Eight Bells: Hobart “Hobie” Alter

Hobart “Hobie” Alter, the creator of both the Hobie catamaran line and an entire sailing subculture, passed away peacefully at his Palm Desert home on March 29.
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Hobart “Hobie” Alter, the creator of both the Hobie catamaran line and an entire sailing subculture, passed away peacefully at his Palm Desert home on March 29.
 Alter (inset); the Hobie 16

Alter (inset); the Hobie 16

Hobart “Hobie” Alter, the creator of both the Hobie catamaran line and an entire sailing subculture, passed away peacefully at his Palm Desert, CA, home on March 29.

 Alter in his early surfboard days

Alter in his early surfboard days

Born in 1933 in California, Alter came to know and love the Southern California beach culture in its early days, thanks to the time he spent at his family’s Laguna Beach summer home. It was here in the family’s garage in 1950 that he began his somewhat accidental career by combining his two loves, wood shop and water, and crafting handmade 9-foot balsawood surfboards for his friends.

As time went by, the business flourished—and his father grew increasingly tired of all the sawdust—so in 1954 Alter opened the area’s first surf shop in Dana Point.

As demand grew and balsawood became scarce, he and his friend Gordon “Grubby” Clark then pioneered the development of the foam surfboard, which proved lighter and more responsive than anything that had come before it. After that, Hobie quickly became the leading surfboard brand in the world, and in the years that followed, the list of legendary surfers that worked or rode for Hobie comprised a virtual hall of fame. Throughout this time Alter also remained active as a top surfing competitor.

 The Hobie Mirage Adventure under sail

The Hobie Mirage Adventure under sail

In the late 1960’s, Alter turned his attention to another of his water-based passions—sailing—and after much on-the-water R&D unveiled his namesake “Hobie Cat” catamaran—a fun, lightweight and affordable craft that is credited with bringing high-performance sailing to the masses.

 The MirageDrive

The MirageDrive

The “cat that can fly” could be launched off any beach and soon became one of the world’s top-selling sailboats. After that came the Hobie 16, a boat that remains in production and is actively raced to this day. An impressive 901 Hobie 16 sailors from two-dozen different countries took part in the recent Hobie 16 World Championships in Jervis Bay, Australia.

Other cutting-edge innovations bearing the Hobie Alter stamp include the “Hobie Hawk,” a high-performance remote-controlled glider (another of Alter’s many lifetime passions); the hugely successful Hobie Super Surfer skateboard; the lightning fast Hobie 33 monohull; and the revolutionary pedal-operated MirageDrive which is at the heart of Hobie’s Mirage line of inflatable and rotomolded expedition kayaks, many of which include sailing rigs.

Hobie Cat has also remained at the forefront of beach cat development, with boats ranging from the family-oriented, rotomolded Bravo and Wave to the super-fast Wild Cat which competes in the ultra-competitive Formula 18 class.

As a young man, Hobie declared that he wanted to make a living without ever 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 introduced an active outdoor lifestyle and collection of products that made the world just a bit more fun.

Alter is survived by his wife, Susan; his sisters, Carolyn and Lillian; his daughter, Paula, and her partner, Ian; his son Hobie Jr. and his wife, Stephanie; his 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.

 A Hobie Wild Cat making knots

A Hobie Wild Cat making knots

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.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that you consider a donation to either:

Sport of Kings Foundation – in Memory of Hobie Alter

PO Box 2499 Capistrano Beach, CA 92624


Surfing Heritage Culture Center – Hobie Alter Scholarship Fund


Orcas Island Community Foundation – Deer Harbor Volunteer Fire Department– in Memory of Hobie Alter


All images courtesy of Hobie



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