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We Were Snurfer Kings

(Mike's note: I came across this post on LinkedIn announcing that Snurfers (the predecessor to snowboards) were going to be reintroduced for sale in West Michigan Meijer stores. We lived on our Snurfers as kids, so I got all nostalgic and wrote the following memoir which the company featured on their Facebook page and Instagram account.).

We were kings.

Our realm was one backyard in the state of Michigan, the city of Holland, and the neighborhood of Edmeer Heights.

The backyard of our house was all hill, sloping down to a small but always-flowing creek. A walkout basement added interesting smaller hills at right angles to the main hill.

Any spare hour on a winter day we'd be out defending our reign. The other neighborhood kids mostly respected lot lines, but eight inches of fresh powder and it was anybody's hill.

Especially on a Saturday morning.

Plastic saucers were for little kids on smaller hills. Old-school metal runner sleds looked cool but only worked well on hardpack. Classic "red sleds" were the main go-to. They were cheap, adaptable, and had room for stuntman shenanigans.

But sledding while sitting was for plebes.

And we were kings.

Kings didn't bow, kneel, or sit, genuflecting to the hill.

Conqueror-kings stood up.

All the way down. With a solid dismount, before the creek claimed you.

And for anyone pre-teen or older, in West Michigan, in the 1970s, that ride was on a Snurfer.

Standing on the rope, hands-free, for extra cred.

I don't remember where our first Snurfer - the classic yellow version - came from. It was never shiny and new. There are no faded family Christmas photos of us unwrapping it. It was slightly bent, with scratched paint and bare wood showing under the tail. I'm sure my budget-conscious parents bought it used somewhere.

After sharing that board with my older brother for a few years, I scored a second yellow Snurfer from an older cousin.

We provisioned in the front closet/pantry. We'd slide into old snowmobile suits, then grab two used bread bags for our feet. Without them, our black rubber boots would eat our socks and make for cold bare heels.

Mom hand-knit our mittens and hats. The hats worked well, but the mittens got wet. We'd exchange snow-soaked pairs for freshly-dried versions from the register grate.

The pantry also held the paraffin "Gulf" wax we used on our Snurfers. But we'd split a stolen bar between riders because it was also an ingredient in our favorite Christmas cookies. Second choice was a half-spent candle.

Once dressed for battle, we'd klomp out to the garage, grab the shed key, and head to the backyard.

Snurfers and sleds lived in a tin shed along with furloughed bikes and summer sports gear. The shed doors slid sideways to open. We stepped over the wall of fresh snow in the doorway to avoid having to clean snow out of the tracks to get the doors shut again.

We'd wax the bottom of the board for speed, and the top of the board to keep the snow from jamming up the staples.

Then we surveyed our domain.

Fresh snow meant a blank canvas. Would the first run be a speedy straight line? Or a dragons-tail of curves setting up a challenge for other riders to attempt?

All the above, eventually.

We’d find the sweet spot at the top of the hill, where we could get set on the board by keeping our weight on the tail. I rode left foot forward with my left hand holding the Snurfer rope. I’m right handed, but this “goofy-footed” stance was how my left-handed older brother rode so I copied him.

We’d target a path, put tension on the rope, and launch by shifting our weight forward.

And carve a calligraphic path to the bottom.

Straight here. Then around that tree. Duck through the clothesline support legs. Another straight section to get speed for the jump. Then a big fishtail flourish at the end, stopping short on the bank of the creek.

As kings we demanded first rights to fresh snow, but as the day wore on we became benevolent and shared. Other kids and adults would show up with any manner of snow toy. We'd all take turns on the hill scheming tricks that would make a modern-day liability lawyer sweat.

As the daylight dimmed the crowd would thin out. We'd turn on the backyard floodlights for a little more time, but eventually supper and a hot chocolate sounded better than another run down the hill.

The Snurfers would go back into the shed. We'd slide the doors shut, put the lock back on, and klomp back into the garage. We'd stomp the snow from our boots, shake out our frozen hats and mittens, and lay everything out to dry.

Looking out the back door, at the parts of the hill still visible in the fading light, our realm looked like a spent battlefield. Forces had fought. Sorties had sallied. Campaigns had clashed.

But we were still kings.

Snurfer kings.


Bonus Snurfing Video

Snurfers work in the sand as well. This is a much younger me Snurfing the Silver Lake Sand Dunes in Michigan. The only rule for sand Snurfing is "don't fall."