Snowboards have become a part of everyday life in America. Snowboarders' aerial acrobatics and high-speed downhill races have impressed spectators and inspired a new generation of winter sport enthusiasts. Members of the sport's elite have become common household names, much like the elite of basketball, baseball, and football. Snowboarding has spawned a new culture that has become a defining element for the upcoming generation, and its skyrocketing participation and increasing acceptance in American society have ensured its continued popularity.
Although they seem like such an integral part of today's society, snowboards have had a tumultuous and storied history. Based on their currently resounding popularity, one would never know that snowboards got their start as a children's toy sold in grocery stores. These toys, called Snurfers, were invented in 1965 by an engineer from Muskegon, Michigan, named Sherman Poppen, after he observed one of his daughters standing up on a sled. A Snurfer, or snow surfer, was originally two skis bound together with a rope that acted as a controlling mechanism. Between its inception and 1977, over 500,000 Snurfers were sold, including one to Jake Burton Carpenter.
Jake Burton Carpenter, one of the most influential figures in the sport of snowboarding, first gained notoriety at the Snurfer competitions, winning on boards of his own design. In 1977, after graduating from college, he figured he could make some money commercially producing his snowboards and started Burton Boards. At the same time as Burton was living his dream in New England, a former professional skateboarder, Tom Sims, was doing something similar on the West Coast. Using his capital and resources gained from a relatively lucrative skate and surfboard production business, Sims created his first snowboard.
At first, snowboarders were seen as society's outcasts. Ski resorts banned them; the upper-middle-class ski community looked down upon them; a large portion of American society essentially spurned them. They were relegated to riding up in snow cats that groomed the ski areas at night, or to hiking to the top of mountains. In the 1980s, ski areas accepted the fact that there was lack of growth in the ski industry and, with some stipulations, allowed snowboarders on the slopes. This development, along with a more consumer-oriented society, resulted in a tremendous boom in snowboard popularity. Ski shops started selling snowboards, and the number of ski areas that allowed snowboards increased. By the mid 1990s, only a few resorts were skier-specific.
The snowboards of the 1960s and 1970s looked very different from modern snowboards. Often curved on the bottom with small metal fins attached to assist in turning the board in deep snow, they resembled the surf-boards after which they were first modeled. A rider would stand on top, sometimes holding a string attached to the front. Originally, snowboards were designed with only one upward-turned nose. However, in 2004, nearly all of the boards that were made, with the exception of alpine boards, had both tail and nose turned upward. They had become complex combinations of fiberglass, wood, plastic, and metal.
The technology of the snowboard is not the only element that has changed over the years. When snowboarding first started, tennis shoes and winter boots were the footwear of choice. As the manufacturing processes, materials, and performance demands progressed, so did snowboarding boots. In 2004, a variety of flexibilities, binding systems, and styles were available. The type of boot that a rider used depended on what type of boarding he or she prefered. Softer boots were made predominantly out of fabric and were often used more for freestyle snowboarding, while a stiffer plastic boot was designed for use with an alpine board. There were different types of binding systems, strap in and clip in, that also determined what type of boot a boarder used.
The culture of snowboarding varies depending on where the snowboarder is from and the type of snowboarding in which the snowboarder participates; however, it is an undisputed fact that snowboarding society has its roots in the skate-and-surf culture of the 1960s and 1970s. The nonconformist, anarchistic beliefs that were so popular with the skate-and-surf communities were a naturally conflicting belief structure for a similar activity, skiing, which represented the affluent, bourgeois culture that was predominant in the winter sports arena at the time.
Surfing started it all. A large percentage of the most devout adherents were scouring the nation's coasts searching for the perfect wave. Their life revolved around surfing, and little else mattered. Then came skateboarding, a sport surfers started when there were no waves. The same nonconformist attitudes surrounded skateboarding, and the rest of America looked upon this sport with the same negative sentiment. Skateboarding migrated to the more urban settings, and surfers and skaters developed snowboarding when they traveled to the mountains during winter months, which again embodied the same antiestablishment attitude, and also received the same drifter status.
This nonconformist, antiestablishment counterculture was actually just the skin covering the body of the snow, skate, and surf society. It was the face that the culture chose to show America. Underneath that skin were the common threads that drove the lifestyle. Creativity, independence, the purity of doing something for the sake of doing it; those reasons were the real purpose behind existence as a boarder.
In the early 2000s, snowboarders kept many of those same basic beliefs. Many veered away from the nonconformist attitude and adopted a more traditional stance, in part because of the increasing popularity of the sport. Snowboarders were no longer the extreme minority at resorts, but that cultural acceptance was also due to the change in American beliefs. The longer snowboarding has been around, the more followers it has gained and the more accepted it has become. Snowboarding is now a popular, middle- to upper-class-winter activity, exactly what the originators were rebelling against in the 1960s and 1970s.
Snowboarding's evolution has amazed even its pioneers. The technological and cultural changes that have occurred in such a short time have been monumental. In just forty years, snowboarding has gone from a select few participants to the fastest-growing winter sport, with more than 5 million participants who spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually. From a child's toy to a recreational phenomenon, snowboarding has become a part of our recreation and leisure society.
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Gordon, Dan. "Trail Blazers: Once Shunned, Snowboarders Are Now Leading the Extreme Sports Revolution." Sport (October 1999): 89.
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Howe, Susanna. Sick: A Cultural History of Snowboarding. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.
Humphreys, Duncan. "Snowboarders: Bodies Out of Control and In Conflict." Sporting Traditions 13 (1996): 3–23.
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Marni Goldenberg and Kellen Sams
"Snowboarding." Encyclopedia of Recreation and Leisure in America. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 14, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/snowboarding
"Snowboarding." Encyclopedia of Recreation and Leisure in America. . Retrieved July 14, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/snowboarding
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