For years, aspiring snowboarders and skateboarders could see the signature of Tom Sims on the wall next to the door at Threds & Sleds in Haddonfield. As a student at Haddonfield Middle School, Cole Kamish heard the story about a seventh-grade student who invented the snowboard in woodshop.
“The teacher had copies of the original plans that Tom Sims drew in class," Kamish said. "The teacher wanted us to know that although we were young, it is possible to create an influential design without being an engineer.”
On Sept. 12, 2012, the world lost the man who made it possible to surf on snow. From professional snowboarders and skateboarders to young children who may have received their first snowboard on Christmas morning, Tom Sims spent his entire life making it possible to surf on land and snow.
Much of what is written on the Internet about Tom Sims and his invention, the first snowboard, is filled with errors. In 2009, I reached out to Tom to clarify the urban legend and myth known as the Haddonfield snowboard. Tom was very kind and responded with the following:
“Shelly, Hello. I built the world's first snowboard while attending 7th grade (I turned 13 years old on Dec. 6th 1963) at Central School in Haddonfield NJ (not 8th grade as reported on the Internet). Our woodshop teacher had us do an assignment (build anything out of wood for our final) which was due before Christmas break in December 1963, the same month I finished building the snowboard, and I rode it after the first snow of the season in early December (I got an A+). Don MacKay who also was in my class at woodshop tried the board too. He and I would ride the little hill in front of my family home at 1016 Greenmount Road. We also would go riding at spots along Washington Blvd. near the Armstrongs' house and across the street from Dr. Cain’s as well as the Todd's yard. We finally graduated to bombing down a hill at Tavistock golf course.
Four years after I started snowboarding on my own invention "a skateboard for the snow" the Snurfer came on the market and Don and I were convinced that someone had seen us at Tavistock and stolen my idea, since two photographers had asked us if it was OK to take pictures of us riding during the winter of '64-'65. The photographers must have followed us on foot out in the snow to the far side of Tavistock right next to the Freeway.
When I did the snowboarding in the 1985 James Bond 007 film A View To A Kill, that exposed it to millions of people and is what launched my idea of snowboarding into a real sport. (In 1984 when the movie was filmed in Switzerland the sport of snowboarding was virtually unknown outside a small circle of enthusiasts in the USA.) Jake Carpenter (Burton) built his first snowboard 15 years after I built my first snowboard, but he and-or Sherman Poppins are often erroneously credited with inventing the sport, but that is because that is the false claim that both have made for decades. We Haddonfield Alumni need to stand up for the Truth. Regards, Tom”
A 'legacy and vision of growing snowboarding'
In addition to his invention and business endeavors for skateboarding, snowboarding and apparel, Tom was a renowned athlete. In 1975, Sims was named the World Champion Skateboarder, in 1983 he was named the World Champion Snowboarder and in 1998, Tom received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Haddonfield Alumni Society. The second snowboard Tom made, with a metal bottom is on display at the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum in Vail, CO.
After Tom's passing, snowboarding retailer Sims started the Tom Sims Legacy Fund. According to the Sims website, "The goal of the fund is to continue Tom's legacy and vision of growing snowboarding, while providing an opportunity to youth to experience his lifelong passion of sliding sideways down mountains..and make positive decisions for more successful lives."
For avid skateboarders like Cole Kamish, who now works at Kinetic in Haddonfield, he’ll always remember seeing Tom Sims' signature on the wall at Threds and Sleds. Unfortunately, the store has changed hands and the signature was painted over.
This winter, as many wait for the snow to accumulate, South Jersey residents can be proud of the fact that the snowboard really was invented in historic Haddonfield. The next time you enjoy a ride down the slopes on a snowboard, don't forget about that 13-year-old student in woodshop who made it possible to enjoy surfing year-round.
Click here for a video of Tom Sims showing his first snowboard.