Sherman Poppen: Inventor of the Snowboard
Sherman Poppen’s Sudden Inspiration Created a Whole New Way to go Downhill.
By David K Gibson

snowboard inventor sherman “I lived on the shore of Lake Michigan, and I’d always wished I could surf,” says Sherman Poppen. “Christmas Day of 1965, I looked at the snow on the dunes behind my house and it dawned on me that we had a permanent wave right there.”

And so, with a pair of blister-pack wooden skis from the local dime store, some cross braces, and some ingenious tinkering, the sport of snowboarding was born. Poppen’s invention, christened the “Snurfer” by his wife, evolved into a single plank with a tether for tenuous control, a backyard toy for kids who wanted a little more thrill than a sled could provide. Nine-hundred thousand sold in the first 10 years, and Snurfing contests were held wherever there was snow.

Snurfing, of course, became snowboarding. But the pop of that popular sport didn’t get around to learning how to shred until he was 65.

snurfing snowboard original“I was a hard-core skier,” he says, “and we’d moved to Steamboat Springs in 1990, so I’d messed around on them. But I didn’t get deadly serious on the snowboard until after I was a keynote speaker at the Trans World Business conference in the winter of 1994.” Back then, he explains, snowboarding was the domain of the pierced and purple-haired, and there was plenty of attitude. “The day after the conference, we all gathered at the chair lift, and I was one skier surrounded by 500 snowboarders. They all gave me a thumbs-down.”

And so, the man who invented the sport became an ambassador for it. Steamboat Springs resort made him an honorary snowboard instructor, though temporarily: “Where I got myself in trouble was, I got pretty damn good on the board, and they caught me tree riding with an instructor’s jacket on.” Last year, he presided over snowboarding’s arrival at Taos, where cries of “Hey, Snurfer dude!” echoed all over the mountain.

Now 78, Poppen had to take last season o due to back problems. “But,” he laughs, “things are looking good for this season.”