comscore Tom Morey, who invented the Boogie Board on Hawaii island, dies at 86 | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Top News

Tom Morey, who invented the Boogie Board on Hawaii island, dies at 86

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / DEC. 9, 1999
                                Tom Morey, inventor of the Boogie Board, demonstrates his latest surfboard creation, the Swizzle, in 1999 at South Laguna Beach in Laguna Beach, Calif. Morey died Oct. 14 in Laguna Hills, his family said. He was 86.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS / DEC. 9, 1999

    Tom Morey, inventor of the Boogie Board, demonstrates his latest surfboard creation, the Swizzle, in 1999 at South Laguna Beach in Laguna Beach, Calif. Morey died Oct. 14 in Laguna Hills, his family said. He was 86.

LOS ANGELES >> The stout waves off the Big Island’s Kona coast were still the domain of stand-up surfers as Tom Morey fiddled in his garage with a 9-foot plank of polyethylene foam, an electric carving knife and an iron he’d borrowed from a neighbor.

By morning, he’d sliced the board in half, rounded the nose and whittled the base down to a sharp trailing edge. It didn’t look like much, but on the water it was fast, turned on a dime and let the prone rider feel the rhythmic tug and pull of the ocean, a nearly intoxicating experience for Morey.

He sold one to a fellow beach bum for $10 and figured that, for a day’s work, at least it covered his costs. Within a year, Morey Boogie Boards were selling by the tens of thousands, opening waves around the globe to the masses, delighting millions and enraging purists who suddenly found their favorite breaks as crowded as a freeway.

A lifelong dreamer and tinkerer who designed small dirigibles as well as athletic shoes with interchangeable soles, Morey died Oct. 14 in a Laguna Hills hospital, his son Sol Morey announced on Facebook. He was 86.

Morey’s stubby, lightweight bodyboards never made him wealthy — he’d sold out by the times sales climbed into the millions — but it did change beach culture forever, giving wave riders a cheap and easy alternative to the far more costly surfboards that required patience, balance, footwork and — for most — wipeout after wipeout before perfection arrived.

“Some of Tom’s ideas are pretty wiggy, and at first I thought the Boogie Board was one of them,” former Surfer magazine editor Steve Pezman told the Los Angeles Times in 2001. “But I was wrong. Nothing has introduced more people to surfing than the Boogie Board.”

Born Aug. 15, 1935, in Detroit, Morey was raised in Laguna Beach, where his father was a real estate agent. A drummer and jazz fan, he went off to UCLA as a music major but wound up earning a degree in mathematics and became part of the booming workforce in the South Bay area of L.A. as an engineer for Douglas Aircraft and other defense contractors.

When his first marriage ended in divorce, Morey recalibrated and moved to Hawaii, a poorer but happier man. He gave surf lessons, picked up gigs as a drummer for hire and chased the curious and imaginative ideas that sprung to mind. He invented a three-piece surfboard that could be broken down and packed in a suitcase. He came up with a liquid surfboard traction solution he said would make it easier for surfers to stay upright. Then came the Boogie Board.

“I’m simply a guy with a window on a train of life, and maybe the guys next to me don’t have a window,” he told the Times years later. “I can look out and see the future of things. And then I can tell the world about it. Or build it.”

As word of the Morey Boogie Board spread through the islands and then the mainland, he worked feverishly to keep up with orders — cutting the foam, rounding the nose, using a page from that day’s Honolulu Advertiser to keep the iron from gumming up as he methodically molded the polyethylene. Each weighed just 3 pounds, was slightly more than 4 feet long and sold for $37, a price tag that matched his age.

But soon, Morey had a tsunami on his hands. By his fourth year, he had filled 80,000 orders and had a team of workers rushing to meet the demand.

In 1978, he sold the rights to the Boogie Board to a San Francisco corporation. The rights to the name are now owned by the Wham-O toy company. Morey later admitted he sold out too soon, but didn’t dwell on the fortune he likely missed out on.

“You can’t hold on to all this stuff. You’ve got to let it go,” he told the Times. “The girl you wanted and you didn’t get. The fortune you almost had. The fish that got away. … Say I had sold this for a billion dollars? I’m still going to be sitting here in my bathing suit. I’m not going to eat any more than I’m already eating.”

Forever tanned and trim, Morey moved back to the mainland, never far from the shoreline. He developed a lighter, softer surfboard he called the Swizzle, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle for a second time. He joined the Baha’i faith and launched the annual Blessing of the Waves in Huntington Beach, an event that continues still. He changed his name to Y — just the letter — because “the symmetrical look of ‘Y’ is quite pleasing.

And no matter what the lawyers might say, he knew the Boogie Board would always belong to him.

Morey is survived by his wife Marchia; a daughter, Melinda Morey; sons Sol, Moon, Sky and Matteson; five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

———

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Comments (18)

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Terms of Service. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. Report comments if you believe they do not follow our guidelines.

Having trouble with comments? Learn more here.

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

Be the first to know
Get web push notifications from Star-Advertiser when the next breaking story happens — it's FREE! You just need a supported web browser.
Subscribe for this feature

Scroll Up