Alter, top, with his surf team on Waikiki Beach circa 1960. Photo courtesy of Clarence Maki Family at GrindTV.
You don't have to be a surfer (or a sailor) to connect the name Hobie with ocean sports. Hobart Alter Jr. grew up surfing and making his own wooden boards as a teenager in Laguna Beach, then become one of the Southern California pioneers of surfing and surf culture. He opened a shop in Dana Point in 1954, vowing never to work inland of of the Pacific Coast Highway, and perfected the shaping of surfboards in foam and fiberglass. He went on to create the Hobie Cat, a light sailboat that could be launched from the beach, and invented a popular skateboard and radio-controller glider. "He got so many people off the couch, surfing and sailing," surfing historian Allan Seymour says in the Orange County Register obituary. "The godfather of the surf industry," Surfline.com says.
Alter died Saturday at his home in Palm Desert at age 80, following a long battle with cancer. "People laughed at me for setting up a surf shop," Alter once recalled. "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."
Back in 1950, Hobie Alter was asked what he wanted to do with his life. Like most teenagers he didn’t know the answer, but he was adamant about one thing: whatever the job, he had to be able to do it on the ocean side of Pacific Coast Highway.....
By offering a glimmering array of boards to choose from, Hobie made the sport accessible to a rapidly growing population finding solace on Southern California’s beaches. Before long, Hobie had a squadron of the worlds’ best surfboard makers shaping under his label. And it wasn’t long before surf shops were sprouting up all along both coasts.
Another of Hobie’s massive contributions was the proliferation of the foam surfboard blank that’s still in use today. He was hardly the first to use it, but it was Hobie who pushed for perfecting the scalability of the technology to his manufacturing team, which included Gordon “Grubby” Clark, a young math and physics major who also had studied chemistry. Clark did as Hobie wished, and again, their success was fast and furious.
In 1958, Clark struck a deal with Hobie to take over the foam blank portion of the business. He would pocket tens of millions of dollars before walking away in 2005. At its peak Clark Foam was producing more than 1000 surfboard blanks per day, yet the elusive Clark always maintained that “Hobie was the driving force” of his success.
In 1964, seeing the future of “sidewalk surfing” as real, Hobie launched his Super Surfer model, one the world’s first skateboard brands. By the mid 60s, he had a skateboard team and was producing promotional films, laying the foundation for every modern brand that exist today.
Naturally, Hobie’s business exploded during the 60′s as a surfing boom swept across America. The shot over the bow was Bruce Brown’s iconic documentary film “The Endless Summer,” (which Hobie appeared in), followed by more entertainment industry spinoffs, including Gidget, The Beach Boys, and a flurry of surf-centric music acts and movie releases.
According to the Hobie Surf Shop blog, the traditional surfers memorial — a paddle out by all comers — will be scheduled in front of the family’s Oak Street home in Laguna Beach.