Tom Morey: he invented boogieboarding, not bodyboarding | Photo: Tom Morey Archive

Meet Mr. Tom Morey, the inventor of bodyboarding. Or, has he prefers to call it, "boogieboarding." The founder of Morey Boogie says, "the term 'bodyboarder' sucks. Sounds like a board they'd use to slide a corpse down into a body bag." His life is an adventure. And he still is a very busy man.

Tom Morey is the ultimate surfing inventor. In an exclusive interview with SurferToday.com, the Detroit-born wave rider dissects the innovations he introduced to the water sports industry, and his personal perspectives on the present and future of boogieboarding.

By the way, do you know who was the first woman to ride a bodyboard? Tom Morey will tell you.


When did you have your first contact with the waves?

In 1942, my dad Howard moved my mom Grace, my 13-year-old sister Junie and seven-year-old me, from Detroit to California.

We settled in Merced for a year and a half, when they bought a combination auto court, trailer park, gas station and general store, on Highway 99, for about $15,000, which he'd saved up by selling vacuum cleaners and sewing machines.

They sold it for a good profit and then moved to Laguna Beach, California, where dad went fishing for a couple years. Then he and mom sold Laguna itself, Morey real estate (1946-1959).

The year 1944 saw eight-year-old Tom bodysurfing (literally) straight in, riding atop Howard's freckled English-Irish back, holding on to his shoulders.


At 23, you were working at Douglas Aircraft as an engineer? Why did you decide to quit and found Tom Morey Surfboards six years later?

Because I'd learned to patch my own surfboard - it gave me plastic fabrication resume experience - and I had built a honeycomb-Fiberglas surfboard (which failed) using Douglas Aircomb, and had a Math degree from a major university (University of Southern California), I was able through my Douglas contacts to sell my way into an engineering position there. It was called the "Plastics" division, now "Composites."

While at Douglas, I came up with a few minor innovations, but I could see that the guy two desks in front of me with spilled catch-up on his tie, was where I'd be if I stayed for ten more years. So, I job hunted twice over the next three years and landed improved aerospace positions each time.

Meanwhile, I was surfing Trestles, Cotton's, Salt Creek, Malibu, Rincon and, to my amazement, I had developed quite a name for myself. Severson put me on the cover of Surfer Magazine, in 1956 or 1957.

By then, I'd made key surfboard manufacturing contacts and had conceived what could become a practical removable skeg system.

Also, being a sponsored rider for Goddard, then Sweet, Con, Velzy-Jacobs and finally Dewey Weber, each of their boards had been one disappointment after another. All great board builders, but none provided either the feel I wanted or the performance I sensed was possible.

By 1957, I had built and sold half dozen Morey boards in my garage. So I took a chance, borrowed $5000 - which in those days was like $75,000 today - and opened a surf shop in Ventura.

A town of 100,000, far enough from any existing board maker that I was fairly certain I could make a go of it. And right down the road from Rincon, California's premier winter spot.

Tom Morey: inventor and dreamer | Video Still: Matt Wybenga

What were your most relevant innovations in surfboard design?

a) The concave nose pocket (1954);
b) The wing-tipped nose (1955);
c) Use of hard down rear rails on regular sized and shorter boards (1956);
d) A practical removable skeg system using polyethylene shear pins that I created and Dewey named "The Wonder Bolt". This bolt gave practicality to removable skegs and also made the Morey-Pope Trisect possible;
e) A unique bolt that was threaded into the front or rear of a skeg. The bolt head was large and had six holes drilled radially into it. It also had a large "V" snapped dimple in its head. You'd screw the bolt into the fin all the way, insert the skeg, and then unscrew the bolt until it was seated bearing firmly against its male counterpart resin cast in the skeg box.
f) Built the first surfboard with multiple skeg boxes across the rear;
g) Engineering how to build and align bisected and trisected surfboards.
h) The original W.A.V.E. fin box featured a tapered fit, plus front and rear hold down bolts so that interchangeable skegs of all kinds could be securely fastened in;
i) A liberal area of overlap for fiberglass lying on top of the box, so the box won't crack all along the seam.
j) The idea of paying royalties to top skeg designers, so that your personal board could be ridden with many different skegs from designers who knew what they were doing. And settling on paying or receiving - I don't care which side I'm on - a 5% royalty. Hobie had implemented the idea of paying Phil to design the Edwards' model. Others had followed suit with models. But the idea of paying designers to fashion skegs for one system, no one had done this.
k) I count this as well: actually following through and scrupulously accounting for royalties, and then making sure everyone was really paid. Otherwise, there's no progress.


