Revisionist History: Was Tom Morey Alone In The Rose Garden?

Dan Dobbin picture
Dan Dobbin (dandob)
Swellnet Dispatch

When he invented the Thruster, Simon Anderson was quick to name the people who inspired his discovery. The Five Fathers of the Thruster he called them, and in so doing recognising not just their contributions but also recognising how creativity works. Great minds don't work in isolation, they take in everyday stimuli like you and I do, yet are able to see potential that you and I can't.

Similar to the Thruster's Five Fathers, Dan Dobbin wonders about the bodyboard's family tree. Of course, Tom Morey sits rightly and justly at the head, but what ideas surrounded Morey prior to his great breakthrough?

We all know the mythogy. Tom Morey, almost out of cash, struck by inspiration, cuts one of his last nine-foot foam blanks in half, works some magic with The Honolulu Advertiser and a hot iron and voila!...creates the Morey boogie board.

Was it just happenstance that half of a nine-foot blank was just nearly the perfect size and width to create the most functional and versatile surfcraft in the world?

Was there an underlying method to Tom’s madness or simply a moment of genius innovation?

Where, really, did the inspiration for the Boogie come from?

Obviously the pre-colonial paipo from Hawaii has been much mentioned and referenced. But in this article, we're going to go dig into some slightly more obscure ideas and influences that may have had a bearing on Morey’s thinking when he went chop chop on that foam.

Morey, at right, with his patient zero, the model from which all other variations sprung - yet what was Morey's own inspiration? At left is an early Morey Boogie advertisement.

So if we jump in the wayback machine and travel 100 years or so into the past, we can find ourselves at the beginning of the Prohibition Era in America. If you don’t know much about prohibition, think Homer Simpson as the Beer Baron up against Rex Banner when alcohol was banned in Springfield.

If you’re a younger reader who doesn’t get Simpson’s references from twenty five years ago, essentially there was thirteen year window in US history, beginning in 1920, where the sale and purchase of alcohol was illegal.

Now if you know anything about anything, the very first thing that happens when something that is much sought after becomes a limited commodity, is that its value skyrockets.

Never ones to miss an opportunity to profit by dubious means, the Mafia soon engineered a scheme to smuggle rum distilled in Cuba into the good ol’ United States. But for this they needed boats. Fast boats that could elude the fuzz.

To help design them, they turned to a man named Lindsay Lord, who was a Naval Architect and Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology specialising in planing hulls or “small craft that skim the water”.

Soon these small, fast boats designed by Lord were built and crewed, helping the Mafia keep the US soaked in rum until Prohibition ended in 1933.

The next time the citizens of the United States needed the services of Lindsay Lord was during World War Two when he was given a naval commission to build boats that were manoeuvrable and fast in different conditions in order to help the war effort.

Lord was stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and given unlimited funds to design the fastest possible planing hulls to create the fastest possible naval warships.

Being stationed in Hawaii, Lindsay Lord explored many indigenous designs like surfboards and paipos. His aim was to determine the best aspect ratio for planing.

To do this he towed different designs across the waters of Pearl Harbour to measure the water resistance generated by different shaped hulls, and attempted to find the best trade off between speed and maneuverability.

From these experiments he concluded:

“The most common factor in a good planing hull was the width in the stern. If you divide the width into the length you’ll get the Aspect Ratio. It will be a decimal number. Good numbers are .3 to .5.”

Essentially a board that’s too wide and short, or one that's too long and skinny, won’t work as well. The better the relationship between the aspect ratios, the better the design should perform in terms of the compromise between speed and manoeuvrability.

The next important character in our story, is a gruff, no-nonsense, mathematically-minded misanthrope named Bob Simmons.

Bob Simmons with a classic self-shaped board

Simmons, like many other brilliant people throughout history, didn’t really fit into contemporary American society, preferring his own company and was often bristly in his relationship with others.

In the early-fifties, Simmons got his hands on a copy of Lindsay Lord’s book, The Naval Architecture of Planing Hulls and went about applying Lord’s design principles to surfboards, adherening strictly to the mathematical principles layed out by Lord in his work on planing hulls.

Wide, square tails, straight parallel 60/40 rails, boards designed to go fast with maximum planing speed, two feet shorter than the contemporary boards of the time, nose rocker.

Simmons boards were radically different from the cigar shaped surfboards of the forties and fifties, and he laid the blueprint for many of the design innovations that would lead to the modern surfboard.

