The History of the Snowboard

Snowboarding seemed to emerge out of nowhere in the 1980s, but its history can be traced back a little further. Single planks (like a broader ski) or sleds roughly resembling snowboards were experimented with, developed, and even patented in the early twentieth century. Featuring a hinged stabilizing handle, the “skiboggan” was among the first snowboards to hit the snow in the 1920s, to be followed a decade later by “an improved type of” sled that was ridden sideways.

Many historians of the sport give Sherman Poppen of Michigan credit for launching the modern sport in 1965. After watching his daughter go down a hill on her sled while standing up, he united two skis and attached a rope at the tip for balance. The “Snurfer” (snow + surfer) was thought of as “a skateboard without wheels” and were sold as a novelty winter pastime and were particularly popular among surfers and skateboarders. Check out the vintage Snurfer hanging on the back wall of our shop!

Many of the earliest snowboards were home-made varieties. Boards were all different shapes, with all different features: rockers, multiple-fins, swallow tails, fish tails, and different side-cuts. We have one of those early, homemade boards displayed in our store, a swallow tail with bindings fashioned from bicycle inner tubes, made by Tony Parsons in the early 1980’s.

Jake Burton Carpenter first began experimenting with materials for his boards in his garage in Vermont. His first “Backyard Board” resembled a Snurfer and sold for just under $50. But it was his subsequent board, which sold for $88, which added a key innovation in the history of snowboarding. Burton’s new board added a rubber binding from a water ski for the front foot.

Avid skateboarder Tom Sims, together with his surfer friend Chuck Barfoot, was a major innovator in board equipment and design in California during the 1970s.

Maryland inventor Bob Weber developed the Flying Yellow Banana “ski board”. Their first runs in 1978 at resorts in Utah brought their team into contact with the Grells, a brother snowboard development team credited with inventing “high-back bindings,” which allowed riders to lean into their bindings for greater control.

Mike Olson, another innovator and founder of Gnu Snowboards, used his skiing and windsurfing construction experience to pioneer the modern carving snowboard which, like the Grells’ board, was designed for shorter, more aggressive turns suitable for snow, in contrast to the more surf-like boards Sims designed.

On the East Coast, Burton developed new models with heel straps that for the first time attached both feet to the board. We also have one of these early Burton boards on display in our store.

In the early 1980s there was an explosion of competitive boarding. 1982 and 1983 saw both Jake Burton’s first National Snowboarding Championships at Snow Valley, Vermont, and the first World Cup of Snowboarding in Soda Springs, California, hosted by Tom Sims.

Recognition by the IOC and its formalization as an Olympic sport came for the first time in the Nagano, Japan, Winter Games in 1998, where the first gold medal was won by Canadian Ross Rebagliati. In Nagano, riders competed in both the half-pipe and giant slalom competitions.

In 2006, the Olympics added the snowboard cross competition.