Tom Morey, the inventor of the bodyboard, passes away at 86

October 15, 2021 | Bodyboarding
Tom Morey: surfer, engineer, philosopher, musician and everything in between | Photo: Steve Jackson/History of Bodyboarding

Surfer, engineer, inventor, musician, and philosopher Tom Morey passed away on October 14, at 5 pm, in California, aged 86.

The man who invented the modern bodyboard and created one of the most popular and accessible water sports in the world left us.

Morey was one of the last true American sports icons.

The visionary was born in Detroit on August 15, 1935. At the age of eight, his family moved to Laguna, California.

One year later, Tom was already riding his first waves on a surf mat.

Thrilled with the extraordinary experience, he borrowed a surfboard and quickly became one of the most prolific longboarders in the Golden State.

Tom Morey (drums): playing with Lin Halliday and friends, circa 1955 | Photo: Tom Morey

The Hyperactive Innovator

In the 1950s, Morey would form a jazz band, work as a lifeguard at Laguna Beach and at Disneyland as the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ride operator, and earn a degree in mathematics from the University of Southern California.

His first business venture was a honeycomb paper hat joint-venture with Bob Tierney.

But Tom's heart and soul were already shifting toward wave riding, and so he developed a unique surfboard made from paper honeycomb.

His surfing skills matched other stars of the 1960s, including Miki Dora and Phil Edwards.

So, a sponsorship deal inked with Velzy and Jacobs Surfboards came as no surprise. Tom kept introducing new concepts and materials into surfing.

Honeycomb cardboard cores and concave nose pockets, three-piece travel surfboard, and space-age materials and technology were all used and applied to surf design.

The Detroit-born innovator ran his own longboarding contest - the Tom Morey Invitational - which became one of the first prestigious nose riding events.

An Obsession With Functionality

In 1964, one year after landing the cover of Surfer Magazine, Morey releases the world's first polypropylene fin and the first-ever commercial interchangeable fin system.

There was also the Skeg Works, the first-of-its-kind removable skeg system.

In 1966, Tom served as President of the United States Surfing Association, and by the end of the decade, he was already a well-known surfboard shaper.

In 1969, International Paper Company challenged him to shape a honeycomb paper surfboard and ride it at Makaha during a big swell.

The idea was to shoot the stunt for a commercial that would help sell the firm's top waterproof materials.

At the first attempt, the surfboard sank.

But everyone knew Tom Morey - he would make it happen, one way or another.

So, he spent the night working on an upgraded version by adding fiberglass to the top and bottom honeycomb holes.

On the next day, the board glided across the famous surf break - mission accomplished.

Tom Morey: the original Morey Boogie board is protected inside a transparent bag | Photo: Steve Jackson/History of Bodyboarding

Bodyboard: A Revolutionary Wave Riding Craft

In the 1970s, Tom Morey chose Hawaii as his spiritual home.

He met and married Marchia Nichols - the love of his life - and on July 7, 1971, he came up with the invention that would change the lives of millions of ocean enthusiasts around the world.

Tom Morey cut a nine-foot piece of foam in half, put down a sheet of the Honolulu Advertiser on top of it to prevent it from melting, and used his wife's iron to shape a small board.

Inspired by the ancient paipo, the modern bodyboard had been born.

The rest is history. Morey Boogie became a legendary brand and a synonym for bodyboard and bodyboarding.

Interestingly, the name of the revolutionary wave riding craft was profoundly inspired by his love of music and jazz in particular.

A new industry - built from scratch within surfing - was ready to take over the world.

Tom Morey never patented his groundbreaking invention and ended up witnessing others making large sums of money out of his creation.

But he never complained about his always fragile financial situation.

Morey Boogie Land: the wave pool designed by Tom Morey in the 1980s

Surfers United

Morey went on to inspire the world, every day, every week, every month, and every year. His words echoed in the young and old.

In the 1980s, Tom envisioned the wave pool of the future, decades before everybody else. And his revolutionary artificial wave design became a timeless symbol of dreams becoming a reality.

In several exclusive interviews with SurferToday.com, Tom Morey stressed the importance of uniting all wave riders - no matter the board they're riding - into one single entity.

And that is surfing. "We're all surfers," he told us.

It's hard to describe Morey's contribution to the world in general and sports in particular.

One thing is certain: Tom Morey's legacy will live for as long as there are healthy oceans and waves of joy ready to be ridden.

One day, we will all meet him and thank him in person.

He was one of my three idols or inspiring figures, alongside Duke Kahanamoku and Winston Churchill.

SurferToday is proud to host Tom Morey's official biography.

I miss you already, Tom Morey.


Words by Luís MP | Founder of SurferToday.com

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