HOBART ‘HOBIE’ ALTER – Sadly we report the passing of Hobie Alter – Above and below is just a little history of this sailing and surfing legend from sources that list most of his design and product accomplishments – but not all as they’re to many to list.
Hobie made products for kids and adults that gave them a passion for the water and the outdoors. Through his products he passed on this passion he had to millions of others who became avid sailors, surfers, fisherman and even aviators.
The video above is just a little history of National Sailing Hall of Famer Hobie Alter (Class of 2011) and the iconic boats he created from his company, which began when he started building surfboards as a teenager. He will truly be missed.
Have a Hobie Day
Hobie was born on October 31, 1933. He passed away on March 29,2014. He is a founding pioneer in the surfboard shaping industry, creator of the Hobie Cat, and founder of the Hobie company. A successful surf entrepreneur, Hobie Alter is widely remembered as the man behind the development of the foam-and-fiberglass surfboard. His label, Hobie, remains one of the top-selling surfboard brands of all time. He is also the creator of the Hobie 33 ultralight-displacement sailboat and a mass-produced radio-controlled glider, the Hobie Hawk.
During summer vacation 1950 “Hobie” hit on an idea to bring together his two loves, woodshop and water. He asked his dad to pull the Desoto out of the family’s Laguna Beach, California garage, and the history of surfing was about to enter a new era.
Hobie began by building 9-foot balsawood sufboards for his friends. Hobie’s hobby had become a business and his dream of never owning hard-soled shoes or having to work east of California’s Pacific Coast Highway was becoming a reality. A couple of years and 40 tons of sawdust later, Hobie opened up Southern California’s first surf shop in Dana Point, California. Then in 1958 Hobie and his buddy Gordon “Grubby” Clark (as in Clark Foam) began experiments making surfboards out of foam and fiberglass. The new boards were lighter, faster and more responsive than wooden ones. Several famous surfers surfed for the Hobie Team, including Joey Cabell, Phil Edwards, Corky Carroll, Gary Propper, Peter Pan, Mickey Munoz, Joyce Hoffman and Yancy Spencer.
Hobie was born and raised in Ontario, California, but his family had a summerhouse in Laguna Beach, where Alter got into the full array of ocean sports. Initiated into surfing by Walter Hoffman, he started shaping balsa boards in the early ’50s. When the family’s front yard became cluttered with the remnants of surfboard production, his father moved him off the property by buying him a lot on Pacific Coast Highway in nearby Dana Point for $1,500. That was 1953. In February 1954, with the first stage of the shop completed, Hobie Surfboards opened its doors after a total investment of $12,000. “People laughed at me for setting up a surf shop,” Hobie remembers. “They said that once I’d sold a surfboard to each of the 250 surfers on the coast, I’d be out of business. But the orders just kept coming.
Alter hired other board-builders, including Phil Edwards and Reynolds Yater. With the introduction of foam-and-fiberglass technology, Alter brought Joe Quigg over from Hawaii to help keep up with demand. Then came the high-volume production shapers like Ralph Parker and Terry Martin, guys who have shaped hundreds of thousands of surfboards over the years. Other Hobie shapers included Dewey Weber, Mickey Munoz, Corky Carroll, Don Hansen. Bruce Jones and the Patterson brothers.
After experimenting with foam for a couple of years, Hobie made a breakthrough in 1958, finally achieving the right skin hardness for shapeability with the right core density for strength. He decided to set up a separate foam-blowing operation in nearby Laguna Canyon and recruited one of his glassers, Gordon “Grubby” Clark, to make polyurethane surfboard blanks. Almost immediately, Gidget was released, and surfing (and the demand for surfboards) boomed. “If that movie had come out in the balsa era,” says Alter, “no one could have supplied them.”
The new foam boards were called Speedo Sponges and Flexi-Fliers, and Hobie was soon manufacturing 250 a week. Clark eventually took over the foam operation, renaming it Clark Foam, and he’s serviced the lion’s share of the world’s surfboard blank market ever since.
Alter was a surfing competitor in his younger days. He won the second Brooks Street contest in Laguna in 1954 and placed third and fourth at the Makaha International Surfing Championships in 1958 and 1959. He achieved success as a tandem surfer, placing second in the event at Makaha in 1962. Alter added to his personal notoriety by making the Guinness Book of World Records in 1964, surfing the wake of a motorboat 26 miles from Long Beach to Catalina Island.
After sailing on the Woody Brown’s Manu Kai, Alter patented the idea. Brown did not contest this, just as he had refused to contest Tom Blake’s claiming of his invention of the surfboard skeg. Alter’s subsequent Hobie Cat became the nucleus of a very successful worldwide catamaran business.
Alter sold Hobie Cat to Coleman in 1976, and his sons Hobie Jr. and Jeff carry on the family tradition, operating Hobie Designs and overseeing the company’s licensing operations. Today, Alter divided his time between the mountains of Idaho (where he skied in the winter) and an island in the Pacific Northwest, where he anchored a 60-foot, foam-core, twin-diesel power catamaran he designed and built himself.
Alter began making skateboards in 1962 and by 1964 he teamed up with the Vita Pakt juice company to create Hobie Skateboards. Alter went on to sponsor the Hobie Super Surfer skateboard team.
