When Howard Head had difficulty learning to ski and play tennis, he didn't concentrate on improving his technique. Instead, he reinvented the equipment.
Head, who made two fortunes by designing skis and tennis rackets to improve his own performance, died Sunday night at age 76.Head, of Baltimore and Vail, Colo., died at Johns Hopkins Hospital of complications from quadruple bypass surgery.
His innovations in the manufacturing of skis and tennis racquets helped introduce these sports to many.
"In both cases he took a sport that was a certain degree of difficulty and made it less difficult for the players. In skiing, he opened it up, literally, to millions of people," said Hal Donofrio, a longtime friend of Head's and operator of a Baltimore advertising agency. "He did both these things because he wasn't particularly good at either sport."
Head founded the Head Ski Co. in 1948 with $6,000 in poker winnings and money borrowed from friends after his first trip to the slopes left him frustrated with what he called "those clumsy, heavy wooden skis."
The former aircraft engineer from Philadelphia wanted to build a ski out of lightweight aircraft materials. After 40 different versions, Head successfully marketed an aluminum ski.
Although aluminum is no longer used primarily in ski manufacturing, Head's invention opened the sport to millions who'd never tried it. "The metal ski was more flexible," said Donofrio.
Head sold his company to AMF in 1971, retired and took up tennis at age 60. But he was frustrated by his performance in this game as well because the racket kept twisting in his hand.
He bought Prince Manufacturing Co. in Princeton, N.J., which made ball practice machines. After two years of experiments, Head's wider, longer tennis racket was introduced. Twenty percent wider than the standard model, it had four times the hitting space.