How a piece of wood changed world history.
Many times someone doing something a little different and having his or her ideas catch on has changed history. The pasteurizing of milk to prevent spoiling and contamination is a perfect example. Snowboarding was also the result of someone doing something a little different. In a few short years we have taken a crazy idea and turned it into a household word and created a culture and language around it. Snowboarding has become an Olympic event and has even forced us to ask ourselves questions about our society when we use the phrase “Smoke a fatty for Rebagliati”.
The history of snowboarding officially begins in 1929 with a man named M.J. Burchett. For some unknown reason, perhaps a dare from friends or the result of drinking, Mr. Burchett changed history when he cut a plank of plywood and secured it to his feet using a clothesline and horse reins. This humble beginning changed history forever.
Not much changed for snowboarders until 1965 when Sherman Poppen invented a toy for his daughter and eventually marketed it. His “Snurfer” consisted of 2-ski bound together with a rope at the nose of the skis to hold on to. This idea caught on fast and Mr. Poppen sold half a million of his Snurfers by 1966. Mr. Poppen helped create demand for his product by holding contests for Snurfers. Jake Burton took part in many of these competitions until he broke his collarbone in a car accident.
Snowboards as we know them came into existence in 1969 when riding down snowy hills on a cafeteria plate in college inspired Dimitrije Milovich. Mr. Milovich decided to make snowboards that where based upon the design of a surfboard but worked the same way skis did. In 1972 Mr. Milovich started a company called Winterstick and really fired up the idea of snowboarding until 1980 when he left the industry. To this day Milovich is seen as a very important pioneer in the industry.
In 1977 Burton came back to his first love, the Snurfer. After completing university, Burton moved to Vermont and needing to make some money, started to produce Snurfers again. Burton’s snowboards where made of laminated wood and he shocked the world when he won a Snurfer competition on his own board. One major reason for Burton being able to win the competition was the skiing styled binding that he added to his boards thus allowing him to control them much better.
During this time Burton had on major competitor, Tom Sims. Sims borrowed from skateboarding technology to create his own version of the snowboard. Sims snowboards came from an idea he had in shop class when to glued carpet to the top of a piece of wood and aluminum sheeting to the bottom of the board.
In order to showcase their innovations, Burton and Sims held the first ever snowboarding competition in Vermont in 1982. This competition was more of a survival contest as the runs where icy kamikaze runs. This event helped to launch the magazine Absolutely Radical that became the International Snowboarding Magazine.
Snowboarding technology continued to improve, as did the fame of its competitions. The competitions became so popular that the International Snowboarding Federation was formed to help judge competitions. In 1998 snowboarding made its grand entrance into the world of the Olympics at Nagano, Japan.
This too was a controversial time. The IOC dismissed the ISF and instead had the Federation Internationale de Ski over see the events. While this policy is still in effect to this day, tensions are easing between the two factions and things are running much smoother.
Of course no history of snowboarding would be complete with out mentioning Rebagliati in the 1998 Olympics. Rebagliati, a Canadian from Whistler BC, won the gold medal that year but later tested positive for trace amounts of marijuana and was stripped of his gold medal. Rebagliati appealed the ruling and won since marijuana is a controlled substance, not a banned substance and is not a performance-enhancing drug. This event helped to decriminalize marijuana in Canada and caused many people to rethink their position on marijuana. “Smoke a fatty for Rebagliati” was a common phrase to show support for Rebagliati and show support for the reforming of the Canadian laws.
Snowboarding has come a long way in 70 odd years. Snowboarding started as a crazy idea that only fools would try and has become an accepted Olympic event due to its popularity. Arguably, snowboarding is the fastest growing sport and industry. Few other innovations have caught on this fast or have become an Olympic sport so soon.