The so-called ‘Grandfather of Snowboarding’ invented the Snurfer in 1965, and for this, Sherman Poppen has been credited for launching one of the fastest growing sports in America.
On Christmas Day in Muskegon, Mich., Poppen was asked by his pregnant wife to entertain his 5- and 10-year-old daughters. Since he did not have sleds for the girls to play with, he came up with the idea of binding together two skis to make a board that allowed the rider to stand upright and ride perpendicular.
Poppen’s wife named the creation the Snurfer, a combination of the words “surf” and “snow.”
“It suddenly dawned on me that the hill behind the house was a permanent wave…and that’s what really triggered this whole idea of riding, in effect, sideways,” Poppen said.
From then on the Snurfer became a popular sport on the East Coast. In its first year on the market, half a million boards were sold, and Poppen soon sold his idea to The Brunswick Company.
The sport became common among local Muskegon college students, who hosted snurfing competitions in state parks and ski resorts.
In 1979, Jake Burton Carpenter attended one of the contests with an adaptation to his Snurfer, the modern-day binding. He then adopted the Snurfer and created his own company that sold snowboards.
Snurfers were not allowed in ski areas “until Burton came along,” Poppen said. “I will give Jake Burton tremendous credit. He worked so hard to get ski areas to allow chair lift rides.”
Although Burton is often credited with being the founding father of snowboarding, Poppen still feels properly attributed for his hand in the foundation. In 1995, Poppen was invited to the Tranny Awards (the snowboarding equivalent of the hall of fame) where he was awarded the first Tranny.
“I have to be honest, back in ’95, I was still skiing,” Poppen said. “I gave the keynote address and there were 550 young people there that were snowboarders. The minute I stood up and introduced this board, it was dead still. It was really emotional.”
After receiving his Tranny, Poppen converted to snowboarding at the age of 65. Although he describes himself as “not a big risk-taker,” he still snowboards actively, and at the age of 72, went heli-boarding in Alaska.
Poppen does not regret his decision to give up on marketing his Snurfer it its beginning years.
“I can look back at that and say, ‘that’ would have been a lot of fun,'” Poppen said. “But I’m not unhappy that I didn’t stay with it.”