SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — Hobart “Hobie” Alter, who started out shaping surfboards and ended up shaping a culture, has died. He was 80.
Alter died March 29 surrounded by his family at his Palm Desert home. A cause of death was not disclosed.
Born Oct. 31, 1933 in Ontario, Calif., Alter , the son of a second-generation orange farmer, enjoyed spending time at his family’s Laguna Beach summer home. It was here in the family’s garage in 1950 where Alter began his career by combining his two loves of woodshop and water when he crafted handmade 9-foot balsawood surfboards for his friends
By 1954 Hobie would open the area’s first surf shop in Dana Point. But as demand continued to grow, balsawood was becoming scarce, leading Alter to demonstrate his extraordinary gift for “outside the box” engineering.
Through a trial and error process, Alter along with friend and employee Gordon “Grubby” Clark, Alter pioneered the development of the foam surfboard. With the lighter and more responsive boards, and his gift for design and commitment to uncompromising 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 great success with surfing, Alter turned his attention to another of his water-based passion and unveiled his namesake “Hobie Cat” catamaran. The lightweight and affordable craft is credited with bringing high-performance sailing from the yacht club to the masses, according to the company.
“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. He also designed the Hobie Super Surfer skateboard, sculpted a revolutionary 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), an awe-inspiring 60-foot power catamaran from scratch.
A humble man of incomparable character, he made it clear that the one thing of which he was most proud, was his family. His sister recently recalled that their father taught Hobie early on to always tell the truth, no matter the consequence, and that any deal worth doing could be done with a handshake. It was a lesson that Alter incorporated into every aspect of his personal and professional life and one that he passed on to his own children as well as those that interacted with him in his various enterprises.
Always the first to do whatever was necessary to help those in need. Yet he never wanted any accolades or recognition. His kindness, sage counsel and generosity transformed countless lives. But as he was quick to say, “A lot of people helped me along the way; I’m just trying to return the favor”.
In discussing the future with friends as a young man Alter declared that he wanted to make a living without having to wear hard-soled shoes or work east of California’s Pacific Coast Highway. By “Making people a toy and giving them a game to play with it” he was able to realize this dream. And in the process, he introduced an active outdoor lifestyle and collection of products that made the world just a bit more fun.
A recently published biography on the surfboard legend, “Hobie: Master of Water, Wind and Waves” reveals the story of the Renaissance man. Alter 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.
Alter is survived by his wife Susan, by his sisters Carolyn and Lillian, his daughter Paula and her partner Ian, son Hobie Jr. and his wife Stephanie, son Jeff and his wife Laurie, grandchildren Cortnie and her husband Dylan, Brittany, Scotty, Cody, Ashlyn, Tyler, Noelle and Justin, great-granddaughter Serena, and many close friends that were always made to feel like they were immediate family.
Details of memorial services are pending, and in keeping with the tradition of the Waterman, there will also be a surfer’s paddle out in front of the family’s Oak Street home in Laguna Beach, where it all began. Date/time to be determined at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that you consider a donation to either:
Sport of Kings Foundation – in Memory of Hobie Alter sportofkingsfoundation.org
Surfing Heritage Culture Center – Hobie Alter Scholarship Fund surfingheritage.org
Orcas Island Community Foundation – Deer Harbor Volunteer Fire Department– in Memory of Hobie Alter oicf.us