and the universal joint which is core to the sport.

Aeronautics career[edit]

Drake trained as an aeronautical engineer, although as most of his work was for the US Government, most of the details remain to this day top secret. What is known is that he worked for Rockwell and their division RAND Corporation, worked for North American Aviation, and was on secondment to The Pentagon for various periods of his career both directly and indirectly, part of which was associated with the development of improved Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles during the Cold War of the 1960s and 70's.[1][2]

Invention of windsurfing[edit]

Drake, a Californian by birth, loved the water and sailing. In 1964, over a discussion on water sports over a brandy at his home in Southern California, Drake and his former Rockwell boss and now good friend Fred Payne, who worked at The Pentagon, discussed options for creating a wind-powered water-ski which would allow Payne to travel on the Potomac River.[2] That night they developed the idea of a kite powered surfboard. On later reflection, Drake didn't like the integrity of the idea and dismissed it. There were already a number of sailboard designs available, and Drake also was concerned about the integrity of a design needing taut wire close to a human body to keep the sail upright.[2]

Still developing the idea, Drake's wife met the pregnant Diana Schweitzer, and the two families became good friends through their children.[2] Drake mentioned the idea to surfer Hoyle Schweitzer who wanted to develop it, but Drake was still unsure of how to control and steer what he envisaged in a design concept as a surfboard with upright sail design, whereby the sailor stood upright on the board holding the sail.[2]

The technical problem was that most boats steer by differentiating the angle of attack in the water between the centre board and the rudder, and Drake's question came down to simple operation of how a standing person could control both the power of the sail as well as the direction of the craft.[2]

In 1967, while driving between his home and a contract at the Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino, Drake had time to reflect on early 17th century based sail ship control. Rudders then were weak and ineffective, mostly used for trimming course. Hence with multi-masted boats, the sailors would trim the upper sails on the forward and rewards masts to steer the ship.[2]

Dismissing the idea of a design with two upright sails, Drake decided to move the sail by rotation, as moving it linearly would require a mechanical system. Experimenting with a rotational design which became the concept for the universal joint, whereby the angle of attack of the sail to the board could be varied to allow control of both power and craft direction. Drake finished the design by using an earlier but for them failed invention of East Coast racing sail, and added a wishbone boom.[2]

Drake's first prototype, the Windsurfer name[edit]

Drake built a concept in his garage. Hoyle supplied two sails that were adapted to the two options of rigs Drake built, by sail maker Bob Broussard into a triangular Bermuda rig. In May 1967, Drake and both families went to Marina del Rey to try the two universal joint designs. Met by Broussard who happened to be on his bicycle, the first design failed, but the second worked. Drake admits he had thought through many of the ideas of control, but hadn't thought about how he would raise the sail from the water, so on this first run got Broussard to wade into the water to give it to him.[2]

Although the design worked, Drake was frustrated by the control mechanism, the need for pulling the sail out of the water, and continually ending up in the water when he lost control: effectively, he was teaching himself to windsurf while creating the prototype.[2]

Having remembered to insert a skeg this time, Drake added a lanyard (now called an uphaul) by which he could stand up and haul his own sail out of the water. Returning to Marina del Rey two weeks later, Drake was impressed enough by the improved prototype to allow Hoyle to arrange a launch party for what they had called the "Skate."[2]

However, they found another company had already used the name "Skate" and were preparing to copyright it, so decided on the name "Baja Board." While developing the design and patent paperwork, in late 1967/early 1968, Hoyle was showing a prototype "Baja Board" in Seattle, when Public Relations man Bert Salisbury stopped his car to have a look, and commented: "Gee I have the perfect name for it! The WINDSURFER!"[2]

The details of the original designs are available in Drake's white paper on windsurfing, and these interviews with Jim Drake.[3][4] Despite forty years of subsequent development, the design is still remarkably similar to today's windsurfing equipment, and the word "windsurfer" has become synonymous with the sport itself. There is also a video of Drake's early attempts to teach himself windsurfing.

Windsurfing International[edit]

In 1968, Drake and Hoyle together as individuals filed the very first windsurfing patent, which was granted by the USPTO in 1970.[5] There is no evidence that they had knowledge of any prior inventions similar to theirs, but Drake accepts in retrospect that although he can be credited with invention, he was "probably no better than third," behind Englishman Peter Chilvers and mid-west based Newman Darby.[2] The patent was wholly licensed by Drake and Hoyle to Windsurfing International.[2]

Subsequently in 1968, Hoyle and Diana Schweitzer founded the company Windsurfing International in Southern California to manufacture, promote and license a windsurfer design. The company registered the term "windsurfer" as a trademark at the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 1973, launching the craft as a one-design class. Going one-design was influenced by the success of the Laser and Hobie Cat classes. Each Windsurfer had an identical computer-cut sail, a technology new at that time and pioneered by Ian Bruce and the Laser class.

In 1968, Hoyle's other business collapsed, and he and Diane moved to Newport Beach; at the same time Drake accepted a two year secondment to The Pentagon, and moved to Washington DC. Immediately, Hoyle offered Drake to buy out his half of the patent, and it was only when Hoyle pointed out ownership of the company that the relationship between the pair began to fall apart. Having returned to California, in 1973 Drake sold his half of the patent to Windsurfing International for the sum of $36,000.[2]

Patent disputes[edit]

Through the seventies, Schweitzer aggressively promoted and licensed the Windsurfing International design and licensed the patent to manufacturers worldwide. The sport underwent very rapid growth, particularly in Europe after the sale of a sub-license sold to Ten Cate in the Netherlands.[2]

At the same time, Schweitzer also sought to defend his patent rights vigorously against unauthorized manufacturers. This led to a host of pre-dating windsurfer-like devices being presented to courts around the world by companies disputing Windsurfing International's rights to the invention.[citation needed]

In 1979, Schweitzer licensed Brittany, France-based company Dufour Wing, which was later merged with Tabur Marine - the precursor of Bic Sport.[6] Europe was now the largest growing market for windsurfers, and the sub-licensed companies - Tabur, F2, Mistral - wanted to find a way to remove or reduce their royalty payments to Windsurfing International.

