Eight Bells: Hobart "Hobie" Alter

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A young Hobie Alter taking a spin aboard his new 14-footer circa 1960

Hobie Alter began playing games in the Pacific Ocean in his teens. At 18, he started competing in surfing competitions, and in 1953 opened his first surfboard shop in Dana Point, California. He quickly developed ways to improve balsa core surfboard production, and it didn’t take him long to invent the foam-core surfboard, which revolutionized the sport by giving surfers a lighter, more agile toy to play with.

A decade or so later, Alter combined his resins and foam core experience with a newly found love of sailing to create the single-handed Hobie 14, a then cutting-edge beach catamaran that included such innovations as foam-cored hulls, kick-up rudders, a fully battened mainsail and asymmetric hulls.

The Hobie 16 remains as fast and fun today as ever

Two years later Alter built the Hobie 14’s twin-trapeze big sister, the Hobie 16, a boat that remains both in production and as competitive as ever to this day—over 900 Hobie 16 sailors from two dozen different countries recently took part in the Hobie 16 World Championships in Jervis Bay, Australia. Thanks to a production run of 135,000 Hobie 16s and counting, the boats can now be found on pretty much every beach in the world.

As important as these boats were from a design perspective, equally important was the lifestyle they created, based on Hobie’s unique idea of getting out on the water, having fun and going fast–all at a reasonable cost. Since Alter’s boats were easy to launch through the surf and also sailed well in big seas and lots of wind, he made it possible for pretty much anyone, not just “sailors,” to enjoy adventure beyond the sand.

During the recent ISAF Sailing World Cup Mallorca, when the wind was howling and the sea state almost unmanageable, my teammate, Sarah Newberry, and I would sail our Nacra 17 by our competitors yelling, “Have a Hobie day!” in tribute to the spirit of adventure Alter delivered to millions of sailors around the world.

Repeating that phrase both heightened the senses and reminded us how much we enjoy being on the water. Hobie Alter will certainly be missed, but his love of the sport will live on as we enjoy the boats he created, boats that allow every day to be a Hobie day.  

Photos courtesy of Hobie Cat Worldwide 

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