The New Yorker ran an article earlier this week about Paul McCartney, and near the end author David Remnick asks: "Who among the living has brought more delight into the world?" Tom Morey's name popped into my head immediately. Not just because the bodyboard, Morey's legacy creation, could hold it's own in a head-to-head delight-off against the McCartney song catalog, but because Morey himself wouldn't think twice about putting his name in the same category as a Beatle. He was not shy in that regard.
And here is a piece I wrote on Tom in 2018:
The opening words of "Space Boards," Tom Morey’s six-page 1971 Age of Aquarius backyard board-design dialectic, go like this: “Hello. I am a spaceman. I am the spirits of Einstein, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and Bob Simmons, taken possession, temporarily, of the innocent body known here on earth as Tom Morey. I (we, really) am looking at your surfboards of today and thinking they are junk.” Most of what there is to know about Morey—surfer, inventor, theorist, fabulist; creator of the bodyboard and spray-on traction and maybe even professional surfing—is contained within those few lines. He is free-thinking. He is funny. Impressive. Self-important. He wants to improve things—is hell-bent on doing so. And in the process, he will grin and raise an eyebrow and talk some good-natured shit.
"Space Boards” finds Morey in his usual loquacious form. First, he points out how static and dull our wave-riding equipment is. “Very little imagination is reflected in today’s board. It is basically the same as yesterday’s board, and the board surfed last year, and the year before that, the year before that, the year before that, and the year before that. Yes, today’s board is shorter, flatter, harder rails here, less V there, small fin, more kick, two fins, etc. But honestly, huh?” Morey points out that we ride waves for the same distance and at the same speeds as we always have, and that we’re still doing so on a board made of (sarcastic voice) “polyester resin and fiberglass boat cloth.” After name-checking some materials boardmakers should be looking into (aluminum, magnesium, nylon, bird feathers, fish scales) Morey takes his own advice to “let your imagination run” and here we get down to cases. With an eye toward increased board speed, Morey opens with a step-by-step guide for what he calls the "Alka Seltzer Method." Mix acetone, resin, and crushed sodium bicarbonate into a paste. Brush a thin layer onto the bottom of your stick. Head down to the beach. Paddle out on your “super fizzer,” and as the sodium bicarbonate reacts with the water, you’ll be racing “free as a drop of water on top of a griddle” toward the lineup."
More sophisticated surfboard improvements follow, including heating elements, battery units, intake valves, air lubrication, which will give us a top-end paddling speed of 25 mph, and riding speed of 60 mph. “You go in the back door, drop down under the curl, glide way way out onto the flats, up and out over the top, 360, and back in again before the wave even knew you were there.” Morey, at this point, eyes shining and voice rapturous, has gone full Willy Wonka.
And he gets away with it. Why?
First, Morey is in fact smart and creative and, when he needs to be, practical. While his head is in the clouds his hands are in the toolbox. (Or the kitchen cabinet. He “shaped” the first Morey Boogie with an electric carving knife.)
Second, Morey is infinitely and forever likable. You will not stop to try and parse out the genius-to-bullshit ratio in a Morey design rap (2-to-3 by my estimate), because you will be charmed, possibly enthralled—his vision of surfing, and what it means to be a surfer, is so bright and grand and generous. “Human history has evolved to the point where surfing has been created,” Morey once said, and doesn’t that make you feel better about all those wasted hours, years, decades pursuing this funny little shoreline amusement of ours? (The artfully overplayed hand is a Morey trademark, but now and then he forgets the art and simply overplays: “With the advent of surfing has come the advent of world peace.” Whoops.)
I love Tom Morey for the same reason I love Wayne Bartholomew. Both connect themselves, and the sport—and, by extension, the rest of us—to the greater world outside of surfing. They fire rockets through our sport’s insularity; Morey aiming mostly toward science and technology (Einstein, Edison, Bell), Bartholomew going for arts and history (Bowie, Ali, Rommel).
Surfing doesn’t need an air-lubricated board. Some might argue that surfing doesn’t need the bodyboard. What surfing very much does need are people who think outside the box, who laugh at the box, who wonder what would happen if they strapped the box to their feet and tried to surf it. This takes work and dedication. People like this— the innovator-philosopher-humorist—are not born as such. People like this craft themselves. I would argue that Tom Morey’s greatest invention is Tom Morey.
Thanks, everybody, and talk soon.
PS: Some more Tom Morey pages
More Tom Morey:
"Jazz Man," by Steve Barilotti
"Blame it on the Boogie" in History of Surfing
Tom Morey Invitational in EOS
"Noserides and Paychecks" in EOS
[Photos: Art Brewer, LeRoy Grannis, Bill Delaney]