Much like myself, you may have spent the last several weeks watching the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Of all the winter sports including bobsled, ski jump, and ice dancing, snowboarding is among my favorites. Did you realize this popular international sport got its start right here in West Michigan?
They say necessity is the mother of invention and in 1965 that rang true for Sherman Poppen. On Christmas Day of that year Poppen's children were running amok, as children do, and his wife requested Sherman take them outside to burn off some energy. Poppen saw his daughter's K-Mart skis and decided to create a fun new challenge for his kids by nailing them together.
Originally thinking it would be a new toy to replace the sled, the invention took on a life of its own. Sherman's wife dubbed this new creation the "Snurfer" by combining the words "snow" and "surf". Poppen says he compared the mounds of snow to ocean waves, but instead of waiting for another wave to come along as with surfing, all the snurfer needed to do was walk back up to the top of the hill to ride the next "wave".
Poppen's creation came along at the perfect time as there was a huge counter-culture skateboard movement taking over the nation and the snurfer was seen as its winter equivalent. Eventually famous bowling manufacturer the Brunswick corporation, which was located in Muskegon at the time, got wind of Sherman's creation and wanted to capitalize. Poppen filed a patent in 1966 and by 1968 two hundred spectators showed up for the World Snow Surfing Championship in Muskegon.
Snurfing became "snowboarding" as we know it today, when a Vermont businessman and avid snurfer named Jake Burton Carpenter decided to make improvements on Poppen's original design. Burton's board had a wider shape and foot bindings to hold the rider in place, essentially creating the modern-day snowboard. Even Poppen himself credits Burton with seeing the future of the snurfer that he couldn't see himself. Today Burton has become one of the most recognizable brands of snowboards and winter gear among athletes.
Snowboarding is now a popular and internationally recognized sport that can be seen everywhere from the Olympics, to the Winter X Games, to the slopes at Bittersweet. Although Sherman Poppen passed away in 2019, his legacy lives on as an inductee of the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame.