By Margaret Jackson | Nov 28, 2022
Salt Lake City, Utah
Snurfer snow surfer boards, Vew-Do balance boards
Snowboarding didn't officially become an Olympic sport until the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, but its origins date back to 1965, when Sherman Poppen bound two skis together and gave the surfboard-like contraption to his daughters to get them outside after opening presents on Christmas Day.
Poppen continued tinkering with the design until he came up with a single-piece board that was shorter and wider than a traditional ski and equipped with a rope for steering. The neighborhood kids clamored for the fun invention, and in 1966, when Poppen patented his idea, the Snurfer was born.
Poppen worked with the Brunswick Corp. to create a board made from the same laminated wood used for bowling lanes and the Snurfer -- snow surfer -- soon made the leap from novelty item to winter sports gear -- the predecessor to today's snowboard.
The evolution of snurfing naturally led to competitions, and because the boards were so difficult to stand on, anyone who made it to the bottom of the hill likely was crowned the winner.
Then, in 1979 -- 14 years after Poppen received his patent for the Snurfer -- Jake Burton Carpenter, the late founder of Burton Snowboards, showed up at a contest. He brought a snurfer, but it had a makeshift binding attached to it to keep the rider's feet in place.
"Nobody had improved it," Carpenter says in a video on Snurfer's website. "I was getting frustrated, so I just making something on my own. You can definitely surf the snow."
In the same video, Poppen credits Carpenter with seeing a future he didn't. "It's become a commodity now, but I think there's a lot of people riding because of that feeling, that emotion," Poppen says.
The sport lost two legends when both Poppen and Carpenter died in 2019.
Snurfer has changed hands over the years, moving from its original location in Muskegon, Michigan, to Vermont and now to Salt Lake City, where new owners Mike and Rick Jenkins make the boards by hand.
The Jenkins brothers, who previously operated a successful fishing lure company, had a friend who bought Snurfer in 2015 and helped him run the business until they bought it earlier this year.
Snurfer sales exploded during the pandemic when people couldn't get to ski resorts and instead isolated with a Vew-Do balance board in their homes and took Snurfer boards out into their backyards. But the Wisconsin company that was making the Snurfers couldn't keep up.
"We outgrew our manufacturer -- they couldn't handle it," says Mike, who has a background in engineering. "We developed a plan to start our own manufacturing facility, but we couldn't do it in Vermont, so we moved back to Utah and moved the company. We started from scratch with manufacturing." All the materials to make the boards are now sourced from the U.S., he adds.
Today, Snurfer is one company with two brands -- the original Snurfer Boards and Vew-Do Balance Boards, initially used to help snowboarders improve their balance during the off season.
Challenges: Staffing is a big challenge for Snurfer. "Just finding good people to work who want to work has been a thing ever since we've taken over," Mike says.
Opportunities: The company has started to develop new products in its Snurfer line, including larger boards for adult riders and boards with improved maneuverability that are better suited to powder conditions.
Snurfer also plans to introduce a small line of snowboards to complement its Snurfers. "The lineup we have is basically 2015 to 2017 models," says Mike. "Now we'll bring it into 2022 and 2023 and beyond."
Needs: Increasing brand awareness is key for Snurfer. "Most people today don't know what Snurfer is, what it's about, where it came from and how important it is to snowboarding -- especially on the West Coast," says Mike. "The East Coast knows it."