The History of Snowboarding – From Garages to the Olympics

Most people think snowboarding is a very new concept, first invented in the last couple of decades. Surprisingly enough, the first snowboards can be traced back to the 1920s! Men and older boys would take plywood or boards from the sides of barrels tied together with clothesline as their base. They would then use horse reins or some more clothesline to try to keep their feet tied into place on the boards. These brave ones then slid down snow-covered hills standing up on boards that would make up the first stories of the history of snowboarding 80 years later.

It wasn’t until 1965 when there are pictures of Sherman Poppen with his “Snurfer.” Poppen was a chemical engineer in Muskegon, Michigan. He tied together two skis and put a rope at the front to make it easier to steer. He made this contraption for his daughter, Wendy. Poppen’s wife gave it the name “Snurfer” because it was a Snow Surfboard. When all of the Wendy’s friends wanted Snurfers, Sherman Poppen got a manufacturer to create them, and they were sold for $15 each. The Snurfer was incredibly successful – over half a million were sold in one year. Poppen organized competitions where people could “snurf.”

So Many Snowboard Inventors

A man from Vermont named Jake Burton Carpenter got to see one of these Snurfers as a child. He was an avid skier, but he always wanted to surf, so he was excited to see this new contraption that would end up playing an important role in snowboarding history.

While Carpenter was experimenting with Snurfers, an East Coast Surfer named Dimitrije Milovich was coming up with his own inventions. He liked to slide down hills standing on cafeteria trays in upstate New York. He got together with a surfboard maker, Wayne Stovekin. (Milovich actually gives Stovekin credit as the first snowboarder and snowboard maker.) They started making a type of snowboard based on a surfboard design with metal edges. Apparently, he patented the design in 1971 with plans on selling the idea to ski companies.

Around the same time, Bob Webber was trying for years to get a patent for his “skiboard.” He finally got it in 1972. This is the same year that Dimitrije Milovich dropped out of college and moved to Utah where he could experiment with his boards in the deepest powdery snow. He patented the “Swallowtail” design that year.

In 1974, Milovich started making snowboards for his buddies and people who contacted him. In 1976, he founded Winterstick brand boards. They only had two types of boards, and they produced 100 of them. They were featured in some articles in Newsweek, Playboy, and Powder. They also took their boards to the SIA (Snowsports Industries America) and the NSGA (National Sporting Goods Association) tradeshows. Not many people were interested. The company still exists today, but Milovich got out of the business to start an engineering business.

1977 was a big year for snowboarding. Mike Olson built his first snowboard in high school as a shop project. In an amazing coincidence, Tom Sims had also built a snowboard in his junior high woodshop class. He was a skater who wanted to make a skateboard (without the wheels, of course) for the snow. Sims along with his friend and employee, Chuck Barfoot, started making snowboards out of Sims’ garage in 1977. Apparently Barfoot was the one who actually made the snowboards at that point, and he also worked with Bob Webber. Bob Webber came up with something called "The Yellow Banana". Barfoot apparently tweaked it a bit and came up with "The Flying Yellow Banana". It’s sold under the Sims name as the "Skiboard".

This same year, Jake Burton Carpenter finished up school in New York and moved to Vermont to start making snowboards out of his garage. When he was a kid, he had been a big fan of the Snurfer, which he said he had been modifying since high school. In 1977, he founded Burton Boards, his own snowboarding company which is still successful today.

Snowboarding Popularity Grows

In 1979, Paul Graves went insane on a snurfer at the Annual Snurfer Contest in Michigan. He did flips, bent down on the board halfway through, and did four sliding 360s. Jake Burton Carpenter entered too, but wanted to compete on one of his boards. There was a huge controversy, but Graves and others fought for his right to compete on his board. That’s the last year Poppen sold Snurfers.

Also in 1979, Graves appeared riding a Snurfer in a LaBatt’s beer commercial. The history of snowboarding has finally begun to include more than just a handful of people. People all over Canada and the northern U.S. saw grave in the commercial and wanted to try it out for themselves.

