Waterspot: The fantastic mind of Tom Morey

Waterspot: The fantastic mind of Tom Morey
Inventor, Tom Morrey, with one of his latest inventions, the “Stair Surfer.” Strap them to your feet and ride the stairs. Test pilots wanted. Photo by Chris Ahrens

Not everyone knows the name Tom Morey, but most know the product he’s forever associated with, the Morey Boogie. Tom began surfing in 1954 and opened his own surf shop in Ventura a full decade later with his friend Carl Pope, under the name Morey/Pope. They were known for futuristic surfboards like the Snub, the Blue Machine and the Peck Penetrator.

In the summer of 1971 I was out surfing Seaside Reef in Solana Beach on my conventional single finned 6’10 when I observed a friend riding prone on a strange, rubbery craft. I had never seen anything like it and so asked, “What’s that?”

“It’s the Boogie,” he replied before kicking into a wave on the soft belly board and riding it to shore. Upon his return to the lineup he smiled broadly while completing my education on the board that would soon become the world’s best-known surf craft. He dismounted his board, and turned it over where I observed that this weird “belly board” had no fins and a beveled rail, and while my friends rode it well, it would be another decade or so before masters like Mike Stewart turned heads at places like Pipeline with his deep barrels and cement mixer barrel rolls.

I met Morey in 1973, on the beach in Carlsbad. He invited me to his factory up the street where he showed me various inventions he had been working on including models of gliders, boats and various surfboard designs. Proudly displayed on his wall was the very first Boogie Board. To the untrained eye it looked as unimpressive as a middle-school science project, a slab of foam covered with some old newspaper. The board meant little to me until Morey began his story. Turns out this crude device would someday be featured in the Smithsonian after it had brought waves to more people than any surf craft before or after it. Like most brilliant inventions, this one occurred through sheer necessity.

Morey then wove a tale that began on the Big Island of Hawaii where he was making, selling and shipping the surf-related products he had invented. Fortunately for Middle America, the shipping of these items required the use of packing foam. For reasons he did not explain at the time, this lifetime surfer was living on the beach in Hawaii without a surfboard. The waves were good out front of his home one day when he borrowed an electric carving knife from a neighbor, cut out a piece of packing foam with it, covered it with newspaper, put wax paper over it and sealed it all with a hot iron. It was this very board, the one I was looking at now, that Morey had kicked into the waves and, after hours of pure fun, came to the realization that he had invented a board that was fun for great and experienced surfers like himself, but that anyone could enjoy from the first time they tried it. I glanced at the wall again, this time somewhat reverently, realizing I was looking into one of surf history’s most important objects.

By 1977, the year Tom Morey sold his company, they were producing 70,000 boards a year. Once the label changed hands millions of Morey Boogie Boards were sold worldwide. After legal entanglements over his own name, Tom, in a similar fashion Prince would do later, simply used the letter “Y” as his name. I’m glad to call Tom again.

About a decade after the invention of the Morey Boogie, Morey, along with world-class surfer Mike Doyle, invented the first soft standup surfboard. Similar products to that first soft board as well as Stand Up Paddle soft boards can now be purchased for a hundred bucks at your local discount store. You can thank him or blame him, but it was Tom Morey who brought waves to the rest of the world.

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