A Brief History of Snowboarding

WHEN DID SNOWBOARDING FIRST START?

Almost every internet article on the history of snowboarding starts some time around 1929, when a piece of plywood was strapped underfoot of a supposed M. J. “Jack” Burchett with horse reins and clothesline. 

Burchett is often accredited with being the first person to go snowboarding in this fashion. 

While who and where he was is otherwise unknown, what we do know of him gives us a satisfyingly off-the-cuff birth story of snowboarding- an appropriate beginning for a sport known for its mischievous adventurousness. 

THE FIRST SNOWBOARD PROTOTYPE: THE SNURFER

Fast forward about 30 years to Christmas Day of 1965 in a tiny cottage by the shore of Lake Michigan. Sherman R. Poppen is tasked by his very pregnant wife to get their two children out of the house to give her some peace and quiet. 

As an engineer and somewhat of an innovator, when he spotted his daughter’s skis in the room, he decided to try something new. He bolted the skis together to see if his daughters could find some new fun with the snow and sent them outside with their new toy.

Nancy, Poppen’s wife, later watching them from the door, remarked what a fun activity “surfing” on the “snow” looked like- “Snurfing, she called it. Thus the “Snurfer” was born.

Not too long after, all the neighborhood kids came begging Poppen to make them one, and Sherman started to see the huge potential of such a toy. He applied for a patent for the Snurfer in early 1966 and after selling the patent to Brunswick Corp., the Snurfer went into production, made of the same laminated wood used for bowling lanes. 

Over a million Snurfers were sold from 1966 to 1975, for $15 apiece. 

Soon after, the masses took to the Snurfer, and Poppen started organizing competitions with his invention, and the worldwide fascination with the Snurfer only grew. 

Modern-day snowboarding was hoisting itself onto its first pair of rickety legs, and starting to gain momentum. 

THE BIRTH OF MODERN SNOWBOARD COMPANIES: BURTON, SIMS, AND MILOVICH

Burton

Among this following of the Snurfer was a 14-year-old Jake Burton Carpenter, future founder of world-famous Burton Snowboards.

In 1977, Carpenter, still remembering the Snurfer’s impact on him, moved back to his hometown in Vermont to further the Snurfer’s concept, and developed his own versions of the board. He went on to win a Snurfing competition on one of these boards that contraptions to hold his feet in place! Bindings! 

Later that year, Carpenter founded Burton Snowboards, a brand that has since exploded to the forefront of snowboarding gear. 

Sims

Around the same time the Snurfer was being developed, Tom Sims, a 12-year-old in New Jersey, had just sparked a lifelong fascination with skateboarding after being exposed to the skateboarding culture in Los Angeles. 

He built what he dubbed the “Skiboard” in his 7th grade shop class, simply because he wanted to keep skateboarding in the winter. And with this aluminum foil lined plank of wood, Sims embarked on what would an enormous lasting legacy. 

Sims went on to be one of the greatest skateboarders in history, and tirelessly pushed his vision of snowboarding further. He founded Sims Snowboards in 1976, and in 1983, hosted the world’s first halfpipe competition- a precursor for the Olympic sporting event.

Milovich

Earlier in the 1970’s, just a few years after the world was introduced to the Snurfer, Dimitrije Milovich was sliding down Upstate New York snow, standing up on cafeteria trays.

 By 1972, he dropped out of Cornell and moved to Utah and created the swallowtail snowboard design- developed for the Utah powder. He established the Winterstick, a company still around today, making it the longest-standing snowboard company!

With pioneer companies like Burton Snowboards, Winterstick, and Sims Snowboards gaining attention, snowboarding became more and more in demand with the public: Winterstick was featured in magazines such as Powder magazine and Playboy, Tom Sims shot as Bond’s stunt double, snowboarding down a mountain in “A View to Kill.” 

Before long, snowboarding charged straight into its rightful top spot of the winter sport scene alongside skiing. 

THE HISTORY OF MODERN SNOWBOARDING AS WE KNOW IT

There are many aspects from which to consider the history of snowboarding: the development and incorporation of each piece of gear (Bindings, Boots, Boards) in terms of material, form, and function; the development of technical building of snowboards (Snowboard Profiles), especially as it rose to a competitive sport; and the development of snowboarding culture, among many others.

But perhaps the solidification of snowboarding and the true beginning of the history of modern snowboarding happened in the late 1990s, when it became a part of the X Games (1997), and an official Olympic sporting event (1998). 

For most millennials and folks older who weren’t familiar with snowboarding during its rise to popularity, it’s likely that the first legend in snowboard history that comes to mind is: Shaun White. Shaun White famously dominated the Olympics, winning gold in the half-pipe competition back to back in 2006 and 2010, and then again in 2018. 

Fans are excited to witness White’s return to the Winter Olympics in 2022, possibly for the last time. 

Tricks of extreme difficulty such as the triple cork (A trick that actually put Shaun White in the hospital.) have been more vigorously studied and practiced, and thus have been increasingly performed perfectly in competitions. 

With the beginning history of snowboarding firmly established, we are simultaneously witnessing and anticipating the greatest cultural, skill, and technical innovations in snowboarding these years to come. 

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