In 1964 a young surf freak called Sherman Poppen
was dreaming about surfing the magic winter landscape
of the Rockies. As a consequence, he built a surfboard
for the snow.
His first prototype was an about 1,20 m long plastic
plank: two kids' skis bolted together. It was a present
for his daughter Wendy which soon was a winner in the
neighborhood. One year later, in 1965, his idea was
put into production: Carried out together with a bowling-ball
manufacturer, the now called "snurfer" (=snow-surfer)
found its way through toy-stores under the Christmas
trees. For the unbeatable price of $15, one million
snurfers were sold in the 10 years following, and Mr.Poppen
soon began to establish a competition series.
But the snurfer as a mass phenomenon disappeared
as quickly as he had emerged from the white surf of
the Rockies. Nothing else but the vague memory of an
uncontrollable toy stayed in most people's minds. It
was close to be the end of a fantastic idea - surfing
the winter mountains -if there wouldn't have been blokes
like Dimitrije Milovich or Jake Burton Carpenter.
In 1970, Milovich, an east coast surfer, had an idea
while he was sliding around on cafeteria trays in the
snow of upstate New York. He started to develop snowboards
following the example of the new short surf boards.
He even used rudimentary steel edges - an idea he soon
gave up because he only rode in deepest powder anyway.
He experimented with laminating glass and gravel on
the board and also used nylon straps. His company "Winterstick"
is to be considered as the first snowboard company ever.
In 1975, they were mentioned in American magazines like
Newsweek and Playboy, and already in 1976, he threw
a swallow tail board on the nearly not existing market.
In 1980, the company was broke.
Jake Burton, a 23-year-old student back then, was
completely into snurfing and kept on improving the toy,
in order to develop it into a real sporting good. Foottraps
for better control, fins for more stability...
Jake was always looking for new details to improve
his riding. In 1977, he decided to found his own company
Starting with a small edition of "snowboards"
- flexible wooden planks with water ski bindings - the
small turnover due to the "high" price of
$38 didn't look like this might be one of the biggest
winter sport revolutions on our slopes, and the base
for the biggest snowboard company today.
Exactly in the same time, mentioned former skateboard
champion Tom Sims, addicted to snurfing as well, started
to produce snowboards. Bob Webber developed the famous
"yellow banana" board in 1977, made of polyethylene.
Chuck Barfoot invented fiberglass in the snowboard production
in the following year. Most of the first Boards didn't
have any bindings and were featuring a control-leash
instead. Still not allowed on the public slopes in ski
resorts, the first boarders had to come in at night,
walk up the trails, and ride down secretly in order
to avoid any penalty.
In 1979, at the annual Snurfer contest held in Michigan,
pro snurfer Paul Graves performed a freestyle demo and
made the crowd scream by showing four sliding 360s,
dropping down on one knee for part of the course, and
dismounting off his board at the finish with a front
flip. At the same event, Jake
Burton Carpenter tried to enter on his own equipment.
There were protests about his non-Snurfer snowboard
design. Paul Graves and others stood up for Jake's right
to race and an open division was created which only
Jake entered. He won. In the same year, Mark Anolik
discovered the Tahoe City Halfpipe while nosing around
behind the Tahoe City dump. Bingo - this became known
as the world's first snowboard halfpipe and not only
attracted aces like Terry Kidwell or Keith Kimmel but
also photographers from the skateboard mags.
In the early eighties, even in Europe the first prototypes
were glued together. But more and more fans tried to
import the US cult boards. One of the first was later
president of the ISF, Jose Fernandes from Switzerland,
who ordered a board from the USA in 1982 after working
on own planks for several time. Later, in 1985, he would
also be the first European to got to America for a contest
- he got third in the North American Championships in
Calgary. Other European pioneers were Tommy Delago from
Oberammergau and Petra "Milka" Mossig from
Konstanz, Germany, also a later world champion.
Ski technology materials improved the gliding abilities
of the boards, and later on, the first high-back bindings
were produced by snowboard pioneers Flite, founded in
1974. More and more riders took off the fins, and slowly
but surely, the "snurfer" turned into a controllable
"snowboard" and an accepted sporting good.
Already in 1981, Ski Cooper in Leadville, Colorado,
saw the first snowboard contest.
One year later, the first National Snowboard Championships
were held in Suicide Six near Woodstock, Vermont. Downhill
racers were timed at 60 mph. In 1985, "Absolutely
Radical" came out - fanfare for the first snowboard
mag ever, later rebaptized "International Snowboard
Magazine". Also this year, models like Sims 1500
FE and Burton Performer finally brought the comeback
of the steel edge! European board manufacturers like
Nidecker and Hooger Booger quickly had made up their
technical delay and in 1987, Jose Fernandes won the
Giant Slalom of the "American" world championships
of this year in Breckenridge, CO, with one of the first
asymmetrical boards - a sign that the European snowboard
industry didn't need to fear comparisons with the Americans
anymore. German ace Peter Bauer and French guy Jean
Nerva were also about to celebrate big successes with
asymmetrical boards. In 1987, the first "European"
snowboard world championships took place in Livigno
and St. Moritz - and this event brought up a great brotherhood
of snowboarders from all over the world.
A new sport was born. Snowboarding was newer, fresher,
younger than anything else on the slope. Snowboarding
was a revolution, a tribute to liberty, a new religion
for young people. The year after, the international
World cup tour was born, won by Peter Bauer just like
in the year after. The evolution became faster and faster:
rounded tails, hard boots, plate bindings... powder
boards, race boards, free style boards... asymmetrical,
twin-tip, carving... new disciplines like half pipe,
modules and downhill... 1990 saw the foundation of the
ISF, and nowadays the speed record for snowboarders
is set to some mediocre 201,907 km/h, run by Aussie
Darren Powell in Les Arcs in 1999.
Meanwhile, more than 6 million snowboarders are shredding
down the mountains, and they are getting more and more.
The "white rush" developed into an Olympic
sport with a big but unfortunately divided lobby. Instead
of banning snowboarders from the slope (in 1985, only
7% of the American resorts had permitted snowboarding!),
ski resorts now are building half pipes and organizing
contests and events. A creative hardware and clothing
industry is setting new trends in aesthetics and function.
Snowboard now is a mass sports. And a worldwide Pro-Tour
with great performance can now be seen on TV every weekend.
Snowboarders like Terje Haakonsen, Shaun Palmer, Daniel
Franck, Martin Freinamedetz, Nicola Thost and, last
but not least, the unforgotten Olympic champion of Nagano,
Ross Rebagliati, are world stars today. Mega events
like Innsbruck's Air&Style attract 40,000 and more
people, and snowboarding has set the determining trends
of the last years in music and clothing style.
Snowboarding is the youth-culture of the nineties
! More than 80% of the kids who practise winter sports
choose snowboarding - no wonder snowboards still are
the number one Christmas present. And for sure, one
day the kids will ask the older generation: "Excuse
me granny, but why did you cut your snowboard in two
pieces when you were young?"