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Surfing and sailing pioneer Hobie Alter passes away

Hobie Alter, known initially as one of the pioneers of modern surfboards, passed away at his home on Saturday, March 29th. Alter was also instrumental in bringing large group acceptance of fun sailing and sail racing.

Hobie 16, one of the iconic sailboats from Hobie Alter
Hobie 16, one of the iconic sailboats from Hobie Alter
B Coetzee

Alter was a shaper and surfboard designer in the late 1950’s, working to bring innovative designs to an ever-growing popular sport. Like most shapers, his early work was on balsa wood designs. However, as it became more difficult to obtain quality balsa, Alter and his friend Gordon Clark began experimenting with foam-cored boards. These, as before, were covered with fiberglass. However, the foam boards were considerably lighter than the balsa boards, and allowed almost anyone desiring to try surfing to become successful.

At the height of his board making Alter was producing from his Hobie Surfboards factory in Dana Point, California up to 250 boards per week. With the lighter and more maneuverable foam boards surfing became popular across the nation.

Soon after his success with the increasingly popular surfing craze, Alter started looking at sailing as a recreational activity for the masses. After several tries and sailing on a variety of sail boats, Alter created on of the most popular boats of the early 60’s, the Hobie 14 catamaran.

Light, easy to sail, beach launchable by a single sailor, the Hobie 14 was an immediate success. Along with the creation of the Hobie 14, Alter also began a series of sailing events focused on fun rather than solely on wining. This fun approach drew in large crowds of catamaran sailors eager to race in a fun environment.

Not to be content with the success of the Hobie 14, Alter created a larger cat, one requiring a two man crew and capable of amazing speeds on the water in a variety of wind conditions. The 16 allowed the crew to fly out on a trapeze and maintain boat balance in very high winds.

The Hobie 16 ultimately had over 150,000 hulls produced and is considered one of the most popular sailboats ever built. Such success led to a place for the Hobie 16 in the Sailboat Hall of Fame.

Alter sold the Hobie Cat business, but the popularity of the brand continues even today. Championship regattas are held worldwide and sailors are still on the water, going fast, getting wet and having the time of their lives.