In 1980, Burton came out with boards that used ski technology for the first time. That’s disputed, however. Many people believe that Milovich used that technology back in 1974. In 1980, Sims got a big deal with a big mainstream company for his skateboards and snowboards. Barfoot wasn’t included in the deal, so he started his own snowboarding company in 1981, the same year that the first snowboarding contest (a fairly small one) took place in Leadville, Colorado.

In 1982, a very important part of the history of snowboarding took place. Paul Graves organized the very first National Snowsurfing Championships at Suicide Six Ski Area in Woodstock, Vermont. Sports Illustrated, Good Morning America, and The Today Show all covered some aspect of the contest. The contestants were clocked at more than 60 miles per hour in the downhill contest. People competed on Snurfers, Burton boards, and Sims boards. Burton and Sims actually competed, too. Doug Bouton, a guy from the Burton team, won first overall on a Burton board.

The same year, Avalanche Snowboards was created in Salt Lake Tahoe. They only made three boards the first year and used a formica base.

In 1983, rivals Burton and Sims each held their own competition. Burton held the National Snowboarder Championship (Snurfers and Snowboarders didn’t race together again after 1982), and Sims held the first World Snowboarding Championship. Burton’s event was in Vermont, where he lived, and Sims’ event was in the Lake Tahoe area, where he lived. Sims tried to outdo the Burton event by including a halfpipe event. Several competitors (including the Burton team) threatened to boycott the contest because the halfpipe event would be considered in the total scores. Those members didn’t think it had anything to do with snowboarding. This dispute created the two different types of snowboarders.

Keep Away the Snowboarders!

Vermont was the first state to open a Snowboarding Park, where snowboarders were welcome to do their thing. In the mid 80s, very few ski resorts and parks allowed snowboarders. They were considered dangerous to the skiers. Others claimed their insurance didn’t cover snowboarders.

Most snowboarders knew the real reason is because of the way the snowboarders looked. They were generally younger, with baggy skateboarder clothing, and some of them had various colors of hair. When it was exposed that insurance companies did cover snowboarding and snowboards were now much more controlled and less dangerous, the snowboarders snubbed the resorts and parks.

European countries moved their way into the history of snowboarding. The 1986 World Championships in Breckenridge, Colorado, brought big money to the city. There was a lot of press coverage, and a lot of money being spent. All of the resorts and parks that had banned snowboards took notice.

A ski resort in Vermont even begins to offer snowboarding lessons. By 1990, most of the big resorts offered separate slopes for snowboarders. These days, 98% of resorts allow snowboarding, and slopes continue to be built just for snowboards.

Finally Snowboarding Gets the Recognition it Deserves

In 1988, Chuck Allen, who was a surf coach, formed the United States Amateur Snowboarder Association (USASA). Every year they hold a national championship. In 1989, the International Snowboarding Association was founded, and it became the International Snowboarding Federation in 1990.

In 1998, snowboarding finally made it big. It was no longer just considered an “Extreme Sport” or “Generation X Sport.” It was now an Olympic Sport. In Nagano, Japan, snowboarding had its first Olympic competition. There were two different types included – the Halfpipe events (freestyle snowboarding), and the Giant Slalom events (traditional ski snowboarding).

In 2002 in Salt Lake City, the Alpine Snowboarding Giant Slalom event became the Parallel Giant Slalom. The halfpipe is still the same. Your next chance to see these exciting sports in the Olympics is in 2006 in Turin, Italy.

If you’ve seen pics of the awesome pro snowboarders and want to try it for yourself, you can get lessons or even instructional snowboarding videos (they also have “Best of” videos that show the greatest moments of the pros). There are videos and books put out by the pros full of tips for the beginner or advanced snowboarders. You can also get equipment of the pros including clothes and gear that they recommend for ultimate performance.

About the Author

Shannon Schwartz is a successful freelance writer offering guidance and suggestions for consumers buying snowboards. Her many articles give information and tips to help people save money and make smarter decisions.

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