Snurfer makes comeback 50 years later

By Karen D. Lorentz

The Snurfer is back! In backyards and backcountry, it’s back to basics with surfing on snow.

Just as backcountry skiing is returning to man’s early use of skis to climb up hills for sport — and the joy of sliding down — the snowboard is coming full circle and back to its roots.

To its Snurfer roots that is.

But there’s a huge difference. Advanced technology is making backcountry popular while sliding on Snurfers is a return to less technology.

Dave Manning, owner of Black Dog Sports in Killington, is carrying Snurfers for those who relish backyard fun and nostalgia. Mitch LeClair, who works at Black Dog, says it’s fun to see the smiles as people spy the boards and enjoy a moment of nostalgia.

The Snurfers have proved popular and sales have been good, Manning said. He just had three boards left at press time. There were red and yellow Classics and one Nomad, an updated model that his friend Brew Moscarello designed. The contemporary Nomad has a flat-bottomed dual-channel base and a wider nose width, making it suitable for more snow conditions and ability levels.

It is Moscarello who is bringing the iconic Snurfer back, Manning noted.

Ironically, it was the slowing of snowboard sales that made Moscarello think of it.

Snurfer history

The story of “surfing the snow” dates to Christmas vacation in 1965 when Sherman Poppen of Muskegon, Michigan, lashed two skis together for his daughters to ride down a local hill.

Tinkering with the design, Poppen then came up with a single board that was shorter and wider than a traditional ski and equipped it with a rope for steering. By shifting weight on the back foot, the rider was able to “steer” the board while holding on to the rope. No bindings or special boots were required, just a sense of adventure to “surf” on snow.

In 1966, Poppen patented his idea as a “Surf-Type Snow Ski.” His wife is credited with the name Snurfer, combining the words “snow” and “surfer.” Voila, the Snurfer.

Poppen licensed the product to the Brunswick Corporation, then famous for its bowling advances of wooden lanes, pins and bowling balls, and worked with them to create a board from the same laminated wood they used for bowling lanes. The boards gained in popularity, and Poppen’s original Snurfer became the first commercially available snow surfer.

More than a million were sold

Additionally, from 1968 through the late ’70s, a National Snow Surfing Competition was held at a Muskegon college. Riders of all ages competed before hundreds of spectators.

It was at the first-ever “World Snurfing Championship” — held at the Pando Ski Center in Michigan in 1979 —that year 25-year-old Jake Carpenter competed. But he was riding his own creation, a single ski outfitted with crude bindings for his boots.                                                                                                   

Snurfer precursor to Burton snowboards

Jake Burton Carpenter was in ninth grade when he first began bombing hills on Snurfers. He saw the potential for a new sport, widened the boards to install bindings, and tried out his first snowboard in 1975. (The 1975 Burton Backhill board was made of plywood and did not have steel edges nor a plastic base, but the 140-cm plank did sport a radical shape of 302-265-295 mm for a sidecut depth of 17 mm and a turn radius of just 6 meters.)

Carpenter, who now goes by the name of Jake Burton, went into the Burton Snowboard business in 1977. At first he made boards for backcountry powder riding and sold snowshoes for climbing up mountains. However, he soon discovered that most liked to ride, not climb.

The story goes that some workers dragged him to Stratton Mountain one night and convinced him to make boards using ski technology; so fiberglass boards with plastic bottoms and metal edges were developed for freestyle and alpine carving boards. Burton’s board line has expanded ever since and even little kids ride today thanks to Riglet boards, which echo the Snurfer in design.

[The late Tom Sims was a 13-year-old surfer, skateboarder, and skier living in Haddonfield, N.J., when he built a “skiboard” in woodshop class in 1963 — this preceded both the Snurfer and Burton in snowboard pioneering. The short snowboards he created and rode in the 1960s nosedived in powder, so he designed a five-foot snowboard with a ski-tip type nose to take to college in New Hampshire in 1969. Founded in 1976, SIMS made all three boards and contributed to skateboarding and snowboarding’s growing popularity in the 1980s.]

Back to a blast from the past

Brew Moscarello used to work at Burton when in 1990 he was clowning around on his old Bongo board (used by skiers for balance training in the 1960s) and came up with the idea for a better training board that could help riders work on their balance anywhere and off-season. In 1991, he founded Balance Designs, Inc,, in Manchester, Vt,. and pioneered the introduction of the iconic Vew-Do Balance board for which he got a patent in 1992.

He went on to design several models that are used by skiers, snowboarders, surfers, and other athletes like basketball and football players to build skills and develop balance and core strength as well.

Then a few years back, Moscarello had another idea. Noting the time and effort it takes to reach the slopes and that snowboard sales were starting to wane, the thought occurred to bring back the Snurfer.

He investigated and found out that Brunswick had licensed the Snurfer to Jem Corp, which had ceased to exist in the 1980s (ironically just when snowboarding was growing). Learning that Jem had abandoned the patent, he got Poppen’s blessing to obtain the patent and began to manufacture and sell the boards last year.

“Vew-Do has its roots in snowboarding, and with balance being a key part of riding a Snurfer, we thought who better than us to bring this icon back to market. We’re also thrilled to be providing a high quality, made-in-the-USA product that doesn’t require batteries and which will inspire adventure and healthy lifestyle,” Moscarello explainrs on his website. 

It doesn’t require a lift ticket or wheels either since Snurfers can be ridden in the backyard or local hills — convenient fun for anyone who likes to play outdoors in snow.

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