Boogie boards got their start in Carlsbad

When Tom Morey ran into Jim Faivor, an unemployed carpenter

For the last seven weeks the Morey Boogie Board Division of the Kransco manufacturing company has occupied a squarish tan building in one of Oceanside's new industrial parks, a mile or two east on the Mission Avenue exit from Interstate 5. The place looks like a typical manufacturing plant from the street, but the business inside is conducted in a somewhat unusual manner. For one thing, the clock of typewriters is all but drowned out by rock music that seems to boom out of the walls. For another, no one visible looks much over 30 years old, if that. A blond-haired woman who turns out to be the office manager strolls by in flower-print shorts, barefoot. The wicker furniture and the surfing posters on the walls all contribute to a beachy atmosphere, but then, this is as it should be, after all, the main product here is that hot-selling piece of polyethylene foam. the Morey Boogie Board.

The old Boogie Boards have a rather thick nose, while the newer ones come to a fine, beveled edge in front.

The old Boogie Boards have a rather thick nose, while the newer ones come to a fine, beveled edge in front.

"I can't give you the exact figures, but the sales curve for the last few years looks like this," says Phil Stubbs, indicating a nearly vertical line with his hand. Stubbs, who is in fact 39, is the current director of the Morey Boogie Division. He took over a few months ago when Tom Morey, designer and developer of the Boogie Board, decided that signing checks and keeping track of production schedules was undermining his effectiveness as an investor. Stubbs has been surfing since he was 11 and frequently shows up for work in sandals, shorts and a flower-print shirt. He is a solidly built five feet, ten inches, and his hair has the dry, bleached look of someone who spends a good deal of time in saltwater and sun.

Tom Morey:  "You keep working or you deteriorate."

Tom Morey: "You keep working or you deteriorate."

"Right now the Boogie is selling like the Hula Hoop did a few years ago," he continues. "But I don't think it's just a fad; it already means too much to too many people. A lot of women are getting into it, kids, even parents. You should see the letters we get. 'You got me back into the water,' they say; 'I didn't realize what I was missing.' Then, of course, you've also got the dedicated Boogie rider. He surfs the Boogie. That's right, some of the guys actually stand up on the thing. i don't know how they do it, but they do. There are contests now, championships.... The way the whole thing has taken off is incredible."

The Boogie Board, its makers claim, is a wave-riding machine par excellence. It comes in three sizes, the largest of which is 44 inches long and will support a 125-to 255-pound rider. It is bullet-shaped and curves like a bow from tail to nose, a feature Stubbs speaks of as "overall rocker" and "nose scoop." There are three patents on the Boogie, including its name and shape, but the one the manufacturer is proudest of is the Vacuum Track Rail.

"The Vacuum Track Rail enables you to to turn the board without the need of a skeg," explains Stubbs, getting up from his desk and walking over to a Boogie Board that is leaning against the wall of his office. He picks it up and fingers the side edge. "some people are skeg freaks, I guess, but you don't need a skeg with this rail. You can buy skeg kits for the Boogie now, but we don't make them.

"We do make an optional wrist leash so you can hang onto your board and avoid those long swims into the beach."

Potential buyers of the Boogies sometimes complain about its price. The Pacific Beach Surf Shop, Sears, and FedMart all offer a 44-inch Boogie at about $40, which seems high in comparison with the other lightweight surf-riding equipment available at these same places. Stubbs claims that the cost of high-quality polyethylene foam and the fact that the boards are partially shaped by hand are what keep the price up. It's true that polyethylene foam is more durable than most other plastic foams, and it's also soft and somewhat flexible. It won't chafe or irritate your skin. And in contrast to a surfboard, if you and your Boogie part company in the middle of a wave, it won't unexpectedly clip you in the head when you come up for air.

"You might say our motto here is 'soft and fun,' rather than 'hard and hurt,'" Snubbs says, in what sounds like an oft-repeated refrain. "And watch this" —he suddenly heaves the board against the wall of his office. It hits with a soft thud and rebounds without any visible damage. "Now, I don't have to tell you what that would have done to the surfboard," he says triumphantly. "You would've spent half a day patching cracks with resin and fiberglass."

