Eight Bells: Sherman Poppen

Published on August 5th, 2019

Sherm Poppen passed away at 89 on July 31st at his home in Georgia. Starting in the 50s, Sherm was a fierce competitor at the Muskegon Yacht Club in Western Michigan. When the 210 was introduced in the late 50s, he was one of the first to join the fleet.

Sherm had a novel approach to finding crew which was to tap people from everyday life: His dentist, doctor, banker and many others were pressed into service and soon joined the ranks of converts with most becoming lifelong sailors. He started adult sailing lessons in the early 60s, counting my dad as one of his early students. His impact on sailing in Muskegon is profound.

In its heyday on the Great Lakes, the 210 Class had strong fleets in Muskegon, Gull Lake, and Milwaukee. The Midwest Championship, coupled with either the Wells or Graves Trophies, would rotate among the three fleets. As a kid, I remember Sherm coming by the house with all the information on traveling to the regatta with details on housing, launching and the like.

He was one of the first one design sailors to travel great distances, making the trip to the East Coast to compete in the 210 Nationals in a borrowed boat and using sailors such as my dad from the home fleet. On the race course, there was no tougher competitor than Sherm and he won many Class and local championships. His crew was wife Nancy and the above mentioned converts from everyday life.

I am sure that every club has their own local Paul Elvstrom and in Muskegon, Sherm was ours. Sherm donated a trophy for the Muskegon 210 Fleet for a Last Chance Regatta. The rules were pretty simple, if you were at the top of the fleet, you crewed for someone at the bottom of the fleet. For the rest of the fleet, it was a chance for the crew to skipper the boat. Sounds like an idea we could use today.

There was another facet of his life which will probably receive a lot of airplay in the coming days. In the mid-60s, Sherm invented the Snurfer as a way to keep his kids entertained. In doing so, he became the father of snowboarding, a sport he took up at age 69!

As many probably know, Sherm was very active in the community and there are now endowed scholarships in the arts for underprivileged kids.

So champion sailor and the father of the snowboard – quite a combo. Sherm, one of the finest people I have ever had the good fortune to sail with and against. Sail on old friend and say hi to my folks on the big lake in the sky. – Jim Gretzky

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