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Tom Morey, in an undated photo, poses with “the First Boogie,” from 1971. Photo via moreybodyboards.com
Columns Waterspot

Waterspot: The man who (re)invented surfing

It was in the summer of 1971 when I saw local surf hipster Dean Redfield on a weird looking contraption in the water at D Street. “What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s the Boogie,” he replied, smiling.

By year’s end body boarding was only a few months old and was about to be responsible for putting more people into the ocean than any surf craft since time began. This, I suppose would make Tom Morey’s accidental invention one of the greatest of all time.

It would be another few years before I first met Morey, flying a kite on the cliffs over Tamarack. The kite, which he was experimenting with, fluttered low in the sky when he looked at me, a complete stranger at the time, and asked, “Why do you think it does that?” I had no answer to his question and he invited me to his nearby house.

Once there he walked me to his garage/workshop where a number of futuristic ocean craft lay scattered on a wooden workbench and across the floor. His childlike wonder and curious mind made me think of both Geppetto and Ben Franklin.

Once my eyes adjusted to the wonders before me, they came to rest on a crude looking body board covered in newspaper and sealed in wax paper. 

Anticipating my countless questions, Tom took the board from the shelf it was resting on and said, “This is the first one.”

Continuing, he said, “I was living on the beach in Hawaii and shipping out orders to my customers.  I hadn’t surfed in quite a while and didn’t have a board. But there were some fun little waves in front of my house, and I wanted to ride a few of them. Taking some packing foam, I cut out a block of it with a hot knife, glued down some newspaper, covered it with wax paper and sealed it all with a hot iron.”

Tom then kicked his way out to the reef and after his very first wave realized he had done more than simply taken a break from work. After hours of turns, cutbacks and tube rides, he returned to shore, knowing he had just discovered the surf craft that would introduce a large portion of the world to the joy of riding waves.

He never told me so, but I think I now know why he called it the “Boogie board.”

That, I believe, was a simple tribute to his jazz drummer roots. As it turned out, both the product and the name were perfect for the masses.

Several years after the first Boogie board came into the world, surfing legend Mike Doyle approached Morey to build a surfboard from the same soft materials.  This was the first soft surfboard, and its great-grandchildren can now be found in department stores for around $100.

I recently purchased a body board from a department store for a quarter of that price. Try to think of anything that could buy that much stoke for that little money. Twenty-five bucks when spread out over the years equates to pennies a wave. 

At this writing there are countless brands of body boards being sold in most regions of the world that lie near an ocean. Wouldn’t it be nice to celebrate Tom Morey by gathering around the world at the same time, catching a wave on his invention and shouting “Thanks Tom!” 

Of course, a pandemic and other logistical difficulties keep that from becoming a reality. So, here’s to Tom Morey, the man who brought waves into the lives of more people than anyone, ever. 

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