In 1965—or maybe it was 1966, but we'll go with 1965, because most people do—Sherman Poppen was living in Muskegon, Michigan, a city on the shores of Lake Michigan where large dunes slide along the lake's edge, and it snows quite a lot.
Poppen had two daughters, and on this Christmas Day, they were antsy and wanted to play outside. The way the story goes, as he told flakezine—" the world's only honest critique of advertising, marketing, and greed gone silly in the world of snowboarding"—in 1994, he decided to try an experiment. He took:
...two 36-inch skis that came in a bubble pack that came at the corner drug store. They had a little leather strap over the top of them that kids could slide their shoes into. Then I put a couple of cross pieces across them about five of six inches apart. The cross pieces were actually molding so you could put your feet up against it.
This thing worked. Not only did it work, his kids liked it. Not only did his kids like it, the rest of the kids who saw it liked it too—and wanted one of their own. His wife called it the "snurfer."
Poppen kept improving the design, patented it as a "surf-type snow ski," and sold it to the company Brunswick. By 1970, "close to 1 million" of the boards had been sold, reported Chicago Tribune Magazine.
Just a few years after Poppen first invented the Snurfer, the local community college started holding a yearly snurfing competition, and by 1977, people were coming from as far as Georgia to compete. Two years later, though, a challenger entered the ring. The Bay Window Collegiate reported:
So far as anyone locally knew, the only way you could snurf was on a 'Snurfer.'
That all changed late last week when an unassuming young man named Jake Burton Carpenter walked into the Jayhawk Room and asked to register for this year's National Snurfing Contest.
He would race, he said, riding a 'Burton Board'…
Carpenter's Burton Snowboards would go on to become one of the largest snowboard brands in the world, and just three years later, the National Snow Surfing Championships would be held outside of Michigan for the first time—in Vermont, where Burton was based. Still, snowboarders might be riding "snurfboards" today, if Poppen hadn't been as possessive of his trademark. He told flakezine:
When he got started and Burton was calling his board Snurfboards, and mine was a Snurfer, and I didn't like that because he was taking my name away and I hired an attorney to tell him that, hey, that name is trademarked. Well, I wish I hadn't done it now, because that's when the sport became snowboarding. He couldn't use the word Snurfer or Snurf anywhere in his stuff so he called it the Burton Snowboard and that kicked off the whole sport.