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Surprise! Snowboarding's not so young
Wednesday, 03 March 2004





Snowboarding, it appears, is a lot older than most of us thought.

In trying to nail down the sport's origins, most journalists dipped back to early childhood and recalled the Snurfer, a short, thin, water-ski-shaped snow toy marketed in the 1960s and early 1970s.

People bought close to 600,000 of Sherman Poppen's Snurfer boards in a craze that was not unlike that era's skateboard craze. It's still quite easy to find decaying Snurfers in basements and attics.

But a recent article that appeared in The Snowboard Journal has stretched the evolutionary timeline back almost a century, to crude snowboard-like sleds made by the children of Finnish immigrants living in Chicago.

These snowboards were made of barrel staves, which were taken from barrels used to contain supplies such as flour. Heavy wooden dowels clearly established the foot placement of the rider, and a leather strap was used to anchor the rear foot on the board - a primitive binding.

As with the Snurfer, a rope tether was attached to the board's nose. To turn, the rider would use a long walking stick held under the arm and dragged through the snow.

Written by David Schriber, the article provides documented proof that snowboarding has been around at least since 1910.

According to the article, the Wicklund family preserved early films of riders using the boards at a Chicago park. One of the riders even linked his turns, which proved that the boards were not simply directionless toboggans, but real skiing devices.

Copies of the films were transferred to video, and snowboard manufacturing giant Burton acquired original boards from the Wicklund family, which specifically requested that the boards be displayed solely at the Burton headquarters in Vermont.

Amazingly, the inventors even took out a patent on the board in the 1940s and had intended to market them, but the plan fizzled during the pre-war days as Americans ramped up for World War II. It would be almost two decades before the arrival of the Snurfer, whose production coincided with the baby boom, the ideal market for the new snowboarding toy.

It is typical to think of snowboarding as the "new kid on the block" in the winter sports world but satisfying to know its roots in skiing history run deep indeed.

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