Now, none of the above hasn’t been covered before in various forms in the surfing media, in fact I’ve lifted most of it almost verbatim from other articles that can be easily found with a quick internet search on planing hulls. The question for the bodyboarding community comes in relation to how much knowledge and inspiration did Tom Morey draw from the work of both Simmons and Lord when he created the first Boogie?

Tom passed away recently and so to did any sense of a definitive answer. Speculation is our friend. However, as a member of the close-knit California surf scene in the fifties, compelling anecdotal and circumstancial evidence exists to suggest that even if Morey didn’t know Simmons directly, then he would almost certainly have heard of his design innovations and theories.

An article from by Seamus McGoldrick, titled A short biography of Tom Morey describes how Tom Morey was considered one of the best surfers of the fifties, becoming one of surfing very first 'sponsored' riders and regularly surfed at Laguna beach and Malibu during this time, as did Bob Simmons, who often referred to Malibu as his “test facility”.

For a time, Morey was sponsored by legendary surfboard shaper Dale Velzy through Velzy and Jacobs Surfboards, and Velzy and Simmons were known associates.

According to legendary surfer Buzzy Trent in an article on Simmons for

“He [Simmons] didn’t like many people, but he liked Velzy better than most because Velzy rode Simmons’ boards and he rode them well."

Additionally, Morey was already keenly interested in surfcraft design himself, having invented concave nose pockets and turned down noses. He also experimented with many new and different surfboard innovations and materials, just like Simmons during this period.

Further, he studied Mathematics at the University of Southern California in the early-fifties, a topic that we know Simmons was also fanatical about and applied rigorously to his own surf designs.

So given the two men shared so many common interests, acquaintances, and proximate location, and the fact that Simmons was already something of a legend in the Southern Californian scene, it is almost impossible to believe that Morey was not aware of Simmons ideas and board designs.

Simmons suffered an early demise in 1954, aged only 35, in a surfing accident at Windansea, while Morey continued on to create all kinds of design innovations in the surfing world like a three piece portable surfboard and the first removable surfboard fin design.

From the same article listed above, Morey claims at the time he created the Boogie he was inspired by a passage of a Baha’i prayer which reads:

“Convey upon me, oh, my God, a thought which will turn this planet into a rose garden."

When inspiration arose, it came in the form of  a “four-and-a-half-foot surf craft, which was as wide as possible for strength and had a square nose to hold on to with a sharp trailing edge to cut into the wave face” that fitted perfectly into Lord's aspect ratio for an effective planing hull and looked remarkably similar to the prototypes Lord had towed across Pearl Harbor some thirty odd years earlier.

Just how much of the inspiration for the Boogie was divine, and how much was drawn from Morey’s knowledge of Bob Simmons' surfboard innovations and Lindsay Lord’s planing hull research is the question. Given the evidence laid out above, it’s strongly debatable that we may need to expand the pantheon of those we pay homage to when we honour those who have influenced the development of the humble bodyboard.

In no way is this meant to detract from Morey’s legacy as the instigator of the craft we all love.

However, it seems that there is fairly compelling evidence to suggest that the idea for the Morey Boogie wasn’t just a stroke of genius inspiration on Tom’s behalf, but rather the novel application of knowledge aquired from the innovations and research of both Bob Simmons and Lindsay Lord.

Perhaps there is scope to move beyond the Morey-as-messiah narrative and instead embrace a Holy Trinity that also acknowledges both Simmons and Lord as significant contributors to the knowledge and design features that ultimately helped give birth to the bodyboard.


Postscript: In the 2010s, Dan Thomson released the Vanguard and the Vader, two surfboard models that lent on the parallel rail and wide tail concept of Bob Simmons - albeit in a short, modern package. Tomo even called them 'modern planing hulls' teaming up with Simmons acolytes such as Richard Kenvin bringing renewed attention to Simmons work.

Designed to be ridden much shorter than a standard shortboard, Tomo introduced various bottom contours - mainly channels within a concave - to compensate for the reduced rail line.

Shortly afterwards, the influence spread with those other modern planing hulls - bodyboards - also incorporating similar bottom contours.


OldGroveller's picture
OldGroveller's picture
OldGroveller Friday, 24 May 2024 at 1:21pm

Great article Dan, good insight into the birth of the Boogie. I remember my sister being gifted one from the fat bloke in the red suit in the early eighties. Although my preferred modus operandi was on a board, I had some fun times on the Boogie; particularly on close out sets and sucky little shore breaks.
The Boogie also came in handy for jettisoning my young kids along the beach in about three inches of water.

