‘Open window’ hockey masks

Due to the requirements of goalkeepers who prefer an open view of the game (the ability to see what is around them, and to judge how the game will develop/see through screens), but the issues over safety of helmet/cage combos, some manufacturers are currently producing masks with an open view. In this case, the masks retain the same features of field hockey specific masks – injection moulded, high resistant plastics covering the head, but have a wider window of vision, covered by a strong cage (which is screwed in place, as usual, and has a design where the bars overlap in a tight shape; to stop the ball getting through, but a spread out over the wide opening of the helmet).


The masks have an ‘open window’, enlarging the space available to view out of, than normally available to the goalkeeper. In essence, they provide the peripheral vision of a helmet/cage setup, and the open space to shout at your team and direct the play, with the advantage of increased protection to the head area, using ridges to direct the ball away, and a chin area, like a mask, to increase lower facial protection. The cage is also generally thicker, using larger bars, and closed cat eye (meaning better protection for younger players), fitting like a mask with the backplate. Inside the helmet there is a chin cup (to hold the helmet in place on your head), held fixed by a velcro strapping system.


Possible problem areas include the neck area (the chin drops are not as long as those on normal masks), and the open shape of the mask leaves gaps under the ears. Be wary of shots to the side of your head, and wear neck protection to be on the safe side. It would be a good idea to wear neck protection underneath the helmet and get a dangler (preferably an ice hockey one for all-round protection)!


Companies that produce these types of mask include Grays, Mazon, and TK (who also have an international version available).





  • Provide better protection than helmet/cage combos

  • Moderate costs – affordable

  • Enhanced peripheral vision for a goalkeeper who wants a greater view of the game, and the option to shout out instructions more clearly to their team



  • Cage compatibility – cages do not come separately (you may want to try contacting the company/supplier about the possibility), so you will have to buy a new replacement helmet if the cage gets significantly damaged or broken

  • Protection issues in neck area below ears (due to curved design)

New Science is Saving Faces

A spin-off from OBO’s new knowledge could also lead to riot police around the world wearing protective gear made in New Zealand.

A $217,000 investment from TechNZ, the business investment arm of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, is helping OBO understand exactly what happens to the body, particularly the face and head, when hard balls hit at high speed.

By understanding the science of high-speed, hard ball impacts, body tolerance, injury protection and materials, the company is now better able to create unique products.

“This is a bold step forward for OBO, which is building new knowledge and critical science capability, that will put it on a path to becoming a high growth company,” says TechNZ senior business manager Elisabeth Feary.

OBO already has a world-class reputation for producing field hockey goalie protective equipment, with about 65 per cent of the world’s goalies wearing OBO gear, which is sold into 61 countries.

The TechNZ funding has been used to build a laboratory and develop software to specifically measure ball speed impact and to investigate new materials.

In the lab, a ‘cannon’ fires balls at 200 kilometres an hour, with the motion and impact data providing information that has never been captured in this form anywhere else in the world.

Ready, Aim, Fire!

The unique knowledge feeds into the design process, with the lab also used to test the validity of the resulting products. There are international safety standards governing the manufacture of helmets but no such standards exist for face protection so OBO is taking it upon itself to also develop these along the way.

OBO founder Simon Barnett says it was a frustrating exercise to search the world unsuccessfully for scientific information about ball-speed damage, but it also opened up opportunities for his company to identify a new niche market in designing and marketing face protection for a range of sports.

Face protection that allows excellent vision without compromising movement is vital for softball pitchers, wicket keepers and hockey players, who face unpredictable balls when running out to defend during penalty corners. Mr Barnett says faster ball speeds are creating demand for different types of player protection.

“Higher ball speed results in reduced reaction times, greater damage, higher medical and dentistry bills so the need for face protection is now greater than ever before,” he says.

“Having your face reliably protected in these situations means that the player can feel more confident, and play their game to a higher level.”

OBO is aware that it is not only the design and new materials to withstand the impact that are paramount for market success, the beauty factor is important.

“We’ve talked to players and identified their needs and then worked in the laboratory to develop materials and shapes with the necessary performance characteristics and then added the beauty factor.

