Though snowboarding’s roots go back several centuries, its modern development began in the 1960s. In chronological order, here are the top ten moments of snowboarding’s short, radical history … subject to debate of course.
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1) Sherman Poppen Invents the Snurfer (1965)
On Christmas morning 1965, Sherman Poppen went into his garage, cross-braced two Kmart skis together, stood atop his backyard hill and started surfing the snow. The Snurfer – think snow and surfer – was born and became an instant hit. “When I saw how much fun the kids had Christmas Day,” Poppen told Skiing Heritage, “I spent the next week in Goodwill and everywhere else buying up every water ski I could find.”
A couple of weeks later, Poppen added a rope to the front of the board to make turning easier and prevent it from sailing away when riders fell. He then patented the 42-inch-by-7-inch toy and licensed it to Brunswick (and later Jem). The predecessor to today’s snowboard became a cult phenomenon, selling more than 750,000 units over the next 15 years. More so than any other invention of the 1960s, the Snurfer inspired a generation of kids to surf the snow, among them future snowboard innovators Jake Burton, Chris Sanders and Jeff Grell.
2) Dimitrije Milovich Drops Out of Cornell to Snowboard (1972)
Dimitrije Milovich’s role in snowboarding history is simple: He started Winterstick, the first modern snowboard company.
Milovich was introduced to snowboarding in 1970 by Wayne Stoveken. Two years later, he dropped out of Cornell University, moved to Utah and started testing his prototype boards on the region’s champagne powder. Stoveken followed and by 1974 the duo had two “Snow Surfboard” patents and were selling their boards out of a shop in Salt Lake City.
Wintersticks received national publicity in magazines like SKI and Newsweek and orders started to roll in. Though Stoveken moved back east, Milovich pressed on, forming the Winterstick Company with Don Moss and Renee Sessions during the 1975-76 season. Within three years, Wintersticks were being sold in 11 countries.
Getting the new sport off the ground, however, proved to be an insurmountable challenge as retailers weren’t interested in the new invention. Winterstick was losing money and Milovich closed its doors in 1982. He reopened them in 1985 and shut them down for good in 1987, just a few years before snowboarding’s first boom. The Winterstick brand name has since been resurrected by another firm. Milovich, who now runs a successful engineering business, has no involvement with the company.
3) The Burton-Sims War Begins (1978)
Jake Burton Carpenter (also known as Jake Burton) and Tom Sims didn’t like each other, but they helped push snowboarding into the mainstream consciousness. Burton moved from Long Island to Londonderry, Vermont, during the 1977-78 season to start peddling a Snurfer knockoff he called a Burton Board. He sold six units his first season. On the West Coast, skateboard icon Tom Sims started selling the first Sims snowboards during the 1978-79 season and faced equal resistance.
Both men persevered, however, and emerged as snowboarding’s leading forces on the East and West Coasts. For more than a decade, Burton and Sims engaged in a bitter war for industry supremacy that involved constant innovation, inventive marketing, petty bickering and talent raids.
While Sims was a major player in the sport through the early 1990s, he was a surfer who was more passionate about catching the next big wave than running a company. Burton, on the other hand, was a businessman passionate about snowboarding. While there were years of intense competition, the war was really settled before it started as Burton possessed more business savvy and was simply more dedicated to becoming number one. By the mid-‘90s, Burton was the undisputed king of the mountain, a title he still holds today. Sims, while respected as one of the sport’s pioneers, is no longer a major force in the industry. Today he licenses his brand name to Collective Licensing, which sells Sims Snowboards through Sports Authority.