Tabur lawyers found prior art, in a local English newspaper which had published a single story with a picture about Peter Chilvers, who as a young boy on Hayling Island on the south coast of England, assembled his first board combined with a sail, in 1958. They also found stories published about the 1964 invention of the Darby Sailboard by Newman Darby in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. .[7]

In Windsurfing International Inc. v Tabur Marine (GB) Ltd. 1985 RPC 59, with Tabur backed financially by French sailing fanatic Baron Marcel Bich, British courts recognized the prior art of Peter Chilvers. It did not incorporate the curved wishbone booms of the modern windsurfer, but rather a "straight split boom" that became curved in use. The courts found that the Schweitzer windsurfer boom was "merely an obvious extension". It is worthy of note that this court case set a significant precedent for patent law in the United Kingdom, in terms of inventive step and non-obviousness; the court upheld the defendant's claim that the Schweitzer patent was invalid, based on film footage of Chilvers. Schweitzer then sued the company in Canada, where the opposition team again financially backed by Bic included Chilvers and Jim Drake, and lost again. After the cases, no longer obliged to pay Windsurfing International and royalty payments, the now renamed Bic Sport became the world’s largest producer of windsurfing equipment, with an annual production of 15,000 boards.[6]

In 1983, Schweitzer sued Swiss board manufacturer Mistral, which is today still a major sailboard manufacturer, and lost. Mistral's defense hinged on the work of US inventor Newman Darby, who in the mid-sixties conceived the "sailboard": a hand-held square rigged "kite" sail on a floating platform for recreational use. Darby's published version did not show any connection between the rig and the board (the mast simply rested in a depression on the board) but it did refer to a "more complex swivel step for advanced riders not shown". He published his "sailboard" design in August 1965 Popular Science magazine. Darby organized Darby Industries Inc in 1964 to build these sailboards.[8][9][10][11] However, the sailboard never gained popularity, and Darby's company ceased operations by the end of the 1960s.

Eventually US courts recognized the Schweitzer windsurfer as an obvious step from Chilvers prior art.[12] Schweitzer had to reapply for a patent under severely limited terms, and finally it expired in 1987. Shortly thereafter, having lost its license royalty income, Windsurfing International ceased operations.[13]

In 1983, Australian courts reported a patent case in "Intellectual Property Reports" 3 IPR 449, attributed the first legally accepted use to an Australian boy, Richard Eastaugh. Between the ages of ten and thirteen, from 1946 to 1949, aided by his younger brothers, he built around 20 galvanized iron canoes and hill trolleys which he equipped with sails with split bamboo booms. He sailed these near his home on the Swan River in Perth. There is no evidence that any of the later "inventors" ever sighted the Eastaugh craft of a decade earlier on the other side of the world.

It is acknowledged that the separate Chilvers, Darby inventions all pre-dated the Drake and Schweitzer patent.[2]


Drake died on June 19, 2012, from complications of lung disease, at his home in Pfafftown, North Carolina.[14]


  1. ^ "Jim Drake". World of Windsurfing. Archived from the original on 2020-11-16. Retrieved 2009-06-06. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Origins of windsurfing : JIM DRAKE". American Windsurfer Magazine : Vol 4 Issue 4. 1996-04-01. Archived from the original on 2020-11-16. Retrieved 2009-06-05. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ "Interview with Jim Drake, the origin of windsurfing". Windsurfing Academy. Archived from the original on 2020-11-16. Retrieved 2012-07-01. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ "www.americanwindsurfer.com". www.americanwindsurfer.com. Archived from the original on 2020-11-16. Retrieved 2012-07-01. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ "About.com: Inventors - History of Windsurfing". Archived from the original on 2020-11-16. Retrieved 2009-06-06.
  6. ^ a b "History". Bic Sport. Archived from the original on 2020-11-16. Retrieved 2009-06-05. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ E. L. Cussler, G. D. Moggridge (9 April 2001). Chemical product design. ISBN 9780521796330. Archived from the original on 2020-11-16. Retrieved 2009-06-05. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ "Darby Electronic Museum". Windsurf.mediaforte.com. Archived from the original on 2020-11-16. Retrieved 2012-07-01. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-12-28. Retrieved 2009-06-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ "Lemelson Center Invention Features: Newman Darby". Invention.smithsonian.org. Archived from the original on 2005-11-23. Retrieved 2012-07-01. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-06-13. Retrieved 2009-06-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ Laura Zelasnic. "Technology, invention, and innovation collections". Americanhistory.si.edu. Archived from the original on 2012-07-02. Retrieved 2012-07-01. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  13. ^ "Origins of windsurfing: Hoyle Schweitzer". American Windsurfer Magazine. 1996-04-01. Archived from the original on 2020-11-16. Retrieved 2009-06-06. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  14. ^ "Jim Drake dies at 83; aeronautical engineer created the Windsurfer". Archived from the original on 2020-11-16. Retrieved 2012-07-01.

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