The door to Stubbs's office opens suddenly a dark-haired man in his early twenties enters. As he and Stubbs confer over an invoice the door is left open, and music — Jethro Tull, Beatles — drifts in loudly from the direction of the warehouse. When he leaves and the door is closed, the music can still be heard plainly.

"It was Tom's idea to put the stereo in," Stubbs says. "He was very concerned that the people who work here should have a nice atmosphere to work in. What's that? Oh, a few of the people don't like the music, but they just wear earphones and listen to something else.

"If you had to stereotype our employees, I guess you'd call them the surfer type. But you know something?" He pauses dramatically. "I'd say 75 percent of our employees use our product. Regularly. I wonder how many manufacturers can say that."

Tom Morey's smile is almost cherubic, and his hair hangs down over his forehead in bangs. He is a creative thinker who is constantly hatching new ideas, and he talks about them in an earnest, boyish voice. It is a minor shock to find out he is 43 years old, has had two children by his first wife and three more by his second.

For more than ten years Morey has been a member of the Baha'i faith, a Moslem sect that emphasizes the unity of all peoples and nations. His attitude towards business is a curious blend of religious zeal and marketing savvy. Though he sees his inventions as a means of furthering international unity, he remains keenly aware of their salability. Paraphrasing the Baha'i scriptures, he has said, "Crafts are the repository of knowledge. These things we make contain our experience, what we know." He has also said, "People don't value a thing unless it's sold."

Morey grew up in Laguna Beach, and like a lot of kids on the California coast his main interests were music and surfing. He learned to play the drums and played professionally with several bands, but as he grew older surfing proved a stronger attraction to him. In the early 1960s he and a friend, Carl Pope, collaborated on a custom surfboard design and went into the manufacturing business in Ventura. The Morey-Pope surfboard sold fairly well among surfing connoisseurs for a few years, but designs more innovative eventually replaced it.

In 1969 Morey moved from California to Hawaii, where he lived with a girlfriend named Marchia, who soon became his second wife. They raised vegetables while Morey, in his leisurely way, worked on various inventions. It was at this time that he began to develop the Boogie Board, but the idea didn't strike him all at once or come to him in a dream. “I came across polyethylene foam in the 1960s,” he told me recently. “But it took a long time to turn it into something that could he used to ride waves. You could say I developed the Boogie the same way you’re going to develop your article about it — piece by piece, very slowly.”

The Boogie Board was first conceived of as an alternative to the inflatable rubber surf mat. "I was always depressed by the shape of a surf mat," he recalled. "I've been surfing since I was 12 years old, and I used to rent surf mats on the beach in Laguna Beach. But a surf mat is really designed to hold air, not to surf. It's a very bulky, inefficient means of riding a wave.

"Surfboards, on the other hand, are more efficient, but a lot of people get turned off to them because they're so hard. I wondered if it might not be possible to make something soft like a surf mat, but with the performance of a surfboard."

He made his first Boogie Board in his own kitchen, covering a piece of polyethylene foam with newspaper and then applying a hot iron to melt and shape it. The result wasn't very effective, but it worked. Three years later Morey had improved the design to the point where he felt he had a marketable piece of merchandise. That year, 1974, he returned to California to have the Boogie Board produced.

"At first I was just trying to sell the idea. I went around knocking on doors, but most people wouldn't even talk to me. One manufacturer said he would be able to get around to experimenting with it in a couple of years. After a while I realized that if I wanted the thing made I'd have to finance it myself." In Carlsbad that same year he ran into Jim Faivor, an unemployed carpenter in his early 50s. “Jim picked up on the idea immediately," Morey remembered. "He had tooling experience and seemed to know just how to tool the board and shape it. We worked on it in my garage — he was very fatherly towards me and gave me a lot of encouragement.”

