Sherman Poppen was born March 25, 1930 in Muskegon, Michigan. He graduated from Northwestern University in 1952 and served in the United States Navy as a supply office at sea from 1952-1956. He owned an industrial business, Lake Welding Supply Company, which sold gases and welding supplies in Muskegon, Michigan. On December 25, 1965, Poppen created the snurfer, a predecessor of the snowboard, by binding two children's skis together. His wife, Nancy, was pregnant with their third child and his two restless daughters, Wendy and Laurie, wanted to play on Christmas day. Poppen entertained them by playing outside in the snow. The girls' desire to stand up while riding on a sled and Poppen's vision of snow drifts as waves collided, and the idea for the snurfer was born. Nancy coined "snurf" by combining the words snow and surf. Neighborhood children soon began asking for snurfers of their own. Poppen decided to patent his creation (US Patent #: 3,378,274 --Surf-Type Snow Ski) and trademarked the words snurf and snurfer (US Trademark #: 1,518,101). It was also patented in Canada (Patent #: 819,596). In 1966, he licensed the product to the Brunswick Corporation and worked with them to create a board from the laminated wood used for bowling alley gutters. Brunswick manufactured the snurfer and sold it as a novelty item, not sports equipment, and it gained popularity. From 1968 through the late 1970s, snurfer racing competitions were held in Muskegon at Blockhouse Hill. In 1972, Brunswick discontinued production of the snurfer, but JEM Corporation continued manufacture until the early 1980s. By 1977, Jake Burton Carpenter, an avid competitive snurfer, began developing an improved model without a rope handle and with the addition of rigid bindings for ski boots to the board. As more resorts began allowing snowboards on their ski lifts, the popularity of the snurfer waned.
Poppen took up snowboarding at the age of 67. He received recognition from the snowboarding community as the grandfather of the sport and was inducted into the Snowboarding Hall of Fame in Banff, Canada in 1995 and the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.