With additional reporting from Alex Dalenberg.
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- It took 10 long years for Mike Railey to build a better mousetrap. But in these distracted digital days, nobody seems to care.
"There were times I was just so down," Railey tells me, "I had no idea what to do."
It would be easy to dismiss Railey, a lifelong surfer and former mortgage broker, as just another tinkerer with too much time his hands. He has none of the geek credentials common among today's tech entrepreneurs. He didn't get his start in a Silicon Valley garage. He didn't go to Harvard. He can't code software.
"I'm just a normal person. I didn't know what I was doing," Railey says. "I had a secret laboratory in the basement and I'd stay there until all hours of the night, until I got it to work."What Railey has gotten to work is something real -- and really extraordinary -- called WaveJet. It's essentially a powered surfboard that any mortal can use to putter out to a breaking wave. With the energy the surfer saves plus the oomph in the board, that wave becomes much easier to ride. Having spent a lifetime bobbing around in one watercraft or another, I can assure you the WaveJet is not merely just a motorized surfboard; it's a battery-powered, remote-controlled modular aquatic propulsion pod that can be dropped not just into surfboards, but also into kayaks, life rafts or, really, anything that floats. Think of it as a smartphone for the sea. And with its 45-minute continuous run time, 7 mph speed and idiotproof remote control, the WaveJet can transform the way people use the ocean just like ski lifts transformed the way folks use mountains. But if Railey's experience is any indication, his dream raises dangerous questions about the true cost of our grand digital delusion. We may have not only wasted trillions chasing after a doomed virtual economy, but then doubled our losses by not investing in the real businesses we should have in the first place. Real-world innovation, real-world struggles
Railey's long ride in oblivion is a sobering example of what happens when the lure of the virtual overcomes the reality of the practical. An early morning San Diego surfer dude, Railey handled more than a hundred loans per week for SoCal homebuyers at the dawn at the millennium. And like many longboarders, he dreamed of a ride that would ride itself.