“Watch this, Mom!” yelled my eight-year-old daughter on her 50th run in three days last April. We were in month two of pandemic lockdown and trying to make the best of it. We realized how lucky we were to have two things: acres of snow-covered national forest out our front door and the possession of a new Burton Throw- back Snowboard, which isn’t a snowboard at all but a snurfboard (or snurfer).
In my feeble efforts to be my child’s interim homeschool teacher, we did some sniffing into snurfing on the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame website. There, we found dozens of articles about how the sport was developed on the Lake Michigan dunes by the earliest known knuckle-dragger, Sherman Poppen. It was Christmas Eve 1965, and the Poppen kids were raising a ruckus. Bursting pregnant with their third child, Nancy Poppen told Sherm, “You’ve got to get these noisy kids out of the house!” They tried to sled, but they couldn’t find the right tool for the occasion. So Sherm took two skis and lashed them together, building the earliest precursor to the board that would later make Jake Burton a multimillionaire.
My daughter got her Burton Throwback snurfer from her big brother, who won it in a drawing at an avalanche safety class in Colorado. They fought over it until he (an accomplished skier) gave it to her (an impressionable tween). My daughter says, “Snurfing: It’s more fun than skiing because you don’t need poles.” And I say it gets kids out of the house for extended periods of time, increasing the odds of their mother not killing them dead.
Zeppelin Zeerip, a 28-year-old Michigan snowboarder, has just released a film chronicling the sport that predated—and presaged—snowboarding.
Last month, First Coast News reported that Sparta filmmaker and snowboarder Zeppelin Zeerip, 28, was “visiting with some snowboard legends” when those riders told him they had three hours of unseen footage from the early days of “snurfing” (the snurfer is a sort of snowboard prototype, except it requires pulling on a leash attached to the nose, and it has no bindings). They let Zeerip, who was making a snurfer movie called Made in the Mitten, borrow the three plastic bags of 8mm film to scour at his leisure.
Which brings up all kinds of questions. First off, what 28-year-old gets to hang out, randomly, with “snowboarding legends?” Second, how did said legends “forget” that these bags of film existed? And third, is the surname of these legends—brothers Bill and Tom—really Pushaw?
For answers to these questions and more, we turned to Zeerip, who we found at home in Muskegon, eating lunch and prepping his next film.
Why are you interested in making films about snowboarding?
I grew up 25 minutes from where snurfing was invented, and I always knew about Sherman Poppen, snurfing’s inventor. My home resort held one of the World Snurfing Championships back in the day, and it shut down a few years ago. I always had it in my head to make a film about snowboarding, and when Poppen and Jake Burton Carpenter both passed away last year, I had to do it. In the midst of making it, the Pushaw brothers told me they had a bag of film under the stairs. Suddenly, I had hours of footage from the early ’70s that I could incorporate into my film.
My 8-year-old has taken to snurfing, but she’s a skier, like everyone in my family. Should I be worried?
Oh, no, you should bring her to the dark side. [laughs] I do think snowboarding is way more fun than skiing. You can’t do a heel-side turn in pow on skis. It’s just such a different experience.
Snowboard culture too?
It’s so ironic. This is Sensi, a weed magazine. I don’t even smoke weed, and you’re asking me about snowboarding culture. My mom was a school administrator, and she bought my board for me!
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about the birth of snowboarding?
That it really wasn’t influenced by surf culture. Michigan is so far from the coasts; we’re years behind any trend that starts there. This happened by happenstance—Sherman Poppen going out and lashing two skis together. He did say snurfing was like riding an endless wave, but for a lot of these guys, snurfing was their first foray into standing on a board sideways.
If Muskegon is the birthplace of the sport, why does Jake Burton get all the credit for starting it?
Jake came to one of the first Snurfing World Championships, and he’d put a binding on the front of his board. The snurfer hadn’t been developed or changed in 10 years. They made him enter his own category and compete by himself, so technically he won the first snowboard competition. Then he took the Pushaw brothers to Vermont with him and they helped carve boards with a bandsaw in his garage. He put snowboarding on the world stage—albeit a very small stage at first.
How is it going with your new film?
The film is going great. It just got into the Vancouver International Film Festival today. It’s getting a ton of love on Vimeo— so far 13,000 views. I’m doing a Q&A with New Holland Brewing tonight. It’s all good.