“The gear has to be functional and the players have to like wearing it, so it has to look good but it also needs to look intimidating to the opposition,” says Mr Barnett.

The results of OBO’s scientific testing are likely to be on the market in about six months, giving the company a whole new product category.

The new face protection will have greater strength than existing face masks but will also take into account that gear needs to give players excellent visibility.

Understanding new materials and designing equipment that takes the impact of potentially bone-breaking activity is also likely to give OBO a foot into new markets, such as protection for police working in riot or dangerous situations where vision and mobility are essential.

“OBO’s new scientific knowledge will underpin future products and is also helping the company in its transition from a niche manufacturer to a global sports company with the ability to break into larger, more profitable markets,” says Dr Feary.

The new products have the potential to increase OBO’s turnover by as much as 600 per cent in five years.

Mr Barnett has never played a game of hockey in his life but he now gets plenty of feedback from his 13 year old daughter who plays in goal for her Palmerston North Girls’ High School hockey team.

Via www.voxy.co.nz

Air Cannon Helps OBO Test its Latest Mask

CRASH TEST: The air cannon used in impact testing at the OBO laboratory in Palmerston North.
CRASH TEST: The air cannon used in impact testing at the OBO laboratory in Palmerston North.

CRASH TEST: The air cannon used in impact testing at the OBO laboratory in Palmerston North.

The Antipodean collider is actually a form of air cannon used in testing helmets, face masks and other protective gear developed by the Palmerston North-based sports equipment manufacturer, OBO.

OBO is now well into the design and prototype construction stages of developing a new mask, for which the company has received a boost of $217,000 from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

Company founder Simon Barnett said the mask is able to take a direct frontal hit from a ball spat out by the cannon at 160kmh.

He said OBO wasn’t interested in mass- producing “one size fits all” helmets or masks, but preferred to concentrate on smaller, niche markets with equipment designed for specific purposes.

The initial focus was on face protection for players in cricket, softball and hockey and Mr Barnett and his company are high in their praises of goalies everywhere and believe the security their masks offer boosts confidence.

The new mask fits the niche market philosophy well.

For example, OBO has protective gear designed specifically for hockey goalkeepers, and for softball pitchers and cricket wicketkeepers.

“In hockey we have existing face protectors for short-corner protection and during the running phase of the game, but we wanted to improve on it,” he said.

A need was identified for frontal face protection without “the full drama and protection of a helmet that just adds weight and heat.”

Mr Barnett was particularly critical of cricket face protectors which “gave” sufficiently to allow serious injuries such as that suffered by Black Cap Daniel Flynn last year.

OBO’s new mask, being developed in association with designer Rob Whitfield, employs materials and features about which the security- conscious company is not saying much at this stage.

However, the first of the helmets should be ready for assessment by sportspeople in March next year. The company will then consider this last-minute advice in any fine- tuning before going into production.

Mr Barnett said the prototype of the mask offered good visibility – “almost complete peripheral vision” – and because of the materials used and shapes and angles of the parts, could withstand a direct frontal hit from a ball travelling at 160kmh.

The air cannon in the developmental laboratory was coupled with a camera capable of taking 20,000 images a second, allowing a detailed analysis of the actions of ball and mask under impact.

So impressive has the mask been to date that possible applications have emerged in police riot gear.

But Mr Barnett said any police application was “further down the track” and would involve designing a new helmet under the company’s purpose-build philosophy.

OBO began in 1994 with a dedicated range of equipment for hockey goalkeepers under its own brand name. Although global expansion had been rapid, OBO had not forgotten its origins, said Mr Barnett.

“Almost all of our production is still done in Palmerston North.”

Via www.stuff.co.nz

New Test Lab Tackles Sports Injuries “Head-On”

Media release, 7 May 2008, Nightside Test Design Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand: Christchurch based company test engineering company Nightside Test Design is showcasing slow motion video clips of their latest vision and data project at the EMEX trade show currently running in Auckland, demonstrating the impact of cricket and hockey balls on standard sports helmets.

Media release, 7 May 2008, Nightside Test Design Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand: Christchurch based company test engineering company Nightside Test Design is showcasing slow motion video clips of their latest vision and data project at the EMEX trade show currently running in Auckland, demonstrating the impact of cricket and hockey balls on standard sports helmets.

