The Sherman Poppen Papers document the snurfer, the predecessor of the snowboard that he invented in 1965. The snurfer, a sled that was ridden while standing up, originally consisted of two skis bound together. Snurfer competitions fueled the development of the snowboard as a piece of sporting equipment. This collection contains material describing the snurfer's place in snowboarding history, and the associated business and legal aspects.
Scope and Contents:
The Sherman Poppen Papers document the invention of the snurfer and its distribution. The collection is arranged into two series. The collection consists of correspondence, product literature, photographs, books, notes, a scrapbook, newsletters, newspaper and magazine articles, and VHS videocassettes documenting the snurfer. The business and legal materials, 1966-2006, contains correspondence, notes, and legal documents.
The collection is divided into two series.
Series 1, History, 1966-2008
Series 2, Business and Legal Materials, 1966-2006
Biographical / Historical:
Sherman Poppen (1930-2019) was born in Muskegon, Michigan. He graduated from Northwestern University in 1952 and served in the United States Navy as a supply office at sea from 1952-1956. He owned an industrial business, Lake Welding Supply Company, which sold gases and welding supplies in Muskegon, Michigan.
On December 25, 1965, Poppen created the snurfer, a predecessor of the snowboard, by binding two children's skis together. His wife, Nancy, was pregnant with their third child and his two restless daughters, Wendy and Laurie, wanted to play on Christmas day. Poppen entertained them by playing outside in the snow. The girls' desire to stand up while riding on a sled and Poppen's vision of snow drifts as waves collided, and the idea for the snurfer was born. Nancy coined "snurf" by combining the words snow and surf. Neighborhood children soon began asking for snurfers of their own. Poppen decided to patent his creation (US Patent #: 3,378,274 --Surf-Type Snow Ski) and trademarked the words snurf and snurfer (US Trademark #: 1,518,101). It was also patented in Canada (Patent #: 819,596). In 1966, he licensed the product to the Brunswick Corporation and worked with them to create a board from the laminated wood used for bowling alley gutters. Brunswick manufactured the snurfer and sold it as a novelty item, not sports equipment, and it gained popularity. From 1968 through the late 1970s, snurfer racing competitions were held in Muskegon at Blockhouse Hill. In 1972, Brunswick discontinued production of the snurfer, but JEM Corporation continued manufacture until the early 1980s. By 1977, Jake Burton Carpenter, an avid competitive snurfer, began developing an improved model without a rope handle and with the addition of rigid bindings for ski boots to the board. As more resorts began allowing snowboards on their ski lifts, the popularity of the snurfer waned.
Poppen took up snowboarding at the age of 67. He received recognition from the snowboarding community as the grandfather of the sport and was inducted into the Snowboarding Hall of Fame in Banff, Canada in 1995 and the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.
Materials at the National Museum of American History
The Division of Culture and the Arts holds artifacts related to this collection. See accession #: 2009.0092.
The collection was donated by Sherman Poppen on June 22, 2009.
Collection is open for research but is stored off-site and special arrangements must be made to work with it. Contact the Archives Center for information at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-633-3270.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.