In the beginning Morey and Faivor sold the Boogie Board through ads in surfing magazines, mail order, cash in advance. The money that came in with the first orders enabled them to buy the materials to make the boards. They continued to produce them in Morey's garage until, with sales picking up, they were able to afford a shop on Oak Street in Carlsbad. By the fall of 1976, Tom Morey and Company had nearly 30 employees and was producing approximately 100 boards a day.

About this time Morey hit upon the idea of sponsoring a Boogie Board competition as a means of promoting interest in his product. To organize it he called in Pat Serrano. As with many of the people who eventually filled key positions at Tom Morey and Company, Serrano had known Morey for years and had no formal qualifications for the job. But like others, she found his offer irresistible. The first competition was held at the foot of Oak Street in Carlsbad in February, 1977. Over the last 18 months, Boogie competitions have been held in Ventura, Huntington Beach, and Hawaii, among other places; they have all been organized by Pat Serrano, who went on to become promotions director for Tom Morey and Company. "I thought the Boogie was ugly at first," she admitted recently. "But once I tried it I realized what a great thing it was. It's my love of the Boogie that has kept me involved in all of this." The next major competition — about 100 entrants — will be held August 31 at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas.

Whether due to the competitions or to word of mouth. Boogie Board sales continued to grow. In keeping with the Baha'i scriptures, which teach the equality of the sexes, Morey hired both women and men at all levels of the company. By early 1977 Tom Morey and Company had moved to larger quarters on Roosevelt Street in Carlsbad and was turning out 400 to 800 boards per day. A broader marketing approach was put together; sales representatives on the East Coast were hired, and preliminary contacts made in Australia, France, and Japan. Then suddenly in April, 1978, Morey and Faivor sold their company to Kransco, a San Francisco-based manufacturer of polystyrene.

According to Phil Stubbs, the sale was a practical solution to fiscal problems brought about by the rapid expansion of the business. in buying Tom Morey and Company Kransco immediately made available a large amount of capital necessary for financing materials and labor costs. Stubbs also points out that Kransco had considerable experience working with water-based equipment, and probably would have become a strong competitor for the Boogie Board market in the near future anyway. Still, whatever the reason for the change, things aren't the same at Morey Boogie since Kransco took over. The plant has been moved to Roymar Road in Oceanside, and an atmosphere of suspicion has settled in. If it is a healthy, businesswise suspicion, it is suspicion nonetheless. Sales figures are no longer made public, and absolutely no visitors are allowed into the manufacturing area. "I'm not saying you're the type of person who'd be doing any corporate spying," Phil Stubbs told me frankly, "but we've got to protect our interests. We don't want to fall apart the way the skateboard industry did, with everyone making the same product and no one selling enough to get by. Besides, very few companies have worked with polyethylene foam. We think we know things about it no one else does. We've actually pioneered a lot of the processing techniques, and we want to be able to use that to our advantage. Can you imagine" — he stared out the window, tapping a pencil on his desk absentmindedly — "Can you imagine collision-proof subway trains covered with polyethylene? Car dashboards? The possibilities are endless."

Tom Morey, meanwhile, continues to research new products for Kransco. He is sensitive to claims that he "sold out" and insists that he and Jim Faivor, who now lives in Taiwan, still take an active role in the business.

"This concept of making your money and then kicking back is a bunch of shit," he emphasized. "You keep working or you deteriorate." Pausing for a moment, he continued, "It takes a chain of people for a company to be effective. I'm basically an inventor, so I serve the business best by going out and working on new projects. It cuts down my effectiveness if I have to sit around watching to make sure everyone is working."

Recently Morey visited Wisconsin and Illinois to experiment with such new items as the Morey Paddleboard and the Boat Boogie (the latter device for — you guessed it — surfing boat wakes). Traveling with his wife Marchia and their three children, he would pull his 26-foot motor home into places like Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, break out a few paddleboards and encourage people to try them out. It's a casual approach to marketing research, but with the exception of the motor home, it's the way he has always done it, and it seems to have worked so far.

