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Posted by on Apr 3, 2014 in Multihull, Racing Sailboat, Sailboat, Sailing |

Eight Bells: Hobie Cat Designer Hobie Alter

Alter was the creator of the Hobie Cat sailboat, and an innovator in surfboard design.

Hobie Alter died at home on March 29. He was 80 years old.

Alter started forming nine-foot balsa-cored surfboards for his friends in 1950, crafting them in the garage of his family’s summer home near Laguna Beach, CA. In 1954, at the age of 21, he opened Hobie Surfboard in Dana Point, CA.

A photo of Hobie Alter.

Hobie Alter, surfing and sailing revolutionary, passed away at his home March 29. Photo courtesy of Hobie.

When his business could not keep up with demand, Alter developed an assembly line production process to manufacture his boards. In 1959, he worked with noted laminator Gordon “Grubby” Clark to develop a surfboard with a polyurethane foam core. These new boards were very light and responsive, and could be manufactured in much less time than a comparable balsa-cored board. Hobie’s board quickly became a best seller during the surfing craze of the 1960s.

A photo of Hobie Alter in front of one of his early surfboards.

Hobie Alter stands in front of one of his early surfboards in this undated photo. Photo courtesy of Hobie.

Alter brought the first 14-foot Hobie Cat to market in 1968. “The Cat that Can Fly” could be launched off any beach and soon became one of the world’s top-selling sailboats. “Leaping over a breaker in the Southern California surf, this lightweight catamaran looks more like a kite on takeoff than a boat,” Life magazine wrote in 1970, adding, “His catamaran was designed to help dedicated surfers find excitement on breezy days.” Life reported that 1000 Hobie 14s had been sold for $1200 each in the first two years.

Alter's Hobie Cat sailing catamaran didn't only make sailing more accessible, it also made it fun and fast. Photo courtesy of Hobie.

Alter’s Hobie Cat sailing catamaran didn’t only make sailing more accessible, it also made it fun and fast. Photo courtesy of Hobie.

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 Conner and Ted Turner.

Alter’s death was announced on the Hobie website, where there is much more information on this sailing legend as well as suggestions for donations in his name.