It is hard to say who actually “invented” the first snowboard. People have always figured out how to slide down a snowy mound in one form or another. But what we do know is that snowboarding certainly stemmed from one guy in the U.S who cut out a plank of plywood in 1929 and tried to secure his feet with some clothesline and horse reins, this ingenious guy was called M.J. “Jack” Burchett. Before the next step towards our modern day snowboards was taken, it had to wait over 30 years until 1963 when an American kid named Tom Sims, a student in eighth grade, (that’s the acne-ridden year 9 for us Brits) constructed what he called a “Ski Board” for a class project.
Then it seems that at some point during the mid sixties the heady desire for boarding on snow became airborne as in 1965 Sherman Poppen, a chemical gases engineer in Muskegon, invented “The Snurfer” as a toy for his daughter.
He made the Snurfer by binding two skis together and putting a rope at the nose, so the rider could hold it and keep it more stable. Many of his daughters friends wanted one of those new crazy-ass Snurfers, and soon Poppen licensed his new idea to a manufacturer. The Snurfer was sold over half a million times in 1966, but was only seen as a toy for kids, even though Poppen organized competitions with this new board. Jake Burton (that name ring a bell? Yep he’s the founder of Burton Snowboards) took part in those competitions and snurfing became his reason for living. Burton in his earlier life had been really serious about skiing but after breaking his collarbone in a car accident, he was not able to take part in skiing competitions anymore.
While Burton was into riding the Snurfer, a New York college student named Dimitrije Milovich (a habitual surfer on the East Coast) borrowed trays from the college cafeteria and used then to ‘surf’ down the banks of snow outside. Whilst doing so he came up with the idea of an invention based on a surfboard design but somehow combine it with the way skis work. He started designing and making snowboards in 1969.
In 1972 Milovich started a new company called “Winterstick”. He produced several boards, and even got articles in the “Newsweek”, “Playboy” and “Powder” which helped spread the snowboard love. Even though Milovich left the snowboarding business in 1980, he is still recognized as a very important pioneer of the sport and snowboarding lifestyle.
Let’s get back to Jake Burton, who by now had finished NYU and in 1977 moved to Londonderry, Vermont to make some money by building different versions of the Snurfer, he knew that he could combine the snowboard designs that had been created by Milovich with his own ideas and create something revolutionary. His first boards were made of laminated hardwood. Burton shocked the Snurfer community by winning a Snurfer competition with his board prototype which had strange witchcraft-esque ‘bindings’ attached. This first binding made a big difference in handling the board and made it easier for him to beat the other riders.
Rivaling Burton was a dude called Tom Sims and he produced his first set of snowboards in 1977. Sims came at snowboard design from a different angle, being obsessed with skateboarding, Sims tried to go out in the snow and slide down the hill with a ‘snowboard’ he built in a junior high shop-class (remember those shitty design & technology classes we got at secondary school in the UK where you tried to drill a hole through your friend’s hand? that’s what shop-class is). Sims simply glued some carpet to the top of a piece of wood, and put an aluminum sheeting on the bottom and away he went. Prior to this he had been focussing on producing skateboards in his garage but with the help of his friend and employee Chuck Barfoot, snowboards became his main focus.
Barfoot, who actually made the snowboards, came up with the “Flying Yellow Banana”. It was just a skateboard deck on top of a plastic shell with skegs. Officially the first real ski technology for snowboards was introduced by Burton 1980 (it is said Winterstick already used a P-Tex base in 1974, but that’s a lifetime ago so who knows for sure). Chuck’s new prototype had a P-tex base too and combined more of the ski technology into snowboards, which had been lacking in other people’s prototypes. In the same year Sims signed a skate- and snowboarding deal with a big mainstream company (Vision Sports), which helped him financially and allowed the design of snowboards to move forward.
But Sims’ pal Barfoot was left out, and he tried to built his own firm. He did not succeed against the big competitors Sims and Burton. In 1982 the first National Snowboard race was held in Suicide Six, outside Woodstock, Vermont. The goal of the race appeared mostly to be to not get dead, as the race consisted of a steep icy kamikaze downhill run called “The Face”. In 1985 still only 39 of the approximately 600 snow trails in the area allowed snowboards. Bastards.
The same year one of the first Snowboarding magazines came out. It was named “Absolutely Radical”. Later on the name is changed into “International Snowboarding Magazine”. In 1986 Regis Rolland, a French snowboarder, starred in “Apocalypse Snow” the first snowboarding movie ever made. This film launched a new European Snowboarding generation of fans who organized their own regional events, such as the early Swiss championship in St. Moritz. Snowboarding was hitting new heady heights and the rebellious ‘Fucking Bite Me’ attitude of the generation of people doing it was already taking hold out on the mountains. This attitude grew into a still-sometimes occurring stand off with the skiing community.
In 1994 Snowboarding was declared as an Olympic Sport after folk recognised that only the most big balled dudes and girls with attitude and fearlessness could withstand what the sport threw at them. Damn straight.