"I'm also working on a universal language," he told me. "We've desperatley got to break down these barriers that exist between people, and the best way to do it is to improve our means of communication. I've worked out a series of the simplest possible marks you can make; now I just have to put them all together in a system." Then, in a typically practical vein he added, "And then I wnat to market it. It has to be available to people before they can benefit from it."

We talked about the financial gains he has recently made, and an impatient note crept into his voice. He downplayed the effect of the Boogie's success on his life. "It's not as if I've 'made it' anywhere," he insisted. "Life is a progression, and I'm in the middle of it just like you are. You keep going from level to level and when you die — that's graduation."

In the same way that surf shops in San Diego used to rent surf mats, they now rent Boogie Boards. About $3 gets you the use of one all day. While I was picking one out on a recent Sunday, the clerk pointed out that the old models have a rather thick nose, while the newer ones come to a fine, beveled edge in front. I took a newer one and headed up to the beach just north of Del Mar.

It was a sunny pleasant day, the kind of day that inspires loyal San Diegans to wonder aloud what the weather must e like in St. Louis or New York. Someone was flying a radio-controlled glider from the cliffs, and there were a lot of people standing on the beach with their faces upturned, watching it float lazily upward, dip slightly, and suddenly zoom downward with incredible speed, bank at the last minute, and soar upward again. I found an uncrowded spot and sat down.

A Boogie Board is two-toned, most often green or orange above and nearly always white underneath. This coloring makes them fairly easy to spot, and in the small stretch of ocean in front of me I counted five or six in the water at any one time. At least two-thirds of the riders were women of varying ages. After a while two teenagers strolled by who I felt certain were the type Phil Stubbs had in mind when he spoke of "dedicated boogie riders." Their blond hair was wet and swept back over their heads, and they wore wetsuits and carried their Boogie Boards tucked under their arms.

A few minutes later I strolled as casually as possible down to the water's edge with my Boogie tucked under my arm. The water was full of seaweed, and the waves, from what you could see, were small and poorly formed. It is curious how waves that look and sound perfectly okay if you are just watching them, suddenly seem "bad" or even "terrible" if you have in mind riding them on some sort of board. Nevertheless, braving the chili water and one of two vivid scenes from Jaws, I paddles out to catch a few.

To ride the Boogie you lie chest-down on it, gripping the nose of your board with both hands; when a swell picks you up, you kick your legs madly, push the nose downward, and swoop into the wave. This isn't as easy as it sounds because the board, whether due to a design weakness or simply a lack of surface friction, keeps wanting to slip out from underneath you. When at last I caught a wave, I was disappointed; the board seemed to move through the water a little sluggishly. It took three or four more rides before I realized this sluggishness was caused by me; I was trailing my legs behind me instead of keeping them high out of the water.

After that I took a closer look at my board, admiring the oval-shaped Morey Boogie insignia on the nose, and near that the legend 135 BE, meaning the board was made in the 13th year of the Baha'i Era, which is 1978. The Boogie's overall contour and the thick, angled tail make it look a little like the hull of a sailboat, and the beveled rails seem to dig readily into the water, allowing quick turns in almost any kind of surf.

I caught a few more waves, and several times it occurred to me, as I hurtled downward and bounded along through the white water, how difficult it would be to kneel on my board through all of this. Standing was inconceivable. As each wave petered out I would turn around, swim out, and try to catch another one; and once, just as I was getting back outside, a big swell came rolling in. When it picked me up I gave a few strokes, leaned hard to the right, and I had it. Skimming quickly down the face of the wave, I felt as if the eyes of the people on the beach were following me: "Look at him go!" I looked up, and for one beautiful instant I could see a smooth wall of water curling up ahead of me. Then all at once I was smacked off my board and spun over and over in the foaming water, shoved roughly into the sand, and finally, a few moments later, allowed to scramble back up to the surface, gasping for air and grinning like a fool.

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