Nineteen sixty-four was pretty big year. In March, Soviet Cosmonaut Aleskesi Arkhipovich Leonov became the first man to walk in space when he left theVoskhod II and dangled on the end of a 16 foot leash for ten full minutes.By June The Beach Boys had sold 12 million albums, the Beatles had seducedthe nation, miniskirts had go-goed off the catwalks of Paris straight intomiddle America, and the city of Watts, California threw a block party thatwouldn’t be surpassed until the LA riots of 1993. On the other side of thePacific, the Viet Nam “conflict” had become a war.
On December 25, two weeks before Time Magazine would name General WilliamChilds Westmoreland their “Man of the Year” for being “the sinewy personificationof the American fighting man”, a quiet, thin, industrial gases engineer fromMuskegon, Michigan built something in his garage that would change the faceof winter forever.
That man was Sherman Poppen, and what he built was the first snowboard. Hewas already an inventor with several industrial gas patents under his beltwhen he saw his daughter Wendy trying to stand on her sled while slidingdown the neighborhood sledding hill. The rest of the story has become partof snowboarding’s mythology. Sherm went into his garage, got a pair of kidssnow skis, and screwed them together with some dowling, “to act as foot stops,”he says.
He gave it to his daughter and she took it back up to the hill. When theother kids saw Wendy’s sled they all wanted one. “They were coming up saying,’Mr. Poppen, Mr. Poppen make me one, make me one,'” he says. So he did.
A few days later, Sherm’s wife came up with a name for the new sled. Shemixed the words snow and surfer together and the Snurfer was born. Over thenext ten years millions of Snurfers were produced and sold through chainsporting goods and toy stores. In fact, some think this year will be thefirst time that snowboard production will surpass the number of boards madein one year during the Snurfer years.
While it could be argued that the Snurfer was not technically a snowboardbecause it had no bindings, it was what got the early guys hooked. Jake BurtonCarpenter first board was a Snurfer. So was Winterstick’s founder DemetrijeMilovich’s and Avalanche’s Chris Sanders’. In fact, nearly all the originalsnowboard pioneers started out on Snurfers. Whether they admit it is a completelydifferent story.
In the past 30 years snowboarding has changed. What started out as a tight-knitgroup of fanatics has blown out into a mainstream alternative sport usedto promote beer, Levi’s, and hip-hop music. While pop-culture media hacksare busy portraying snowboarding as the “newest thing to hit the slopes,”it’s nice to savor the thought that snowboarding has roots–it’s been aroundfor 30 years. While nearly everything is different in 1995 than it was in1965 one thing remains the same: the stoke we all feel when we slide downa snow-covered mountain leaving just one track.