Surf Legend Hobie Alter Dies

Alter was world renowned as the man behind the development of the foam-and-fiberglass surfboard.

Twitter photo of a young Hobie Alter.
Twitter photo of a young Hobie Alter.

Hobie Alter, the inventor of modern surfboards and small sailboats that defined Southern California's beach culture, has died. He was 80.

The notice was posted on his company's website, hobie.com. No cause of death was listed, but the Orange County Register said his death followed a long struggled with cancer.

Hobart Alter Jr., who came to be known as the "Henry Ford of surfing," was born in Ontario and reared in Laguna Beach.

He opened Southern California's first surf shop in Dana Point in 1954, which included a custom surfboard factory.

"People laughed at me for setting up a surf shop," Alter once told a reporter. "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."

He began crafting surfboards out of wood at his family home in Laguna Beach But working with his partner, Gordon "Grubby" Clark, he began using lightweight polyurethane foam, making the boards lighter, faster and more affordable.

Alter was also the first to develop a removable fin, making the boards easier to package and ship.

In later years, he started designing sailboats including one of  his signature designs, the Hobie Cat, which could be launched from the beach. He also created a high-performance remote controlled glider called the Hobie Hawk and several other innovative designs.

In addition to his surf and sailboat endeavors, Alter dabbled in real estate and race horses and was an avid skier, according to the Register.

Throughout Sunday, social media filled with tributes and remembrances of Alter. Surfline.com called him "one of the greatest innovators and most successful entrepreneurs in the history of surfing."     

He is survived by his wife, Susan; sisters Carolyn and Lillian; daughter, Paula; sons, Hobie Jr. and Jeff; eight grandchildren and a great- granddaughter.

Plans for a memorial service are pending, but a traditional "paddle-out" will be held in front of his family's home in Laguna Beach at a date and time to be announced later.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Alter's memory to the Sport of Kings Foundation, the Surfing Heritage Culture Center's Hobie Alter Scholarship Fund or theOrcas Island Community Foundation's Deer Harbor Volunteer Fire Department.

—City News Service


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