Many may not realize that today’s Boogie Board was created in Kailua-Kona, at Wai‘aha, a place commonly referred to as “Honl’s” (after the name of the family that used to live there.)
Wai‘aha (“Gathering Water,”) a little strip of white sand beach, just on the outskirts of Kailua Village, is now a County Beach Park. It is a popular surf spot, especially with bodyboarders.
Tom Morey was staying in the house that once stood on the beach at Wai‘aha in July 1971 when he made the first “boogie board” prototype.
He first called the board “S.N.A.K.E.” (Side, Navel, Arm, Knee, Elbow – because all the body parts were involved in its use) – he trademarked the name Morey Boogie in 1973 and founded Morey Boogie in 1974. (He later called it a Boogie Board after his love of music.)
According to Tom Morey’s son, Sol Morey, “the first boogie board was created in 1971 in order to surf shallower breaks that couldn’t otherwise be enjoyed.”
“The surf at our Hawaii rental on the Kailua coast was where it began with the shaping and sealing of the foam to form the first boogie.”
Tom Morey was a traditional surfboard builder/shaper, but looked for inventions and innovation. In 1964, he created the first TRAF polypropylene fin (his term TRAF being FART spelled backward), innovating the first commercial interchangeable fin system. In 1965, the Skeg Works became Morey Surfboards.
In 1965, Karl Pope became his business partner and the name changed again — Morey-Pope Surfboards. They built, tested and marketed Pope’s Trisect, a three-piece surfboard that folded into a suitcase.
But he had different ideas in Kona; he used an electric carving knife and a household iron, whittled some scrap polyethylene foam into a small rectangular mat and covered it with newspaper and hit the swells in front of his home on the Big Island of Hawaii.
With it, the sport of bodyboarding started in 1971 in Hawaii. (Prior to 1971, bodyboards were made from wood or fiberglass and called paipo boards.)
According to Tom Morey, he took his last nine-foot piece of polyethylene foam (that he had planned for a conventional board) and “grabbed a knife and cut it in half.”
“There was no turning back at that point. I looked at the foam and then at the surf and began fooling around with a hot iron and an electric knife.”
“I found that I could shape the foam using the iron if I put a sheet of newspaper down on the foam first. Later that night, I drew a few curves on the foam with a red marking pen and went to bed.”
Morey rose early on July 9, 1971, and cut and ironed out his planned shape. He left his board as wide as possible and left the nose square so that it would have more structural strength and so he could hold on to it.
“I decided I’d shape the rails like those on a Hot Curl surfboard,” says Morey. “Those were the boards from the 20s and 30s; built before boards had skegs. I cut 45-degree Hot Curl rails into my board.”
“They looked great, but I still wasn’t sure how it would ride.” Morey grabbed his board, ran down to Honl’s and the sport of bodyboarding was born.
Wai‘aha is home to the annual Malama Wai‘aha (Honl’s) Roots Bodyboard contest. The contest (started in 2002) was formed to honor the birth-beach and the birthplace of modern bodyboarding (they held their 10th anniversary event on June 30.)
In 2006, the Hawai‘i County acquired the property fronting the beach and it is now part of the County beach park system. Parking for users is also mauka of Ali‘i Drive and was provided by a developer as a condition of a rezoning.
Morey Bodyboards became a division of Mattel Toys and then Wham-O. In 2005, Tom Morey earned a star on the Huntington Walk of Fame and was inducted into the Surfing Hall of Fame.
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I grew up in Kailua in the 1960’s. We made our own body/paipo boards. Those were good days….