Tom Sims, 61, a pioneering force in the world of skateboarding and snowboarding, passed away Wednesday night from cardiac arrest at a hospital near his Santa Barbara home. Beyond reaching world championship status in both skating and snowboarding, Sims is best known for his innovations that paved the way for both popular board sports to flourish into multi-billion dollar industries. His SIMS lines of skateboards, wheels, and snowboards, all became industry juggernauts.
While accomplished in all the board sport disciplines, his pioneering role in snowboarding looms largest in his legacy. Sims is widely credited with making the first “skiboard” when he was in seventh grade, in 1963, though he admits it didn’t work. But his later refinements included the first metal-edged snowboards.
Sims grew up a surfer, but his legacy is taking the surfing style of riding inland, first with his line of skateboards and wheels that allowed for higher speeds and performance, and later by perfecting his earlier attempt at the snowboard. Thanks to his contributions snowboarding has taken over mountain communities the world over.
“Without Tom Sims it is arguable that these sports that so many of us live and breathe wouldn’t have been possible,” says Pat Bridges, editor of Snowboarder magazine. “More than simply a pioneer or visionary, he was a new age ambassador of a lifestyle rooted in skate, surf, and snow.”
Pro snowboarders, skateboarders, and surfers have all taken to Twitter to pay tribute, including Olympic half pipe medalist Louie Vito, who tweeted: “RIP TOM SIMS!!!! #Legend #SnowboardingGodfather #Neverforgotten.”
Sims’ love for board sports blossomed in Southern California, where he would travel to visit family regularly until he moved there for good in 1971. He’d already fallen in love with surfing and skating on previous visits, which prompted his early attempt at bringing those sports to the icy mountains of his winter home.
Within months of moving to California Sims was making state-of-the-art skateboards that allowed for much higher speeds and performance in streets and pools, simulating the surfing experience.
He made a point of validating his equipment himself, becoming world skating champion in 1975. Future skating stars like Stacy Peralta and Tony Hawk were some of his earliest team riders.
SIMS Skateboards became the largest skate company in the world by the mid-’70s, but after several of his early team riders launched competing brands, he licensed his skateboard business out so he could focus on his growing love for snowboarding, a fledgling little niche that he’d been experimenting with throughout the ’70s. Proceeds from his skateboard business allowed him to refine the complex snowboards, bindings, and boots that would eventually take over the world.
While Jake Burton of Burton Snowboards was making his own inroads back east, Sims, through his riding, inventing, and charismatic wheeling and dealing, was the undisputed leader of the movement in the west, which was home to the majority of high-profile surfers and skaters who became snowboarding disciples.
Of course, in the early ’80s, ski resorts were hardly welcoming snowboarders with open arms. As the resorts saw it, letting unwashed surf and skate units run roughshod all over their mountains would offend their high-end, high-brow clientele. But as mountains struggled to compete for family business during lean years, resorts that opened their doors to snowboarders first reaped enormous and immediate benefits. That forced the hand of the rest, and transformed the resort experience forever.
Today, skaters like Tony Hawk and snowboarders like Shaun White are some of the most recognized athletes in the world, making millions in endorsements and sporting gold medals from the X and Olympic Games. Look closely and you’ll find Sims’ fingerprints all over those medals.
The above video by Vice is part I of a three-part series on Tom Sims. For Snowboarder’s full photo gallery of Tom Sims, click here, or on the top photo. The above portrait of Tom was taken near his Santa Barbara home in 2009, by Lucia Griggi. The middle photo from the Sims collection is of Tom’s first attempt at a snowboard in 1963. The top photo is of Sims near Mammoth Mountain in 1981 with his boards that would change mountains forever.
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