The Very First Snowboard?

Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Dorn.

Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Dorn.

Sherman Poppins’ “Snurfer” often receives credit as the first modern snowboard. It piggybacked popular California surf culture and spread it to the snowy masses. But what came before it?

We know traces of snowboarding’s archaic remains spurred in Turkey. Here, rudimentary snow travel between villages involved sliding a large wooden tablet over 150 years ago. Such tradition has survived through elders like Celime, a Turkish man Jeremy Jones regards as “Old Man Snowboarding.” In a trip to discover the origin of snowboarding, Jones and friends took to the tablet and learned from the Turks.

In 1917, a similar grandfather of snowboarding emerged in the States. A young Vern Wicklund, at the age of 13, fashioned a shred deck in Cloquet, Minnesota. He and friends called the modified sled a “bunker.” Twenty-two years later, he and relatives Harvey and Gunnnar Burgeson held the patent for the very first snowboard. Don’t believe it? Check the patent and watch the early footage of the guys ripping it.

Gunnar’s son, Don, grew up riding the bunker with his father and friends. Here are his early tales of the pursuit:

“My dad, Gunnar Burgeson, came to the U.S. from Sweden when he was 18 years old and settled in Oak Park, Illinois. In 1939, my dad officially co-invented the snowboard with his brother Harvey Burgeson and relative Vern Wicklund. The three then filed the first patent for the snowboard in 1939 [U.S. Patent 2,181,391]. My dad was 31 years old at the time of the invention and at least five snowboards were made. To this day I have three in my possession.

Growing up we would call the snowboard a “bunker.” As a kid I used the bunker all the time. My dad would take my brothers and me to hilly areas in Illinois and Wisconsin. We would generally jump a fence to get onto someone’s property and use the bunker to ride down the hills.

Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Dorn

Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Dorn

Standing sideways we would secure our rear foot under a leather strap that looks like a belt buckle and accommodated different sizes of shoes. Our forward foot was placed behind a piece of wood fastened to the board. The front of the board had a rope that we would hold with one hand–this rope would help us slow down the board and served as a break. Our other hand would hold a stick that had a hole with a piece of rope we’d put around our wrist–this helped us with balance. The entire board was made of oak and was bent slightly to a concave shape. It weighed at least 15 pounds, maybe more.

I never knew that my dad patented the bunker until I saw the January 16, 2004 Sports Illustrated article on snowboarding that listed the timeline of the sport that began with my dad’s patent. And, little did I know growing up that my dad’s invention would take off and become an Olympic sport with such a following. Watching the winter Olympics I am reminded of my dad and my childhood growing up using the first snowboard on some little hills in the Midwest. Snowboarding sure has come a long way since 1939.” -Don Burgeson