Why did you come up with the idea of shaping a bodyboard on the 7th July, 1971?

I had a garage full of materials, flexible waterproof PE foam left over from a precious failed experiment. I needed something to surf, and I was below broke.

I didn't want to borrow a board, and then maybe ding and have to repair it. My wife was eight months pregnant. The surf spot was 30 yards in front of where I was living. What choice did I have?

Tom Morey: his wife was the first woman to ride a bodyboard

Who was the first person to see your first bodyboard and what did he/she say?

Marchia, my wife, said at the time: "I wanna to try it!" She was excited because, despite being so pregnant, she loved to bodysurf. And she was the second person ever to ride one!

Again, she's eight months pregnant. Now, she's outside, the water sucks out over the reef, leaves her knee-deep standing on it... A four-footer is coming, starts to fill...

She puts the boogie up as a guard, swivels and gets herself on it. Then, poof! She lays forward, and she is swept in! She becomes the first woman boogieboarder. Sorry, but the term "bodyboarder" sucks, and it always has. Sounds like a board they'd use to slide a corpse down into a body bag.


Morey Boogie has changed its ownership throughout the years but have you got any idea of how many units have been sold ever since?

Yes. And you can figure out too.

At our peak, before Kransco (1975 or 1976), on that last summer and working three shifts, we were building 1000 per day. A few years later, out of Tijuana, the foreman told me they were sometimes doing 5000 per day, circa 1980.

Since then, they are made in many other countries. Taiwanese boards, mainland China, Brazil, Malaysia. Who knows where else? Different brands too, of course.

They're certainly in the millions; maybe a couple hundred million. Between 1980 and 2015 - that's 35 years - and at a conservative 100,000 per year from just one company, what's that? Millions.

How did I do? You ask. Although I perhaps could have done more, I helped revolutionize life on this planet. Gave billions of hours of pleasure to millions of people.

I did, and I still am taking part in the awakening of mankind from a nightmare of ignorantly believing in hand-me-down religious superstitions, prejudices, exaggerated old laws that aren't natural laws. Mostly exaggerated hype. Bringing together people of all kinds in the beach playground. I have continuously prayed to be of service and consequently done well.

At 80, I am in decent health, outlived most of my cronies, find five of six kids still living, five grandchildren, and one great-grandchild on the way.

Besides blood relations, there are so many friends I love and young friends I probably will never meet. But the seeds of my life are spread.

My satisfaction? It is like this: one day I was thumbing through a South African surf magazine, and there is a picture of a middle-aged black guy ironing down the edge of a boogie board he was finishing shaping.

The board stand was at the height I would use. He's shaping with a hot iron. I originated that! His stance is mine. The guy is me, essentially, only he's across the world thinking what I thought hundreds of times before.

His posture is the same. So, I knew that he too is a child of the particular winds of change that wafted through me.

Morey Boogie: the ultimate bodyboarding brand

How do you measure success in life?

I will put it this way: for, say, the first third of life, it seems success is measured with respect to peers; how one seems to be doing compared to others.

Second third: I forgot!

In the third segment, I realize how complex and vast life is. My role is so tiny. And yet, my dreams always know where to reach me. I did okay, so dreams are also good. Must be doing some things right.


How do you see the present and future of bodyboarding?

Dow polyethylene foam was the backbone of the industry. Then, the EPA required a different blowing agent be used. Dow complied. It was butane gas.

Thus, one day a truck driver pulls up to a loading dock, opens the door, pulls out a cigarette and lighter and clicks it on. "Snap," "Kaboom". Butane gases, which had been easing their way out of the foam, had built up in the truck and blew the poor guy across the parking lot.

After that, Dow instituted the use of giant spiked rollers to perforate each blank. That is, punched hundreds of holes in them, causing the boards to leak.

Meanwhile, huge Mattel bought big ol' Kransco. Evermore executives, fewer and then zero surfers involved.

