Hobart "Hobie" Alter was born and raised in Ontario, but he will forever be known for what came out of his mind and hands from his summers at the family home in Laguna Beach, where his tinkering in the garage led to a balsawood surfboard and later, in his first surf shop in Dana Point, a foam-and-fiberglass board that revolutionized the industry.
Alter, who also created skateboards, catamarans, kayaks, remote-controlled gliders and more, died Saturday at his Palm Desert home surrounded by his family. He was 80.
No cause of death has been released, but Alter had long struggled with cancer.
Hobie.com and the recently published biography Hobie: Master of Water, Wind and Waves will tell you the career for the son of a second-generation orange farmer was something of an accidental combining his two loves, wood shop and water.
In 1950, he crafted handmade 9-foot balsawood surfboards for his friends, and business was so brisk it created too much sawdust for the old man, so he opened the area's first surf shop in Dana Point in 1954.
With balsawood becoming scarce and the process to make them arduous, he and his friend and employee Gordon "Grubby" Clark (of Clark Foam fame) developed what would be known as the foam surfboard through trial and error. Lighter, more responsive and cheaper than other boards, it quickly rose to become the top brand in the world. Among those who surfed for the Hobie Team were Joey Cabell, Phil Edwards, Corky Carroll, Gary Propper, Peter Pan, Mickey Munoz, Joyce Hoffman and Yancy Spencer.
Alter, who was called the "Henry Ford of surfing," went on to take the sport of sailing away from the yacht clubs and bring it to the masses with his Hobie Cat catamarans. He also invented the Hobie Hawk high-performance remote controlled glider, the Hobie Super Surfer skateboard, the Float Cat for fly-fishing and more.
"His kindness, sage counsel and generosity literally transformed countless lives," reads his memorial tribute on Hobie.com. "But as he was quick to say, 'A lot of people helped me along the way, I'm just trying to return the favor.'"
He once said he wanted to make a living without having to wear hard-soled shoes or work east of Pacific Coast Highway. But he did like to play away from the surf breaks. He spent his golden years on golf courses near his home in Palm Desert, the lakes and ski slopes of McCall, Idaho, and the channels near another home in Orcas Island, Washington.
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, notes Hobie.com.
He is survived by his wife Susan, 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 husband Dylan, Brittany, Scotty, Cody, Ashlyn, Tyler, Noelle and Justin and great-granddaughter Serena.
Details of memorial services are pending, which will include a paddle out in front of the family's Oak Street home in Laguna Beach, where it all began. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that you consider a donation to either:
* Sport of Kings Foundation – in Memory of Hobie Alter, P.O. Box 2499, Capistrano Beach, CA 92624 (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).