Eight Bells: Hobie Alter

Designer of the Hobie Cat sailboat, Hobart "Hobie" Alter, died March 29, 2014.

Hobie memorial

Hobart “Hobie” Alter, who started out shaping surfboards, and ended up shaping a culture, died peacefully at his Palm Desert home on March 29 surrounded by his family. Born on October 31, 1933 in Ontario, California, he was 80 at the time of his passing.

The son of a second-generation orange farmer, Hobie flourished spending time at his family’s Laguna Beach summer home. And it was here in the family’s garage back in 1950 where he began his somewhat accidental career by combining his two loves, wood shop and water, crafting handmade 9 foot balsawood surfboards for his friends. Business was good, and his father had grown tired of the sawdust, so in 1954 Hobie would open the area’s first surf shop in Dana Point. But as demand continued to grow, balsawood was becoming scarce, and even with Hobie’s creative assembly line, the wooden board building process was cumbersome. Through a top-secret trial and error process, and along with friend and employee Gordon “Grubby” Clark, Hobie pioneered the development of the foam surfboard. With the lighter and more responsive boards, and his gift for design and commitment to quality, Hobie quickly became the number one surfboard brand in the world. The list of legendary surfers and shapers that worked or rode for Hobie is a virtual Hall of Fame and his success is widely considered the launching point for California’s iconic surf industry. Hobie himself was a top surfing competitor.

In the late 1960's having achieved success with surfing, Hobie turned his attention to another of his water-based passions. And after much on-the-water R&D, he unveiled his namesake "Hobie Cat" catamaran. This fun, lightweight and affordable craft is credited with bringing high-performance sailing from the yacht club to the masses. "The Cat that Can Fly" could be launched off any beach and soon became one of the world's top selling sailboats. A few of his other inventions include creating the "Hobie Hawk" a high-performance remote controlled glider (another of his lifetime passions). He also designed the successful Hobie Super Surfer skateboard, sculpted 33-foot monohull sailboat, pioneered a "Float Cat" for fly-fishing and built the Katie Sue (named for his mother Katie and his wife Susan), a 60-foot power catamaran from scratch.

Hobie received the Waterman Achievement award from the Surfing Industry Manufacturers Association in 1993, was inducted into the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame in 1997 and admitted as an inaugural member of the National Sailing Hall of Fame in 2011 alongside Dennis Connor and Ted Turner.