Though Puxatawney Pete declared spring is on the way, the Midwest is still celebrating winter. In Michigan, for example, there’s plenty of time to enjoy 3,000 miles of cross country ski trails, 6,500 miles for snowmobiling, and acre upon beautiful acre for snowshoeing. There are more than 40 ski areas and resorts that cater to the novice and the experienced skiier alike
If you’re a downhill fanatic, you no doubt know that Michigan is the birthplace of snurfing. (Sounds like something a Smurf would do, doesn’t it?) In Muskegon, MI in 1965, Sherman Poppen invented a toy for his daughters to use in the snow which his wife dubbed the snurfer (a combination of snow and surf). He’d put two skis together and attached a rope at one end, so he could control their momentum as the girls glided down the hill. The contraption was such a hit with his daughters’ friends, he licensed the idea to Brunswick Corporation. About a million were sold over the next ten years (over half a million in 1966 alone!).
In the early ’70s, Poppen organized competitions at a local ski resort, attended by snurfer enthusiasts from all around the US. Tom Sims was one of those enthusiasts. While in junior high in the ’60s, Sims had built a snowboard in shop class, and produced them commercially in the ’70s. His invention was featured in mainstream magazines such as Newsweek, which helped publicize the sport.
Also during the ’70s, Jake Burton Carpenter, a young man who had been an avid snurfer since age 14, designed bindings that secured his feet to the board which created a stir at a snurfing competition. In 1977, he founded Burton Snowboards made of flexible wooden planks with water ski foot traps. His company went on to become one of the leading snowboarding companies.
When Jake entered the National Snurfing Championship in Muskegon, MI, many protested because he was using his own board, a non-snurf board. An “Open” division was created (Jake won – he was the only entrant!). This is considered the very first snowboard competition. It became an Olympic sport in 1998, with the first gold medal being awarded to Canadian Ross Rebagliati. Para-snowboarding was added to the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Over the next decades, Jake Burton Carpenter, Tom Sims, and others continued updating their designs for snowboards as well as the bindings and other related equipment to become the snowboards we know today.
So this winter, instead of traveling to warmer climes to play in the ocean, grab a snowboard, ride a chairlift, and at the top of the mountain you can holler, “Snurf’s up!” True snowboarders will get it.
Check out this link to find out more about Sherm’s invention being added to the Smithsonian.