An inventor never really dies, his inventions live on

Tom Morey, the engineer turned surfer who made wave riding accessible to beachgoers, died at age 86 on Oct. 14

By Isaac Dektor, News Editor

On a hot summer day, when the water temperature in Southern California nears 70 degrees, one can expect a number of things: congested freeways due to “beach traffic,” umbrellas poking up out of the sand and individuals of every age grinning tooth to tooth as they ride from the break to the shore on their bellies.

Tom Morey’s name is unfamiliar to most, but his invention made riding waves possible for many in 1971 when he designed the first prototype of the boogie board. Three years later, Morey began to produce his design at scale. Sales took off in 1977 and boogie boarding became as popular as skateboarding according to The New York Times.

Morey died on Oct. 14 at 86 due to complications of a stroke according to his son. Morey worked as an engineer at Douglas Aircraft for several years in the 1950s after serving in the National Guard. At the Aerospace company, he worked with composite materials, which is also used in surfboard design by combining foam and fiberglass. Morey left the company to start a surf shop in Ventura and work as a board shaper.

“Tom Morey’s invention allowed more people to experience wave riding than any person in the history of surfing,” Jim Kempton, president of the California Surf Museum in Oceanside, said in the article. “It didn’t create radical surfing performances, but it was a really fun and simple way for people to understand wave riding.”

Boogie boarding is extremely accessible. Its only prerequisites are tiny swells and an enjoyment of being in the water. Casual beachgoers can wade out into the water without even having to paddle.

It is even fathomable for the sunbather who chose to venture into the water to get barreled, which is possible when a wave pitches over on itself and forms a hollow cavern big enough for a human to fit into. Riding a wave in the barrel has been described by many as addicting due to the sensation of moving with speed inside of a wave and the treasured view one gets from inside. FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) expresses the fixation of barrels in the 1991 surf-heist film “Point Break” after being scolded by his boss Ben Harp (John McGinley). “Caught my first tube this morning, sir,” said Utah, standing with an eight foot pink foam board.

Despite the undeniable success of the boogie board, Morey didn’t get rich off of his invention. He sold his boogie boarding company in the late 1970s to the toy manufacturer Kransco for far less than it would be worth once the surfing boom really took off.

Morey explained to The Los Angeles Times in 2003 that getting rich was never his intention. “Say I had sold this for a billion dollars,” said Morey. “I’m still going to be sitting here in my bathing suit. I’m not going to eat any more than I’m eating.”

Morey was a father, a husband, a surfer, an ocean-lover and a brilliant inventor whose ideas did not stop at wave riding. While he worked on innovating the football, the sailboat, chess, and even tried inventing a hovercraft, his work on the boogie board remains paramount as it entirely changed beach culture.