Next, offshore companies figured how to use hot melt film adhesives to bond skins to much cheaper - but weaker foam - styrene bead. Great bonds between beads and skins. But bead's bond one to another is very poor.

With ever greater volume involved, today it is about cheap-cheap; targeting the average buyer who, by definition, is below average with respect to the upper half of the market. Thus, quality and design are in a down spiral.

What you can do, though, is buy a cheap one. Rough up the bottom with sandpaper. Buy a 1/8'' plywood door skin, shape it and contact cement it to the bottom. Then, varnish the wood. You'll have a really fast bodyboard.

I know Mike Stewart still makes good boards. Others, you can buy online from Jay and Vicki Reale, and also Jimmy Linville at JL Design, in Oceanside.

I'd like to recommend Morey Boogie, but those people are now a total unknown. Various attempts to reach them over the years have resulted in zero communication.

They have yet to realize the value of having Tom Morey, a prominent name in surfing for 50 years, connected with the Morey Boogie.


In your opinion, how will bodyboard design evolve in the next decades?

Devolve, more than likely. You should concern yourself with your own future. Every one of you - consumers who have paid attention mostly to price, rather than what you'll be getting - have driven quality builders out of business.

If you want something to surf, then figure out how to make it yourself. That's the real kick. Riding what you created.


How do you evaluate the role of the International Surfing Association (ISA) in the promotion of bodyboarding?

I have zero interest in beauty contests, showoffs, tricks, kids reducing their opinions of tricks to what other kids did, showing off for some number on a score sheet.

Surf for your own enjoyment. Learn from the other guys, but avoid judging each other. The best surfer I ever knew, no one would ever have heard of him, today. Nor do I remember his name.

But it was neither Miki Dora, Phil Edwards or Bobby Patterson. It was a guy who only had one eye. Next time you're out there being hot, close one eye and try lining things up.

Tom Morey: always a surfer | Photo: Tom Morey Archive

Despite having invented bodyboarding, do you still consider yourself mainly a shortboard surfer?

I am a surfer! Short, long, medium or body, I ride the wave to have fun for myself, not the board to show off. I already have a girlfriend, and I've been married to her for 45 years.


What is the most frequently asked interview question you get?

"Did you ever think it - boogieboarding - would get so big?" Short answer: "No. Of course not." Longer answer: "You watch too many movies. Get a real job and ask questions that will bring you answers that are helpful."


How would you describe your average day?

Up to pee around dawn. Shower, shave. Drink some shower water. Think thoughts of thankfulness (prayers), and go back to bed for a while. Check my email in bed on the iPad, and handle some of it.

Wander to the kitchen, look for leftover snack materials, make a cup of Lipton's regular black tea - half water, half whole milk - and nuke for two minutes. Add a generous spoonful of TJ's clover honey.

Put on some clothes, and drink the tea, my only stimulant for the day. Limit it to one cup usually. Maybe a swig or two of coffee later. But more than that and my thought process is too ambitious. Wheels start spinning too fast.

Let the thoughts of yesterday mix with the awakening opportunities of today; express to myself what I think I need and pray to unknowableness for solutions.

Privately express thanks for solutions to what I had previously thought were impossible problems. Reassure myself the universe is going about it is own schedule, at the proper rate. If it does seem fast enough for me, that's my problem.

Continue working all day, interrupted by bowel movements, phone calls, thirst, hunger, text messages and ever present need to discard, file, place and replace, find, hunt for, store and trash things.

Usually, I'm writing these days, yet I'd rather be building the flying device I know will smoke 'em all.

But it all takes money, and judging by many millionaire friends, they continue their own various paths and usually care more about not losing it than creating what can be awesome.

Tom Morey: spreading style in 1956

Will we ever read a book with all your life stories in it?

Certainly. I am currently working on that very thing.


What grand message have you got for all bodyboarders around the globe?

If you're any good at surfing, it's because you're still leeching off your parent's support. Mostly your mom's. Stop doing that!

It is better you soon find something that you can make decent income with, and teach yourself how to enjoy doing that. For it is all surfing.

No, no one is going to put you on a magazine cover for doing your job well. But being in the spotlight counts in your mind, mostly because you have been a young sap who has wasted way too much money watching movies and TV, and paid too little attention to how the real world works.

Work and enjoy it!