Nightside’s managing director, Peter Brown, says the sports equipment test laboratory recently completed for Palmerston North manufacturers OBO is designed to reduce the number of head injuries among players of ball sports.

OBO specialise in protective equipment for field hockey goalies and have a 65% share of the world market, exporting to 61 countries.

“In the last fifteen years, the speed of balls being hit, thrown or bowled at players has increased exponentially, as a result of the improving technologies involved in surfaces and materials in bats, racquets, and hockey sticks.

“We have also seen a number of serious head injuries to sportspeople resulting from balls hitting the head at high speeds.

“Unfortunately the technology around testing to make sure protective helmets are up to par has not increased at the same speed – until now,” Brown says.

The new OBO test laboratory will start to address the issue, by providing a state of the art facility equipped with a high speed video camera and sensor equipment that captures and analyses the impact of balls shot by a high pressure cannon at up to 160km/h towards a test dummy head.

The shock attenuation of the impact is recorded frame by frame by the high speed Mikrotron video camera and other sensors at over 2,000 frames per second, allowing highly detailed analysis of the data and images around the impact zone.

To date, most similar testing has been limited to the automotive industry (using crash test dummies) and the military sector and is specific to the requirements of those industries.

Reuben Parr from OBO says the system has been very successful to date in testing a range of helmets and masks from different sporting codes, including cricket, softball and field hockey.

Results show a large difference in the performance of different products and different materials, for example, polycarbonate face masks proved to be far stronger than steel wire face masks used in a number of sports.

About OBO:

New Zealand manufacturer and exporter OBO is in the business of making protective gear for field hockey goalies. Based in Palmerston North, the company designs and manufactures a range of padding, masks, helmets, sticks and protective clothing primarily made from closed cell polyethylene foam.

OBO currently has more than 65% worldwide market share, exporting products to 61 countries.

More about OBO and their product range can be found at www.obo.co.nz

About Nightside Test Design Founded in 2001, Nightside Test Design provides independent embedded software test solutions as an alternative to having an in-house testing department. Accurate and timely testing can help streamline the development cycle while improving time to market, product reliability and efficiency. Nightside’s professional services cover the full product development lifecycle from design to production, including Software Testing, Production Testing, Embedded Development, Industrial Control, Measurement and Data Logging. Nightside is a member of the National Instruments Alliance Partner Program – an international network of consultants, systems integrators, and product developers that help bring NI technology to new applications and markets.

As one of only two Certified Alliance Partners in New Zealand, Nightside uses NI LabVIEW, LabWindows/CVI, and TestStand, along with the NI data acquisition and control hardware to provide automated solutions for manufacturing production test applications. Nightside Test Design’s range of services and products can be found at

Helmet Sizing

ABS / PE / FG / CK Helmets come in two sizes: medium and large. And as every Goal Keeper’s head is different, here are some guidelines for choosing a helmet which fits well.

There are two important measurements for helmet sizing. You’ll probably need to get a friend to help you measure them. As shown in the picture, you need to measure in a straight line:

      Width – Temple to Temple (the flat part of your skull outside your eye socket)

Length – Top of Head to Chin

We know that different Goal Keepers like to wear their helmets in different ways, so all OBO Helmets come with an adhesive foam pad, which can be used to customise your helmet to suit your own preferences.

So depending on your head measurements here are the guidelines:

      LARGE – If your head is wider than 150mm and longer than 240mm you will need a large helmet.

MEDIUM – If the width of your head is between 135mm and 150mm, and the length between 225mm and 235mm, you should get a medium.

We’ve found that heads about 135-145mm wide and 225-235mm long fit snugly into a medium helmet. Anything much over these dimensions starts getting pretty tight. So if either of your head measurements are larger than these, we recommend a large helmet with extra customised padding layers (particularly for those with short wide heads or long narrow ones – you can pad out the top or the sides as necessary).

If you’re still not sure about the sizing, please feel free to contact us with any questions you have, and we’ll be happy to advise you about which size helmet is appropriate for you.