Last year the National Professional Paintball League approved inventor Richard Phillips’ “No Surrender” vests for official tournament competitions. Some vests can deflect paintballs, a no-no in tourney play. If the ball doesn’t bust, the shot doesn’t count. No Surrender vests protect players without compromising point scoring. Unfortunately, the NPPL declared bankruptcy last year. Phillips is undeterred. Like his vests say, “No Surrender.”

By Richard Phillips

I came up with the idea for the No Surrender vest back in the late 1990s when I was with a sheriff’s department in Texas.NoSurrenderVests

We had a team that played other departments. This was back when you only had to wear goggles and fully automatics were allowed.

One of my first games ended with the whistle being blown at the same time another player popped up eight feet in front of me, drilling me about 20 times across the chest with his full auto.

While spending the next two weeks recuperating from the bruising and soreness, I had many thoughts running through my mind as to how to eliminate such severe pain and suffering.

Wanna see our editor take a paintball to the chest? Click here.

I started by experimenting with packing peanut materials, eventually migrating to all known varieties of foams. I figured a light-weight foam vest would be easy to wear.

Over years of experimenting, (mainly by shooting my nephews at 20 feet away with different samples under their shirts – poor guys) I failed to find chemical foam that could stop a projectile that small and at that velocity without the foam cells collapsing flat.

I was at a dead end, and my nephews starting charging me $20 every time I wanted to try something new. (Couldn’t blame them).

I refused to give up.

I eventually discovered a special foam with a particular cell structure that actually funneled the blast of a paintball in hundreds of different directions like tiny tunnels, instead of letting the force go through to the body and cause a bruise.

But I still had the collapsing foam cell problem.

I decided to incorporate a solid laminate on top of the foam to spread out the blast force over a wider area, absorbing the pressure without the cell structure flattening.

I put together a sample and called over my nephew to test it. After paying him in advance, he walked out 20 feet and braced for the shot.

After the first shot, I was impressed that he did not drop to his knees clutching the hit area like in previous experiments. He also was not cursing and screaming at me – another promising sign. He then started to walk toward me, stopping halfway and said, “Shoot me again.”

I warned him he was too close, but he said go ahead, so I shot him.

He just looked down at the hit, walked toward me again, this time stopping five feet away.

“One more time,” he said.

Thinking I would really hurt him this time, I refused. He also probably would have charged me double if it didn’t work. I finally agreed and fired one more shot.

My nephew looked down at the hit area, reached into his pocket, pulled out a $20 bill and handed it to me. I asked him why.

“No pain, no pay,” he said. “Uncle, you did it!”

It was a night of celebration for us. Followed by a lot of fine tuning to the panels, finding the right materials for the cover, tweaking the vest designs, locating a suitable manufacturer, dealing with import costs, shipping fees, advertisement, and more.

A lot of work has gone into this vest. Last October the National Professional Paintball League approved it for official tournaments. I never dreamed my design would go so far. Unfortunately, the parent organization of the NPPL declared bankruptcy in December 2008. The U.S. Paintball League, which assumed the role of the NPPL, told Inventors Digest it will resurrect the NPPL beginning 2010.

A lot of work, a lot of failing, a lot of redesigning – basically just a lot of not giving up is what it took.

I have loved each and every step it has taken from paper, to prototype, to patent and finally to product for sale in stores.

So, when did I feel I had finally made it as an inventor? Was it when I got my patent? When I sold my first vest? Was it my first purchase order from Academy Sports and Outdoors? Was it when I named my company International Survival Inc.? Was it seeing the vest mass produced for the first time? Was it when paintball fields started buying them to use as rentals?

To all these questions, the answer is “no.” The answer is simple. The moment I felt like a real honest-to-God inventor was the night we laughed, cheered and cried after hearing those eight simple words:

“No pain, no pay. Uncle, you did it!”