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Bodyboarding legend Mike Stewart remembers Tom Morey, the creative man behind the Boogie Board

World-renowned bodyboarder Mike Stewart in the water
Mike Stewart
Bodyboarding legend and Kona-native Mike Stewart

The Boogie Board, that rectangular-shaped foam board used to ride waves, was invented in 1971 and quickly grew into a global phenomenon.

Just like professional surfing, bodyboarding, as the sport is called today, has its own professional touring circuit with its own legends and celebrities — and crowns a champion every year.

It was the invention of the late Tom Morey. He died on Oct. 14, 2021, at age 86.

Tom Morey, inventor of the Boogie Board, is photographed on Capistrano Beach holding a newer model (left) and (right) his original 1971 Boogie Board.
Robert Lachman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images/NPR
Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Tom Morey, inventor of the Boogie Board, is photographed on Capistrano Beach holding a newer model (left) and (right) his original 1971 Boogie Board.

Morey was born in Michigan, grew up in California, and lived on the Big Island for about a decade. In 1971, Morey built the first Boogie Board out of foam and newspaper while living in Kona at what is now known as Honl’s Beach.

Earlier this month, the surfing community erected a sign there commemorating the invention of the Boogie Board. They also took part in a paddle-out ceremony in Morey’s memory.

Speaking at the ceremony, bodyboarding legend and Kona-native Mike Stewart said, "This is where it all started for Tom. And really, I think what he experienced that first session out here, on a day not too different than this, was the joy that he had in riding what he did — and that joy is universal."

"It's a feeling that we all have when we go in the water, we ride these waves. It's beyond culture. It's beyond race. It's beyond religion. And it's a universal feeling of love that I think he really wanted to share with everybody. And I think through this simple piece of foam, he's done that," Stewart said.

Stewart is a nine-time bodyboarding world champion, and probably the most decorated and recognized athlete in the sport. A long-time friend and collaborator with Morey, Mike Stewart sat down with The Conversation to talk about the man behind the board.   


Interview Highlights

On how he came to know Tom Morey as a figure of the surfing world, and later as a father figure

MIKE STEWART: He was very creative, extremely open-minded, and just a whirlwind of ideas and concepts. And my first meeting with him really kind of exemplified who he was. I could tell right away this guy was super creative. And actually, it was a big catalyst in my own inventive mind, I guess. I was kind of into the same things like, you know, just the ideas of making things better, etc. So I didn't know him that well initially. I got a job. I walked in, I knew he was in town and I was super into riding the boog. And as a result, I'm like, "Wow, this guy is the actual inventor here." So I decided, "Wow, it'd be amazing if I could try to meet this guy." It's like you get into it, and it becomes part of your being, you know, just that stoke of riding the waves. And so I sought him out, found him and asked for a job. He gave me a job cleaning up the shop initially. And then eventually I was invited upstairs where all the crazy ideas were in his research and development center. And the relationship started there — and just kind of kept growing ever since then. At the time, my father wasn't with us. And so he became almost a fatherly figure as well. So he kind of took me under his wing, and he became my hānai father. So that was pretty cool. You know, in fact, at our reception for my wife and I, they asked anyone responsible for raising Mike, please stand up — and Tom stood up. He was the first guy to stand up and I'm like, "Yeah, that's appropriate."

On the paddle-out ceremony for Tom Morey in Kona on Nov. 6 (Watch footage from the paddle-out above or click here)

It was a kind of a serendipitous scenario. There was going to be a plaque that was to be erected at Waiʻaha Park, which is Honl's break. It was a commencement for the invention of the bodyboard and Tom's contribution to surfing really. And that was going to take place regardless. And so Tom, you know, unfortunately, has passed and so we figured we'd just time it all together and ended up making just a great celebration for what he's done, his legacy. It would actually become a very beautiful day, like it was a pretty day, to begin with, and then chance would have it there was a marathon going on. So then we thought, "We're not gonna be able to access the beach." But what ended up happening is it just cut the traffic down. So when they did the chant in the morning, the prayer, it was clear, you know, there was no cars going by, it was really nice. So all these things worked out just so that it became like a real special day. A lot of people that have been really moved by the sport, you know, showed up and supported it. And, you know, I don't think Tom could have dreamed for a better send-off.

Tom Morey and his first Boogie Board made out of foam and newspaper.
Mike Stewart
Tom Morey and a Boogie Board made out of foam and newspaper.

On the impact of his relationship with Tom Morey — and with bodyboarding

He's created a lifestyle, really, you know, and a livelihood for not just myself, but many others, where their love of the sport kind of holds them into it and pulls them forward in different endeavors that they take. And so for me, I'm all in. I've been all in since I was 13, or 14, and then knowing him and growing with him — and then as the sport grew and numbers increased, sales increased, and it became actually a pretty decent little industry. And that's been sustenance for a lot of people. And me, in particular, I look back to everything that I have, it's really a result of that. And my wife, my kids, like, you know, I wouldn't have met my wife, I met her at a contest. She was a bodyboarder. And certainly something that was super significant to me was just the access it allowed to the ocean and the surfline — which has just been a life of dynamic instruction. So for me, it's been incredibly rich with experience and knowledge and a really solid connection to the world around me.

On Tom Morey's interest in flight and space in his later years

His real love and where he wanted to head was flight. Even as far back as when I was working there in the late '70s. We were working on flying crafts, the ground effect of flying craft. And so he really wanted to escape the bounds of the gravity here on Earth and just kind of wanted to get out. So that was kind of his real passion. So he was looking at different ways to accomplish that — different flying machines, etc. And that, I think, was really the things he was most passionate about in the later years. He did work on all kinds of different things like automobiles, he had some interesting ideas for automobiles, he had interesting ideas for just about everything. But I think flight and space was kind of where he wanted to end up.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Nov. 15, 2021.

Russell Subiono is the executive producer of The Conversation and host of HPR's This Is Our Hawaiʻi podcast. Born in Honolulu and raised on Hawaiʻi Island, he’s spent the last decade working in local film, television and radio. Contact him at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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