From the Hobie Class Association
Hobart Alter was originally from Capristano Beach, Southern California. In 1950, a restless californian high school student brought together his two loves-water and wood shop. His Dad backed the DeSoto out of the family’s Laguna Beach, California garage, and a young Hobie Alter (nee “Hobart”) started building surfboards.
Hobie began by building beautiful 9-foot balsawood icons for his friends. They worked well! Hobie’s hobby had become a business and his dream of never owning hard-soled shoes or having to work east of California’s Pacific Coast Highway was becoming a reality.
A couple of years and 40 tons of sawdust later, Hobie opened up Southern California’s first surf shop in Dana Point, California. Then in 1958 Hobie and his buddy Gordon “Grubby” Clark (as in Clark Foam) began experiments making surfboards out of foam and fiberglass. The new boards were lighter, faster and more responsive than anything else in the water.
Demand skyrocketed, production cranked up, and everyone wanted to be on a Hobie surfboard. In the 1960′s, while the Beach Boys were making records, the legendary Hobie Surf Team was setting them. Hobie’s lineup virtually comprises the surfing hall of fame; Joey Cabell, Phil Edwards, Corky Carroll, Gary Propper, Peter Pan, Mickey Munoz, Joyce Hoffman and Yancy Spencer among many, many others.
In 1967, it all started as if in a dream with a drawing in the sand at a beach party – Hobie Alter, Wayne Schafer, Sandy Banks and the number one surfer in the early 60′s, Phil Edwards. Hobie Alter then made that dream a reality with the design of the Hobie Cat 14. Hobie wanted to make a boat that you could easily launch into the surf from the beach, sail, and bring back through the surf. And it was this 14-foot fiberglass single-handed catamaran with asymmetrical hulls that single-handedly changed the course of sailing.
Hobie and his friends started out a small series production in California. Shortly after production started in 1968, a full feature spread appeared in Life Magazine: “The Cat that Flies”. The publicity that this generated caused the instantaneous popularity of this baby beachcat.
Somewhere around this time the Hobie 10, 12 and 3.5 were designed, but did not remain in production long.
In 1969 Hobie released the Hobie 16 – a two person 16-foot version of the hobie 14, which he called appropriately, the Hobie Cat 16. The boat was an immediate success, and lent considerable impetus to the Hobie movement. The Hobie 16 became the most well known catamaran, and is still very popular. The Hobie 16 can be found today in most countries of the world, and is an official ISAF full international class.
As of 1971, he boats were manufactured by Coast Catamaran Corporation in Irvine, California, at this time they went public. In January of 1976, the Coleman Company, world renowned manufacturer of camping and outdoor products, agreed to purchase Coast Catamaran Corporation and this is when production took off. In 1979 Coleman moved production to Oceanside, California where Hobie Cat is still based today. Tony Wilson purchased Coast Catamaran from Coleman in January 1989, changing the name back to the Hobie Cat Company.
The Hobie 18 in 1976, Hobie 17 in 1985, Hobie 21 in 1987, Hobie 18SX in 1989, Hobie 17 Sport in 1990, Hobie 20 in 1991, Hobie 21 Sport Cruiser in 1992, Hobie Wave in 1994, Hobie TriFoiler in 1995, a long gap in production, then the Hobie Getaway in 2000.
Today, Hobie Cats are manufactured in 5 corners of the globe:
- Hobie Cat USA - Oceanside, California (for north America and the Carribean);
- Hobie Cat Brasil (for the South American market);
- Hobie Cat Europe - Toulon, France (for the European market);
- Hobie Cat Australasia - Australia (covering Australia and Asia);
- Hobie Cat South Africa - Montague Gardens, Milnerton, South Africa
At one point manufacturing was done in Japan, however not anymore. Hobie Cat USA has recently (end of 2001) taken over operations in Australia.
Other Hobie innovations have followed over the years:
R/C gliders like the Hobie Hawk – a mass produced radio-operated glider airplane with a wingspan of 99 inches.
In 1964, Hobie Alter teamed up with the Vita Pakt Juice Company to create Hobie Skateboards and accessories.
In 1984 Hobie Alter introduced the Hobie Skiff. This powerboat was able to hold up to a 50 hp engine, was self-bailing and had great capacity.
Also 1984, the Holder 14 monohull was introduced, it was updated and re-released in 1986 as the Hobie One-14.
60′ ocean shredding power cats, float cats, Alpha Sailboards and then Hobie apparel and sunglasses were additional innovations.
The Hobie 33, a monohull, was another venture of Hobie Alter. 187 Hobie 33′s were built between 1982 and 1986 and can be found throughout North America. Hobie 33 North American Class Association. Yours truly, webmistress, sails on Rhumb Punch, a Hobie 33 in Toronto, Canada.
Hobie Sr. was residing in Idaho, where the family is busy with Hobie Apparel with sons Hobie Alter Junior and Jeff Alter. I am sure Hobie Alter Sr. is proud as can be of his three children, for they are all outstanding sailors… the tradition continues.
An Interview by CNN/Money of Hobie Alter Jan 16 2014
Foam and fiberglass. If you’re not a surfer, that combination means little to you. But if you like to ride the waves, you can thank Hobie Alter, the man who combined those two materials. That breakthrough made boards 20 pounds lighter and easier to use, as well as simpler to manufacture. It helped transform board-making from expensive balsa and fiberglass projects that you shaped and sanded in your garage into an economical, mass-production process in the 1950s.