Morey, Tom

Creative and eccentric surf designer-inventor-theorist from Southern California; organizer of the first professional surfing contest, and creator of the Morey Boogie bodyboard. Morey was born (1935) in Detroit, Michigan, and moved with his family at age nine to Laguna Beach, California. He started riding a surf mat at 12, and five years later, after moving to Santa Monica, began stand-up surfing.

Morey became a Douglas Aircraft engineer in 1958, one year after getting a B.A. in mathematics from the University of Southern California; in 1964 he quit Douglas to open Tom Morey Surfboards, and the following year he formed Morey-Pope Surfboards with San Diego surfer-designer Karl Pope. Over the next four years, Morey-Pope introduced a number of popular board models, including the Snub, the Peck Penetrator, the Blue Machine, and the Camel. The Trisect, an early Morey-Pope creation—a travel-ready three-piece board that came with its own suitcase—was a practical idea that sank without a trace when introduced in the mid-'60s, then was resurrected 30 years later.

Morey helped develop Slipcheck in 1965, a surfboard traction aerosol spray-on used as an alternative to surfboard wax. Two years later he introduced W.A.V.E. Set, the first commercially successful removable fin system.

The year 1965 also brought the $1,500 Tom Morey Invitational, surfing's first prizemoney contest. Morey again put a new twist on things: the Invitational was a noseriding-only contest, and instead of receiving a subjective score between one and 10 for each ride, surfers was timed while riding the nose and ranked according to highest time totals. Mickey Muñoz beat Mike Hynson for first place by seven-tenths of a second, although Morey admitted years later that a timer's error had in fact robbed Hynson of the win.

Morey published articles for surf magazines on a wide range of topics, including surf contests, wave formation, riding technique, health, and artificial surf. His most interesting and quirky pieces were about surfboards and board design. "Hello, I'm a spaceman," Morey wrote in the first paragraph for "Spaceboards," his 1971 Surfer article. "I am the spirit of Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and [board designer] Bob Simmons, taking possession, temporarily, of the innocent body known here on earth as Tom Morey." Surfboards, Morey went on to say, "are junk." His suggestions for improvement included rubbing a coat of liquid detergent on the bottom surface of the board, air-intake vents, and a small rubber-band-powered engine lodged inside the board's core. Morey's restless urge to tinker persisted into the 21st century. "The world is an old-fashioned place to me," Morey told the Surfer's Journal in 2008; "everything I see can be improved."

Morey introduced the bendable soft-skinned Morey Boogie in 1973, selling units in mail-order do-it-yourself kits for $25. The bodyboard, as all Boogie-type craft would soon be called, was more than just a wave toy, according to its inventor. "For anybody to become a graduate of this planet," Morey said, "it is essential that they learn to enjoy this activity." Millions of Boogies and Boogie knockoffs were in the water by the mid-'80s. Morey, however, sold his interest in Boogie in 1977, just before the bodyboard became hugely popular; one year earlier he and California surfer Mike Doyle had codeveloped the Morey-Doyle soft surfboard, the offspring of which became the standard for beginning surfers.

Morey appeared in a small number of surf movies and documentaries, including Golden Breed (1968), Blazing Longboards (1994), and Liquid Stage: The Lure of Surfing (1995); in 1966 he served as president of the United States Surfing Association. Morey was listed by Surfer in 1999 as one of the "25 Most Influential Surfers of the Century." That same year, he sent out a press release announcing that he'd changed his name to "Y," in part because "it's easy to say and hear" and because he found "the symmetric look of 'Y' quite pleasing."

Morey was inducted into the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame in 2003.