Tom Morey, inventor of the Boogie Board and the Ben Franklin of surfing, dies at 86
Tom Morey, the creator of the Boogie Board and an influential figure in the surfing world, has died due to complications from a stroke, according to his family. He was 86.
“It was Morey who introduced more human beings to the act of wave riding than any other single person in history,” said Jim Kempton, president of the California Surf Museum. “That’s quite an accomplishment if you think about it, millions and millions of people have ridden waves, and I would say that a huge number of them started out on his inventions.”
Morey died on Thursday.
Morey was born August 15, 1935, in Detroit, but he moved to Laguna Beach early in his childhood and picked up surfing. By the time he was 12, he had his first paying job as a musician, later studying music at the University of Southern California, where he won a national contest for his jazz band.
While pursuing surfing as a hobby, he took a job at Douglas Aircraft, but he later started the surf shop Morey-Pope & Co. in Ventura.
In 1965, he put on the Tom Morey Invitational surf tournament, the first ever professional surfing competition with prize money, said Barry Haun, curator and creative director at the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center.
THE CREATOR OF THE BOOGIE BOARD
In between surfing and playing drums at hotels, he came up with an idea for a foam board, according to SurferToday. He cut in half a piece of foam, shaped it with an iron and rounded the nose to create a three-pound board. For reference, surfboards at the time weighed between 30 and 50 pounds, which often led to injuries during wipeouts.
“The Boogie Board essentially turned that sort of soft surface and that safety factor into something that was also functional for high performance,” Kempton said.
Morey tested out his invention in Hawaii, where he was living at the time. After a successful first ride, his wife Marchia tested it out — while eight months pregnant, according to SurferToday. This would soon become the Boogie Board, or as he first called it, the SNAKE — which stood for side, navel, arm, knee and elbow.
The first Boogie Board sold for a grand US$10 — which he came up with on the spot after someone attempted to buy one, according to the Washington Post. But upon moving back to California, he manufactured them in bulk for $37, because that was his age at the time.
The Boogie Board could be used by most people, according to Kempton. Because of the board’s versatility and ease, many in the surfing community put a divide between the bodyboarders and surfers. Morey, though, adamantly opposed the separation, Kempton said.
But despite the Boogie Board’s immense success, with millions of sales worldwide, he did not make much profit from it. He sold his company and trademark in 1977, and it was later picked up by Wham-O toy company. Morey served as a consultant for Wham-O for several years, before working as an engineer for 15 years at Boeing.
“Tom’s invention of the Boogie Board not only changed the landscape for Wham-O in 1978, the Boogie Board opened the possibility of just about anyone to be able to enjoy surfing a wave anywhere in the world,” company’s president Todd Richards wrote in an email to CNN.
A SUPPORTIVE FIGURE, ON AND OFF LAND
All this time, though, he cared for everyone around him, all the while continuing to share his ideas with the world.
“Anybody he met, he always totally took them in, and he was absorbed, and he was influential to those people,” said his son Sol Morey. “He gave them free thought and helped them improve what they were doing.”
“He encouraged people, he praised people, because a lot of people when they get into a school and they don’t fall into the right niche that the teachers are teaching in, you’re losing half of your population to such dogmatic ways of how we think everybody’s got to fit in a little box, so that’s why all these people love him so much,” his wife Marchia told CNN.
Mike Stewart, a nine-time World Champion bodyboarder, told CNN that his whole universe was influenced by Morey, who accepted him with open arms and facilitated his growth in the sport. Stewart was with him in testing out many of his creations, and he sees Morey as an “unparalleled” figure not just in wave riding but in creative thinking.
THE THOMAS ADISON OF SURFING
Although he stopped surfing in his late 70s, Morey never stopped inventing. Almost two decades before creating the Boogie Board, he created a “wing tip” surfboard design after figuring out that the surfboard may get into waves better if the nose was turned slightly up.
In 1965, he manufactured a “paper surfboard” and managed to advertise it in a television commercial and on a two-page spread in Reader’s Digest.
The Edison-like or Ben Franklin-like figure, as described by his wife, patented a soft-bodied surfboard that he called the Swizzle board, as well as a surfboard that folded into a suitcase. He is also credited with popularizing the removable fin so that boards could travel easier.
“He never rested on his laurels. He was always kind of looking for that next invention that might make surfing easier and better,” said Haun.
His love for music never stopped. Earlier in his career, he played alongside jazz legends such as Dizzy Gillespie and Stu Williamson. He led jazz bands all the up until his 80s. In fact, the name for the Boogie Board came from his love of music.
He made his last public appearance just two weeks ago on October 6 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Boogie Board.
He is survived by his wife Marchia Nicholas Morey; Melinda Morey, a daughter from his first marriage to Jolly Givens; four sons from his second marriage named Sol, Moon, Sky, and Matteson Morey; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
“There is a tribe of people that are not necessarily just surfers but ocean people who feel a connection to the ocean as a source of all things, and that was a common language that I know I had with my dad,” Melinda Morey said. “If I ran up into any kind of generational problems trying to explain something to him, I could always use the ocean as a metaphor, and say in a way that he could understand.”
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