Sprout's picture
Sprout's picture
Sprout Friday, 24 May 2024 at 1:56pm

Love these beug articles Dan, great stuff.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Friday, 24 May 2024 at 2:05pm

Oi Sprout!

Go to our homepage and look at it. Top of the list on Articles and top of the list on Fast News.

Two boog stories.

Take it in, saviour it.

Sprout's picture
Sprout's picture
Sprout Friday, 24 May 2024 at 2:37pm

Stu my friend, love it; swelltide, ripnet? I still get on the lid occasionally for bigger days at outer ledges, but definitely not in the same realm as the absolute head-case chargers a lot of them are, like Nick!

rooftop's picture
rooftop's picture
rooftop Friday, 24 May 2024 at 2:16pm

I just zoomed in on the ad and noticed it came as a DIY kit you had to assemble yourself. BYP glue and brushes.

Probably old news to every lid rider, but why was that - why not ship it assembled?

Yendor's picture
Yendor's picture
Yendor Saturday, 25 May 2024 at 9:19am

Hi Dan,
Great read, even if some of these ideas were sub conscious cross pollination Tom's ideas didn't spring up out of a vacuum.
In the post script I'd contest that the effective rail lines of Tomo's boards aren't actually shorter due to the more parallel plan shape. This is a key idea in the design. I think the bottom contours are a separate kettle of fish and certainly an area that he's pushed in terms of design.

wally's picture
wally's picture
wally Saturday, 25 May 2024 at 10:16am

There could be no connection, but the classic Hodgman converse surf mat has a similar shape and size to the boogie board. They reached peak popularity in the 1960s. George Greenough has ridden Hodgmans regularly since the 1960s.

The first inflatable mats were the Surf-o-planes invented in Australia in the 1930s. In my mind, there has always been a through line from surf-o-plane to surf mat to boogie board.

Though, as Dan suggests, Tom Morey was quite likely aware of the ideas of Simmons and Lord.

dandob's picture
dandob's picture
dandob Saturday, 25 May 2024 at 12:22pm

Could be similar to like in evolutionary biology where certain designs suit certain niches and so spring up independent of each other but are incredibly similar. Think a deers head and a kangaroos head.

yvdreh's picture
yvdreh's picture
yvdreh Sunday, 26 May 2024 at 9:25am

Definitely a case of convergent evolution. Many different paths to the same outcome.

Great observation.

bbbird's picture
bbbird's picture
bbbird Saturday, 25 May 2024 at 10:54am

Thanks for composing these guys stories of practical application of creativity & research.

What amazes me from the links you provided is that we still use their ideas now;
Bob Simmons developed fins, concaves & fibreglass sandwich surfboard construction in 1948;
was hit by a car at 17, fractured & had a fused elbow ; needing a lighter weight board for paddling.

Tom Morey developed the first fin box, composite fin & even a cardboard surfboard!
They were constantly improvising & developing designs; inspirational...

PCS PeterPan's picture
PCS PeterPan's picture
PCS PeterPan Saturday, 25 May 2024 at 6:13pm

Rad article Dan . As you state , it is difficult to pin down the steps that lead to design progression . Bob McTavish stated to me the whole 'proprietory' thing didn't exist when he was starting out on pushing ahead with new designs . He reckoned everyone was happy to copy , adjust and test new ideas . That was the 60's though .
With regards to sandwich foam construction , my mate was an associate of Bruce Myers (Myers Manx fame). Bruce alluded to the arguable fact that he and his buddies in Cali started making crude versions of longboards out of poly u foam and polyester res straight after WWII (early 1946) because he discovered the construction when on a warship . The Liferings were made using this construction .
Sorry to go down this tangent but it may be a topic worthy of discussion .
Another mate Peter Berry was offered the first and only license to import Morey Boogie kits back in the day . He was too busy designing and producing his Mountain Dew kneeboards and didn't think punters would be interested in the new design . What a mistake that turned out to be.

yvdreh's picture
yvdreh's picture
yvdreh Sunday, 26 May 2024 at 9:27am

Fantastic article.

There was a bloke floating around on reddit recently how had a weird looking Morey blank in exceptional condition.

It's a shame there isn't more work being done to preserve the history of the lid. It seems that without an exceptional professional body a sport becomes doomed to be relegated across all aspects of society.

radiationrules's picture
radiationrules's picture
radiationrules Wednesday, 29 May 2024 at 10:28am

excellent article thanks for the insights; the revolution is an evolution...