Sherm Poppen, Who Invented the Snowboard Prototype for His Two Daughters, Dies at 89

Sherm Poppen put together a pair of skis in 1965, making the prototype for what would become the modern snowboard

Sherm Poppen
Photo: National Museum of American History

Sherm Poppen was simply trying to find a way to keep his daughters occupied when he invented what would one day become the snowboard at his home in Muskegon, Michigan, on Christmas Day 1965.

It was there that Poppen, who died on Wednesday at age 89 due to complications from a stroke, according to Snowboarder Magazine, was compelled to find an activity for his daughters — Wendy, 10, and Laurie, 5 — because his wife, Nancy, was a few days out from giving birth to their third daughter and she wanted some peace and quiet.

“You can imagine — it’s Christmas, and my wife is pretty uptight, and she said, ‘Sherman, you’ve got to take these kids out of the house,’ ” Poppen told Steamboat Pilot & Today in 2009, according to the New York Times. “And we were having a huge snowstorm on the shores of Lake Michigan.”

Because the snow was thin that day, sledding wouldn’t work, he recalled to The Denver Post. So, Poppen nailed together a pair of skies to create a board that his two daughters could stand upon, allowing them to surf down the snowy dunes just outside of their home.

The nailed together skis gave his daughters some buoyancy on the thin snow, and as they played, Nancy would come up with the name for her husband’s invention: the Snurfer.

“We just went crazy,” Wendy recalled to the Post this week. “We were taking turns sliding, laughing. We lived in a teeny, tiny little cottage. My mom opens the creaky back door and says, ‘That looks like a fun toy, you should name that a Snurfer,’ for snow and surfing. It was really cool.”

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Poppen would soon make small adjustments to the Snurfer, such as adding a tether to help riders steer down the snow. He would also recruit Wendy to demo the board when he invited executives from Brunswick Corp. to see it in action.

“I had to slide down this hill and climb back up,” Wendy told the Post. “My dad told me, ‘Keep Snurfing until I tell you to stop.’ I went up and down, up and down like 15 times; it’s freezing out. The rest is history. He sold them the patent and they produced the Snurfer.”

As Snurfing’s popularity caught on, one of its fans was Jake Burton Carpenter, who was so taken by the sport that he would later improve upon Poppen’s Snurfer and create one of the industry’s first proper snowboards through his company, Burton Boards.

“In my world, Sherman Poppen was the guy that started snowboarding,” Carpenter told Snowboarder Magazine. “He for sure changed my life by introducing the concept of surfing on snow to me. Not only did he start the sport, but he never gave up on it.”

Poppen’s prototype, which jumpstarted the sport after he showcased it for Brunswick, is now on exhibit at the Colorado Snowsports Museum in Vail.

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