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Sherman Poppen (1930–2019), inventor of the Snurfer, an early snowboard

Getty Images / Design Pics / Roland Hemmi

He created his Snurfer prototype so his daughters could play on snowy Michigan sand dunes

Sherman Poppen was one of the earliest originators of the snowboard, designing a product he called the Snurfer in the late 1960s. His prototype Snurfer was created by connecting his young daughter’s two skis together with cross bars of wood. It was an invention born on a snowy Christmas day when his daughters wanted to sled on the snow-covered sand dunes near their home in Muskegon, Michigan, but the runners of the sled kept cutting through the snow and getting stuck in the sand. The Snurfer worked, and it was enough of a hit with his daughters and their friends that Poppen worked on an improved design that he patented in 1968, then sold to the Brunswick Corporation. Several of Poppen’s prototypes and boards are now preserved in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and Smithsonian magazine said that Poppen’s invention of the Snurfer was the most important event in snowboarding history.

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Died: July 31, 2019 (Who else died on July 31?)

Details of death: Died at home in Griffin, Georgia of complications of a stroke at the age of 89.


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A notable Snurfer enthusiast: One of the consumers who bought a Snurfer was Jake Burton Carpenter, who started Snurfing as a teen in 1968. Carpenter began tinkering with the Snurfer, improving on the design and taking it from a children’s toy to a piece of serious sporting equipment. He went on to found Burton Snowboards, which grew to become the largest snowboard manufacturer in the world. Poppen told the FNRad podcast that Carpenter “saw a future I dreamed about but didn’t dream possible.”

Notable quote: “I saw it as a children’s toy, really, something to play in the backyard, and replace the sled, because every year, a few people died on sleds by running into trees headfirst. This way they could stand up, jump off, jump back on, and save their head.” —From a 2015 interview with the FNRad podcast

What people said about him: “Sherman Poppen definitely didn’t feed off anything else. It was his own imagination and creativity that made the Snurfer.” —Jake Burton Carpenter

“RIP, Sherm Poppen. It was an honor getting snowboarding pointers from a legend all those years ago at Steamboat – and being shown up by a 69-year-old.” —Journalist Matt Sebastian

“The best legacy in sports: Inventing a sport.” —Author Tom Farrey

Full obituary: Muskegon Chronicle

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