Revisionist History: Did Tom Morey Really Invent the Bodyboard design?
By Dan Dobbin.
We all know the mythogy. Tom Morey, almost out of cash, struck by inspiration, cuts one of his last 9ft foam blanks in half, works some magic with the Honolulu Advertiser and a hot iron and viola’, creates the Morey boogie board.
Was it just lucky happenstance that half of a 9ft 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’s from Hawaii have been much mentioned and referenced. But in this article, where going to go dig into some slightly more obscure idea’s and influences that may have had a bearing on Morey’s thinking when he went chop chop on that foam.
So if we jump in the way back 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 Barron 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 years ago, essentially there was thirteen year window in U.S. 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 sort after becomes a limited commodity, is that its value skyrockets.
Never ones to miss an opportunity to profit by dubious means, the Mafia soon engineers a scheme to smuggle rum distilled in Cuba into the good ol’ United States. Now for this they need boats. Fast boats that could elude the Fuzz.
To help design them, they turned to a man named Lindsay Lord, who was a Navel Architect and Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who specialized 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 U.S. 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 2 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 planning hulls to create the fastest possible naval warships.
Being station 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 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.
Simmons, like many other brilliant people throughout history didn’t really fit into contemporary 1950’s American society at the time, preferring his own company and was often bristly in his relationship with others.
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 planning 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 40’s and 50’s, and basically revolutionized and laid the blueprint for most of the design innovations that 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 verbatum 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?
Our attempts to contact Tom himself for comment on the interactions he may have had with Simmond have so far proved fruitless, however, as a member of the close knit community of the California surf scene in the 50’s 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 surfertoday.com by Seamus McGoldrick, entitled ” A short biography of Tom Morey” describes how Tom Morey was considered one of the best surfers of the 1950’s, becoming one of surfing very first ” sponsored” riders and regularly surfed at Laguna beach and Malibu during the this time, as did Bob Simmons, who often referred to Malibu as his “test facility”.
Morey was also sponsored by legendary surfboard shaper Dale Velzy through Velzy and Jacobs surfboards for a time, and Velzy and Simmons were known associates.
According to legendary surfer Buzzy Trent in an article on Simmons for Legendarysurfers.com:
“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 was also experimented with many new and different surfboard innovations and materials, just like Simmons during this time period.
He was also studying Mathematics at the University of Southern California in the early 50’s, a topic that we know Simmons was also fanatical about and applied rigorously to his own surf designs.
Given the two men shared so many common interests, acquaintances and geographical 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 Windensea, 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 surfertoday.com 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 Lords 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 Lindsey Lord’s planing hull research is a question only Tom himself can answer.
Tom, if you’re out there and willing to converse, we’d love to hear from you.
Given the evidence layed 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 Lindsey 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.
Interesting further reading can be found here: