Snowboarding: From Rags To Riches

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Snowboarding: From Rags to Riches One snowy Christmas day in Muskegon, Michigan, a young girl by the name of Wendy Poppen tried to stand up on her sled while sliding down the hill. Seeing this, her father Sherman ran into the garage and bolted a pair of skies together with wood to ""act as foot stops"" (Crane). While watching Wendy use the contraption, some of the local kids ran up to Sherman and asked him to build one for each of them. Little did he know that he had given birth to the “fastest growing winter sport” (Prosl) known as snowboarding. The history, simplicity, and rate of growth of snowboarding took the sport from being completely banned from ski resorts, to being accepted worldwide with its Olympic debut in 1998. It’s hard to believe that back in the early 1980’s people “perceived [snowboarders] as daredevil adolescents who posed a threat to skiers” (Shipley). Though the sport was banned from almost every resort, it grew to be so popular that the resorts could no longer ignore the moneymaking possibilities. Resorts realized that the average young person was abandoning the sport of skiing, and learning the new trend of snowboarding. Not only that, but the younger generation who was taking up a new winter sport would choose snowboarding over skiing. These days, resorts spend thousands of dollars to attract snowboarders to their resorts with claims of the biggest halfpipe or the best board park. But how did this sport explode onto the scene? To answer this question, a brief history is in order. On that snowy Christmas day in 1965, Sherman Poppen had created the first snowboard. His wife named this contraption a Snurfer because it was a cross between surf and snow. Snurfers were typically made of wood, and had a piece of rope attached to the front tip to steer. The Brunswick Corporation liked Poppen's invention and was the first company to mass-produce it. Over a million snurfers were sold, which sparked the imaginations of a few snowboard innovators. Around the same time that Poppen was developing the snurfer, Tom Sims, a skateboarder from New Jersey, had an idea. Because the streets of New Jersey were icy in the winter, he decided to design a skateboard for the ice in his junior high wood shop class. Sims was not able to base his snowboard on Poppen’s Snurfer design because he did not know about it yet. His first designs were from skateboards without the metal axles or wheels. Although the first designs were not very successful, Sims came across the right combination of materials, shape, and bindings in 1969. Tom then began to produce his own line of snowboards, which remain one of the most popular boards today. Because Poppen and Sims began their snowboard designs at about the same time, nobody really knows who the true inventor of the snowboard is. Most of the credit goes to Poppen’s invention of the Snurfer because it was manufactured first. Poppen and Sims were not the only snowboard innovators though. Jake Burton Carpenter, a surfer from Long Island, New York, had the idea not to skate on the ice, but rather to surf the mountain. Burton took a common Snurfer, and added rubber straps to achieve better control of the board. These bindings allowed riders to control the snurfer much better with their feet than with the steering rope. Burton entered his design in the annual National Snurfer Open Competition. Because Burton’s board was so modified, he was in a class all by himself, and easily won first place. The other snurfers saw Burton’s design, which led to the birth of Burton snowboards. Jake Burton is considered "Mr. Snowboard" because “”Burton's probably got 40 to 45% marketshare overall””. Not only that, but “”Jake’s nearest competitor probably has 10 or 12 percent [of the snowboarding industry]… Jake’s stuck with a philosophy and set the stage. Everyone’s copying him”” (Neuert). This is why Burton snowboards have become the most popular boards on the slopes today. Snowboarding was “plagued in the early years by the Snurfer’s reputation for unpredictability… [and] was outlawed at most ski resorts” (Brimner 7). The insurance companies for these resorts would not write liability policies “because a snowboard wasn’t seen as a “directional device” like a pair of skis” (Brimner 7). The insurance companies would not cover the snowboarders, and the ski resorts did not want to be liable if an accident was to occur. As a result snowboarders were not allowed on most of the slopes. In addition, snowboarding was becoming popular among the surfers and skateboarders. Though most of the young surfers and skateboarders did not fit the category, they were “perceived as a rebellious group sure to flout the rules” (Brimner 8). Therefore the young snowboarders were discriminated against and created friction between them and the skiers. The combination of these items left the future of snowboarding in jeopardy. Once again “”Mr. Snowboard”” (Neuert) Jake Burton came to the aid of the sport. Burton sponsored both instructional programs and put together teams that toured the country and demonstrated the sport of snowboarding. Burton also encouraged a program that would certify snowboarders with proper