Surfing Innovator Hobie Alter Passes Away At 80By: Val Powell - March 31, 2014
The world of watersports lost a great man on Saturday.
Hobart “Hobie” Alter, the man responsible for turning surfing and sailing into popular water activities passed away in his home in Palm Desert, California. He was 80 years old.
Alter is best known for making a lightweight and high-performance sailboat, which he named “Hobie Cat”, as well as the mass production of foam core surfboards. California surfer and creator of Surfer’s Journal Steve Pezman dubbed Alter’s work as “the Henry Ford of the surfboard industry” for the superb quality of his polyurethane foam surfboards.
It was in the early 1950s that the self-taught innovator began making surfboards in the garage of his family’s home in Laguna Beach. In 1954, Alter opened up his own surfboard shop in Dana Point, the second surfboard store in existence at the time, next to Dale Velzy’s store in South Bay. Together with Alter’s friend, Gordon “Grubby’ Clark, he developed the concept of using polyurethane foam in creating surfboards because they offered better flexibility and price compared to wooden surfboards.
Four years later, Alter’s operation focused on the full-time production of foam core surfboards. The shift from balsa to foam core construction was painstakingly difficult, and took more than a year for Alter and Clark to perfect. By the end of the 1960s, Alter’s surfboard business had grown so successful that he was able to open another shop in Honolulu. Shortly after launching the shop in Hawaii, Alter also began selling his goods in shops on the East Coast. In 1964, he was able to establish his own line of skateboards called “Hobie Skateboards”.
Another significant contribution that Alter made started in the late 1960s when he launched the development of the “Hobie Cat” – a fiberglass catamaran that was lightweight and easy to transport. The following years marked a newfound love for sailing among people who would not typically think of purchasing big and pricey sailboats. The 16-foot catamaran was affordable, capable of being launched at the beach, and can be sailed by one person.
In an interview with Alter that took place in 1977, he said that making surfboards allowed him to earn a living by making things that gave him “pleasure” and it also enabled him to do exactly what he has always wanted to do.
The Hobie Story
Image via YouTube