Tom Morey the creator
The first thing I noticed as I pulled up to Tom Morey’s place on the beach, was that he was waiting for me on the bench out front. The man is 83 years old, yet gave me the impression that at a moments notice if I were to have come up the street hooting and hollering about the waves being big and glassy, the man would have lept up the stairs three at a time to grab his surfboard (or perhaps boogie board) and surf trunks. He had the look about him that can only be earned through dedication, experience, and most importantly fun. It was as unmistakable and evident as if it were a beach towel draped around his shoulders. From the well-preserved hair you only get from a healthy dose of sun and salt water pushed back loosely, down to the heavily tanned bare feet and distinct surf attire local to the San Clemente tribe of watermen, I knew. I knew that although he may not make it to the water as much these days, he was still surfing in vivid detail in his mind daily. Tom has always been a daydreamer and thank god for that. The sea to many of us is this personal relationship with Mother Ocean that raised us with the fundamentals of courage, determination, perseverance, humbleness, and patience. Those that spend a great deal of time in the water talk of the rewards given to you when these are in alignment…whether that might be waves, fish, or health. During my day with Tom, faith and lifestyle coalesced into all facets of our subject matter. Tom has echoed to me many times that in his day the surfboards easily weighed 30 pounds and leashes were a thing of the future, so ultimately the ideal ride was an easy stylistic glide across the wave and to the shoreline with the board still in hand. Not much has changed today other than the fact that countless millions now know what that feels like around the world and have become addicted to it. Enter Tom Morey. The man found a way to allow practically anyone to be able to feel perhaps one of the purest experiences we collectively have..riding a wave. Regardless of your comfortability in the water and overall experience surfing, any John or Jane can put on some fins and grab a boogie board allowing them to catch a few to the beach. It matters not if you grew up in Kansas and for one glorious week a summer the family made their way to the coast or if T-Street was your backyard, stoke was handed out equally for all.
“How ya doin’, kid? Good?” I smiled and shook his hand, fired up about our reunion. I mentioned that I had stopped over at Billy’s (a San Clemente staple for nearly 30 years near the pier) for some homemade sandwiches and would set up some lunch for us. As I sat down at his kitchen table soaking in views of all of Capistrano Beach and Dana Point Harbor, I asked him what he wished to relay to the community that hadn’t already been conveyed. Much of what was recorded over a four hour period I feel could only be adequately told through a documentary, but I believe it boils down to this: for a sport that was supposedly started by rebels, dropouts, beach bums, and lost boys, Surfing has had an incalculable impact on the world that has uplifted all with its rising tide. I suggested to Tom that you could liken that to the story of south Orange County and all who settled here just a few generations ago. What was mostly orange groves, working ranches, and wipe open rolling hills, has become arguably the most sought- after culture, economy, and land in the western hemisphere due to the same kind of spirit and character that “built” surfing.
I figured this was as good a segue into why he chose to call San Clemente home as any. He added, ” The best times of my life were living in a VW camper traveling around with my wife, Marchia. I lived in Hawaii for ten years and Puerto Rico for about 4 months. I lived there around 1966 and lived off of the land..spearfishing mostly for food. Puerto Rico was terrific…in comparison to Hawaii, I’ll take Puerto Rico like that (snaps fingers). Good enough waves and the culture was great. We have a place in Cabo but it’s too hot. San Clemente has the best year-round weather of anywhere and you’ve got the Trader Joe’s and Costco and doctor’s offices all nearby. We’ve been here nearly 20 years.” I pressed on about the local surf scene and asked about when it all began. It was of paramount importance to him that two things were accomplished in this discussion. Tom wanted the proper credit to be given to the right people and equally as important was to point out that most of it happened in our backyard. There are so much heritage and culture to be proud of in our little beach towns. There are simply too many stories and contributions from this engineer, theorist, inventor, world-class surfer, professional musician, and pioneer to cover in a condensed article.
Tom has always been devout and ardent about giving consent and life to the stream of consciousness and inspiration he tapped into as a youth. That said, this is undoubtedly due to him taking the road less traveled at every pass. To seek attention or recognition for anything he has actualized, would betray the arrangement, or be it unspoken agreement he has made with whatever the man has tapped into. Tom Morey has invented the boogie board, foam surfboards now prominent today as well, created the very first surf contest, rode for the first surf teams and placing top in the first surf contests, and countless other contributions. Here is the crux of it all….he prefers to let it all lie in the past and in peace. “All those guys are gone and those stories with it. It’s been covered. I cannot keep up with all that I would like to work on now, new innovations in water and flight. Let me know if you can help.” I suggested that we do a continuing series covering the here and now. His eyes lit up briefly like so many kids around the world have done when they are handed their first boogie board. He made it clear he just wanted the seeds planted and watered and what came of it in the coming seasons was his gift to the masses. “I think we’re done for now….see ya round, kid,” he said to me as he stood up from the table, giving me a quick pat on the shoulder and looking out towards the sun setting behind the harbor. It seemed as though all the talk about his adventures had stirred up some special memories as witnessed by the subtle grin that momentarily showed itself on the way to his deck. As I strolled over to my car in heavy thought and renewed stoke, I remembered I had some surf trunks in the back seat. A moment of hesitation and then I grabbed them and ran down to the water’s edge and jumped in. It seemed fitting.