technique, safety, and slope etiquette. The sport slowly gained respectability. Today, only about seven percent of resorts worldwide still do not allow snowboards. Boarders are allowed to practice their sport at almost any ski resort in the United States and Canada. Another reason snowboarding has become so well accepted comes from the fact that snowboarding is a lot easier to learn than skiing. The sport is so closely related to skateboarding and surfing that younger people who already surf and skateboard pick up snowboarding like it is second nature. Older people can learn the sport easier if they have gone skiing before and are fairly good at it. All three of the sports require people to balance themselves on a slippery surface. “Skiing will help you understand concepts like edging, carving, and unweighting; freestyle riding will feel like skateboarding on snow; and huge turns in deep powder will remind surfers of giant bottom turns.”(Bennett and Downey xi) Chances are that everyone has tried one of these sports before, so if they are good at one of them, they will more than likely catch onto snowboarding quickly. Today’s equipment makes snowboarding much easier to learn and takes less skill when compared to Snurfer days. Snowboards are now made with “laminated wood or fiberglass over foam cores” (Brimner 11). These new boards are faster, safer, and a lot easier to control than the old Snurfers. The invention of highback binding allowed snowboarders to have a lot more ankle support, preventing sprained and broken ankles. The metal edges on modern day snowboards make carving and turning on the edge of the snowboard much easier than pulling the rope on the old Snurfer. The basic motions of snowboarding are also very simple to learn. All a person really needs to remember is to keep most of their weight on their front foot, keep the knees bent, and use their arms to help with balancing. The back foot and hips are used to turn and carve. It is also important to try to keep one edge of the board in the hard packed snow, or the board will catch a groove, and the person will end up falling. Equally important to learn is the correct way to fall. If a person uses their wrists to catch themselves when they fall, they could end up with a broken wrist. To prevent a wrist injury, a person should use their forearms if they are falling forward, and their thigh or bottom if they are falling backward. As long as the person remembers these few things, they will make it down the mountain safely and uninjured. Overall, the sport of snowboarding can be learned by almost anyone who will not quit the sport because they fall frequently. When a snowboarder does fall, it is a lot easier to get up and keep going down the mountain. Since the board is attached to the feet with bindings, it will not go anywhere. Even if the bindings do come undone for some odd reason, there is always the leash that is snapped to the snowboarder's ankle. The only objects a snowboarder might loose when they fall are their sunglasses, and possibly a beanie. On the other hand, when a skier falls, it can be a complete mess. Skis are basically designed to come unattached from the boots if they get caught in the snow. When a skier hits the snow after a hard fall, they can lose both of their skis and poles, as well as their hats and glasses. Then the skier has to either climb a ways up the mountain to get a pole, or wait for a kind soul to come by and pick it up for them. This process of falling can be completely embarrassing if it's next to a ski lift because there will be those snowboarders yelling comments such as “yard sale!” from the lift. Snowboarding has rapidly grown “to a full medal Olympic sport” (Prosl) within the last decade. Tom Sims believes “snowboarding is inherently more fun… It's hard to explain, but when you do a snowboard turn and can drag your hand in the snow and pretend you're on a 20-foot wave, it just seems more fun than planting a ski pole and making a turn." (Atkin) Snowboarding has a lower cost for the equipment that is necessary. When a person skis, they have to buy the skis, poles, boots, and whatever type of special clothing they decide to use. Some of the skiers go on to buy helmets to ski in. Snowboards are a bit more basic. It requires a person to purchase the board, bindings, and boots. Some snowboarders will ride the slopes in a plain pair of pants, and a sweatshirt. Most of the newer snowboarders “are of course young people, fearless people, people with 100 percent synthetic bodies who can hurtle down a mountainside at 50 mph and knock down mature trees with their faces and then spring to their feet and go, "Cool."” (Barry) The lower cost of snowboarding also appeals to many young people because most of them do not have near a thousand dollars to waste on ski equipment. They like to buy their first set of boots and snowboard used, until they become good enough to purchase a new snowboard and bindings. “According to the National Ski Areas Association surveys, the total number of U.S. ski area visits has remained flat overall for the last ten years; but the percentage of lift tickets purchased by snowboarders surged to 12.3% in the 94/95 season, a

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