There is so much to write about Tom Morey, and so many adjectives one could use to describe him. "Unconventional", "creative", "intellectual", and "meditative" immediately come to mind. Morey had a huge impact on the surf industry; so much so that in 1999, Surfer Magazine listed him as one of the “25 Most Influential Surfers of the Century.”
Tom was born in 1935 in Detroit, Michigan. When he was nine, he moved with his family to Laguna Beach, California. Like many of us, he started out riding waves on those canvas mats (the ones that rubbed you like sandpaper, but were a lot of fun) before graduating to stand-up surfing at the age of about 17.
Gifted academically, Morey earned a B.A. in mathematics from USC in 1957, and went to work as an engineer for Douglas Aircraft the next year. It was at USC that he met Karl Pope, and the two of them went on to form Morey-Pope Surfboards in 1965. That year was notable for Tom; he helped develop Slipcheck (the aerosol traction spray), and hosted the first-ever professional surf contest, called the Tom Morey Invitational. True to his quirky ways, the contest had a unique twist; it was a noseriding-only event. Each surfer accumulated time on the nose and was scored accordingly.
It’s said that Mickey Munoz bested Mike Hynson by less than a second, and later Morey admitted that a timer’s mistake may have cost Hynson the $1,500 purse. Regardless, Hynson and Morey remained friends; in fact, Mike said they talked regularly over the years, speaking for the last time just a week before Tom passed.
Throughout the rest of the ‘60s, Morey-Pope Surfboards introduced a number of models many of us still remember, including the Camel, the Peck Penetrator, the Stradivarius and of course the Blue Machine. In 1966, Tom became President of the United States Surfing Association, an organization formed in 1961. In 1968, Morey also introduced W.A.V.E Set - the first commercially available removable fin system. He also developed the first polypropylene fin. Profound contributions to the surfing world for sure, and he had only begun…
In 1970, Tom moved to Hawaii to become a professional jazz drummer and to live the island life. It was here that he came up with perhaps his most recognized invention – the Morey Boogie. Introduced in July of 1971, the small, soft, easy-to-ride “boogie board” changed surfing forever. “We are all surfers,” he once said, suggesting that it didn’t matter which wave-riding device you prefer.
Even though Tom sold the Morey Boogie brand in 1977, he quite literally invented the sport of bodyboarding and therefore helped so many people experience the wonders of the ocean. In 1976, he and Mike Doyle co-developed the Morey-Doyle - the first soft surfboard. Looking at how many soft surfboards are out in the water these days, I would say that 45 years ago, Tom and Mike were a bit ahead of their time! And as far back as the 1980s, Morey had envisioned the possibility of artificial surf, making detailed drawings of how wave pools could work.
I remember spraying Slipcheck on the nose of a board I had back in ’67 or ‘68, using those little paper doilies as a stencils to make a floral pattern. I remember reading an article Morey wrote for Surfer Magazine in like 1971…it was called “Spaceboards,” and started out, “Hello, I’m a spaceman.” I remember when Tom announced that he had changed his name to the letter “Y” back in 1999 or 2000. He was definitely one of the more colorful characters of the surfing world, whose positive influence was felt by so many of us. Thank you, Tom…Rest in Peace.