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 the Voskhod 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 into middle America, and the city of Watts, California threw a block party that wouldn’t be surpassed until the LA riots of 1993. On the other side of the Pacific, the Viet Nam “conflict” had become a war.
On December 25, two weeks before Time Magazine would name General William Childs Westmoreland their “Man of the Year” for being “the sinewy personification of the American fighting man,” a quiet, thin, industrial gases engineer from Muskegon, 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. He was already an inventor with several industrial gas patents under his belt when he saw his daughter Wendy trying to stand on her sled while sliding down the neighborhood sledding hill. The rest of the story has become part of snowboarding’s mythology. Sherm went into his garage, got a pair of kids snow 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 the other 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. She mixed the words snow and surfer together and the Snurfer was born. Over the next ten years millions of Snurfers were produced and sold through chain sporting goods and toy stores. In fact, some think this year will be the first time that snowboard production will surpass the number of boards made in one year during the Snurfer years.
While it could be argued that the Snurfer was not technically a snowboard because it had no bindings, it was what got the early guys hooked. Jake Burton Carpenter first board was a Snurfer. So was Winterstick’s founder Demetrije Milovich’s and Avalanche’s Chris Sanders’. In fact, nearly all the original snowboard pioneers started out on Snurfers. Whether they admit it is a completely different story.
In the past 30 years snowboarding has changed. What started out as a tight-knit group of fanatics has blown out into a mainstream alternative sport used to promote beer, Levi’s, and hip-hop music. While pop-culture media hacks are 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 around for 30 years. While nearly everything is different in 1995 than it was in 1965 one thing remains the same: the stoke we all feel when we slide downa snow-covered mountain leaving just one track.