Did you know snowboarding was almost called “snurfing?” How did such a strange name come about and why isn’t it used today? For those answers, we have to look at the history of snowboarding, or rather, the history of snurfing.
In the mid 1960s a man by the name of Sherman Poppen strapped some children’s skis together and added a front strap for his daughters to play with on Christmas Eve. The girls loved the new toy that easily glided over the snow. The girls played in the snow, but they looked like they were surfing! Poppen’s wife came up with the amusing name “snurfing,” which is a combination of snow and surfing.
Poppen’s simple invention caught on quickly in the town of Muskegon, MI. Soon everyone wanted to go snurfing. Seeing a great business opportunity, Poppen had his idea patented and in 1968 shopping catalogs such as Macy’s and Sears Roebuck had snurfers (snowboards as we call them today) for sale. Poppen sold his invention the Brunswick Company and by 1970 nearly 1 million snurfers had been sold.
Snurfing competitions started locally and became such a huge phenomenon that people traveled all across the US to compete. Such popularity led to the downfall of the word “snurfing.” A highly enthusiastic competitor named Jack Burton Carpenter introduced his “Burton Board” in 1977 at a competition. Jack owned a carpentry company and had started making his own branded snurfboards. Poppen wasn’t pleased someone was using the name his wife coined and sought legal action. As a result, Jack changed the name to the now popular Burton Snowboards.
Burton Snowboards were an improved version of the original snurfer. Evolution of the boards eventually removed the front lanyard and added a way to attach snow shoes so the user had greater control without the risk of falling off. This model ended up being the direct predecessor to the modern day snowboard. The popularity of the Burton Snowboards exploded, completely overshadowing the name snurfing, and today is a very popular brand of snowboards.
Snowboarding’s popularity grew in the 1980s with the rise of national and international competitions. An International Snowboarding Federation was started in 1990 and in 1998, snowboarding was recognized an Olympic sport in the Winter Olympics in Japan. The 2000s saw the greatest jump in snowboarding popularity amongst people in their late teens to early 20s.
Poppen, now in his 80s, still loves snowboarding and does so every winter. Rumor has it he lamented the legal recourse that ended up changing the fun name of snurfing into snowboarding!
BYLINE: A winter sport enthusiast, Duane is passionate about skiing and snowboarding all year round. He has worked in the ski and snowboard industry since 1974 and prides himself on his ski knowledge and ability. You can find Duane at The Ski Bum, most likely gearing up for another ski adventure.