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Snurfer inventor Sherm Poppen
Sherman Poppen Papers,

Extent and Forms of Material: 1.5 cubic feet, including photographs (3 boxes, 4 VHS tapes)
Creator: Sherman R. Poppen
Abstract: 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.
Repository: Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.;; 202-633-3270;
Collection Number: AC1159
Processing Note: Processed by Elizabeth Garber (intern), August 2009; supervised by Alison Oswald, archivist.
© 2009 by the Smithsonian Institution. All rights reserved.


Information for users of the collection

Conditions Governing Access: The collection is open for research use.
Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use: Copyright held by the Smithsonian Institution. Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Reproduction permission from Archives Center: fees for commercial use.
Preferred Citation: Title and date of item, Sherman Poppen Papers, 1966-2008, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, box number X, folder number XX, digital file number XXXXXXXX


In-depth information about the collection

Administrative/biographical history
Scope and content
System of arrangement
Acquisition information
Related artifacts
Access points
Container listing

Administrative/biographical history

Sherman Poppen was born March 25, 1930 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.

Scope and content

The Sherman Poppen Papers document the invention of the snurfer and its distribution. The collection is arranged into two series.

Series 1, History, 1966-2008, undated, consists of correspondence, product literature, photographs, books, notes, a scrapbook, newsletters, newspaper and magazine articles, and VHS videocassettes documenting the snurfer. Correspondence, primarily received by Poppen includes fan letters of people who once owned snurfers, requests to interview Poppen about his invention or to use photographs of early snurfers, and discussion of the usage of the trademarked variations of the word snurf. Product literature features advertisements, packaging, decals, and related material that were used while the snurfer was manufactured and sold. A newsletter, Snurfing News, was distributed by the JEM Corporation in 1979 to promote snurfing. The scrapbook contains large newspaper clippings about Poppen and the snurfer. The CD-ROMs, assembled by Poppen, contain scans of selected material from the collection. The two books, The Snowboard Book: A Guide for All Boarders and (Sick) A Cultural History of Snowboarding discuss Poppen’s invention and its relationship to the creation of a thriving snowboarding culture. The VHS videocassettes contain programs discussing the invention of the snurfer.

Series 2, Business and legal materials, 1966-2006, undated, contains correspondence, notes, and legal documents which illuminate the process of obtaining a patent for the snurfer; the partnership and arrangement with Brunswick Corporation, including royalties received by Poppen and the number of units sold; similar arrangements for Poppen’s partnership with the JEM Corporation; issues concerning the trademark of the variations of the word snurfer; and the prosecution of individuals infringing on the patent for the snurfer.

System of arrangement

Series 1: History, 1966-2008, undated
Series 2: Business and legal materials, 1966-2006, undated

Acquisition information

This collection was donated by Sherman Poppen on June 22, 2009.

Related artifacts

The Division of Music, Sports, and Entertainment holds artifacts related to this collection (Accession #: 2009.0092).

Access points

Outdoor recreation

Poppen, Sherman

Muskegon (Mich.)

Newspaper clippings

Container listing

Box Folder  
    SERIES 1, HISTORY, 1966-2008, UNDATED
1 1 Correspondence, 1968-2008, undated
  2 Product literature, 1966, undated
3 3 Snurfer newspaper advertisement, 1966
2 3 Photographs, 1966, undated
3 1 Mounted photograph, undated
  2 Snurfing News (newsletter), 1979
2 4 Magazine clippings, 1979-2008, undated
Newspaper clippings, 1966-2008, undated
3 5 Scrapbook, 1966-1989, undated
2 6-10 CD-ROMs containing images of some collection material, undated
  11 The Snowboard Book: A Guide for All Boarders (book), 1997
  12 (Sick) A Cultural History of Snowboarding (book), 1998
1 OV1159.1 Transworld Sport episode (circa 2003)
10-minute segment from the British program that begins 42 minutes into the episode. It highlights Poppen, his invention of the snurfer, and the shift from snurfing to snowboarding. Features footage of Poppen discussing materials in this collection, Poppen snowboarding, and Jake Burton snurfing.
  OV1159.2 Invention segment (undated)
A 6-minute segment from the Smithsonian Institution’s television program Invention about Poppen’s creation of the snurfer. Segment begins about 12 minutes into program. Features Wendy Poppen and her father discussing the day of its creation. Footage of snurfing in the 1960s and 1970s included.
1 13 United States patent documentation, 1966
3 5 Transparencies of patents, undated
1 14 Canadian patent documentation, 1967, 1984
  15 Similar patents, 1966-1978
  16 Trademark documentation, 1969, 1980-1988
  17 Correspondence, 1996-2006
2 2-4 Correspondence, 1996-2006
  5 Assorted notes, 1966-1970, undated



Last Update: 4 Nov 2009

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