I first met Tom Morey in the mid 1970s at Tamarack, in Carlsbad. He was holding a small kite he had made and asked what I thought about it.
Knowing nothing about aerodynamics other than that bumblebee wings are apparently too small for them to fly, I said something about the kite’s economical structure, being that it was made almost entirely of newspaper.
He laughed and invited me to his house, up the street. I never did go into the house, but followed him to the garage where numerous projects lay in various stages of completion, scattered over the floor and his well-used workbench.
Of course, I knew who he was — the surfer who had brought the world the first-ever timed noseriding contest, built all sorts of experimental surfboards and finally had a smash hit with the Morey Boogie.
Reaching up to a shelf above us, he pulled a block of foam covered with newspaper. The crude flotation device appeared no more significant to me than a funky dumpster score.
No, not even that — nobody would ever retrieve this item from the trash, even though I now realize it as one of surfing’s great icons, the prototype of the body board, a little thing that would do for the surfing world what Henry Ford had done for the horseless carriage.
It’s been nearly half a century, so I don’t recall his exact words, but will never forget their meaning. He said something like, “This is the first Boogie Board,” with an ironic smile I would soon realize meant that the wheels of progress were grinding within the most fertile mind in surfing.
“I was living in Hawaii when I noticed a fun little wave breaking out front. I didn’t have a surfboard at the time, but I did have some packing foam that I was using to ship various products. I shaped the foam with a hot knife foam cutter, wrapped it with newspaper, covered it with wax paper and sealed it all ironing it with my wife’s steam iron.”
After hours body-boarding the little waves, Morey returned to shore with the first of millions. (You can currently find $25 variations on the Morey theme in Walmart, or pay up to $300 for one of top quality at your local surf shop.)
I kept in touch with Tom and we discussed things I knew nothing about, like wave machines and racecars, to things I had studied, like surfboards and religion.
He was a Baha’i, believing that most all religions had led up to “the promised one of all ages,” and I was (and am) a Christian, believing that “the road is narrow.” The discussions on that and every other subject we ever got into never did break out into arguments, but were conducted with mutual respect.
While I have no way of proving this, I believe Tom’s favorite word was “why.” He embodied the Robert Kennedy ideal summed up with the words, “Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not?” So it seems only appropriate that when he was forced by legal shenanigans not to use his own name, Tom Morey became known simply as “Y.” Perfect.
Y or why? Why not introduce the world to waves as he did with the Morey Boogie in the early ’70s and later with Mike Doyle when the two developed the first soft surfboard in the Morey/Doyle — a variation of which is also available at Walmart?
Why not live life joyfully and on your own terms while making the world a better place?
Why not play drums professionally from the age of 12 until weeks before your passing?
Regardless of what it was, Tom did it with childlike enthusiasm and a gentle, joyful heart.
Tom Morey passed away on Oct. 14 at the age of 86, and I’m going Boogie Boarding to celebrate his life. Aloha, my friend.