Tom Sims dies at 61; snowboard pioneer

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Tom Sims, an innovative skateboarding and snowboarding pioneer and former world champion who helped bring snowboarding to the masses by pushing ski resorts to embrace the fledgling sport in the 1980s, has died. He was 61.

The founder of Sims Skateboards and Sims Snowboards died Wednesday at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital after suffering cardiac arrest, said his sister, Margie Sims Klinger.

“He was the godfather of all board sports,” Michael Brooke, publisher of Concrete Wave Magazine, said Friday. “He literally helped build the professional skate industry, and he was one of the giants in the history of snowboarding.”


Pat Bridges, editor of Snowboarder Magazine, said Sims “not only pioneered snowboarding, but he also popularized what has come to be known as the action-sports lifestyle. He had a different modus for having a good time standing sideways, depending on the season.”

As Brooke said, “He wasn’t just a business guy selling this stuff. He lived it.”

“He was the true first pioneer of what’s called longboarding — riding a skateboard over 4 feet in length,” Brooke said. “He’d ride enormous longboards and cruise down the hills. He was doing this way before anybody else. He liked taking this surf kind of feeling and putting it out there on skateboards.”

A New Jersey transplant who also was a surfer and wakeboarder, Sims moved to Santa Barbara in 1971 and began entering and winning skateboard contests, including the Skateboard World Championships.

“He became someone that all the kids looked up to and wanted to emulate and wanted his boards,” Sims’ sister said. “So he realized there was such a demand, he set up a business and began producing products. His specialty was the 4-foot-long skateboard that he started out making himself.”

A few years after launching Sims Skateboards in the mid-’70s, he founded Sims Snowboards.

Sims, who became a world snowboarding champion in 1983, was responsible for the creation of the first snowboarding halfpipe made of snow and used in competition, in Lake Tahoe, and the first permanent halfpipe of snow at a ski area, at Snow Summit in Big Bear Lake.

“He not only championed this activity,” said Bridges, “he really changed people’s perceptions of the fledgling sport, one resort at a time.”


He also was the main snowboarding stunt double for Roger Moore in the 1985 James Bond movie “A View to a Kill.”

In a 1995 interview with Snowboarder Magazine, Sims said: “The world has woken up and realized that the best way and most enjoyable way down a mountain is on a snowboard. Prior to 1985, I had to beg a ski area owner to let me on their precious chairlifts. The same guy that kicked me off the hill 10 years ago now begs me for a board for his grandson.”

Born in Los Angeles on Dec. 6, 1950, Sims moved to the East Coast when he was 2, and his family settled in Haddonfield, N.J. when he was 6.

While visiting his grandparents in Los Angeles during the summer of 1960, Sims saw his first skateboards when he watched half a dozen kids rolling down the sidewalk.

“I was absolutely in a trance,” he told Concrete Wave in November. He begged his father to buy him a skateboard at Sears and “from that day forward I lived on my skateboard. I just loved it beyond belief. By the end of the second day I was good as any of the kids out there on the sidewalk. I just found something I really loved to do.”

In 1963, Sims built his first crude snowboard in his junior high school wood-shop class. He called it a “skiboard.”


“I was trying to solve a dilemma that I had,” he told National Public Radio in 1998. “I couldn’t skateboard on the snow-covered streets in the wintertime in south New Jersey. And the simplest solution was to make a skateboard for the snow.”

In addition to his sister, Sims is survived by his wife, Hilary; his children, Sarah, Tommy and Shane; and his stepdaughters, Alexa and Kylie Wagner.