From the following article by David Schmidt, Sail-World editor USA
Honoring and remembering Hobie Alter
The sailing world lost one of its greatest visionaries this weekend when Hobie Alter passed away at his home. He was 80 years old. Impressively, Alter influenced virtually every aspects of sailing, from beach-cat racing to the America’s Cup, and is credited as being the father of the modern fiberglass sailing catamaran. Additionally, Alter helped crack the code on creating regatta experiences that were fun for all participants, not just those lucky souls standing on the podium.
Unlike many of his sailing peers, however, Alter first found his path to the ocean through his childhood love of surfing. This love became a loose 'career plan' that fused his woodworking skills with his passion for surfing, and-eventually-boatbuilding. In 1950, at age 18, Hobie designed and built his first balsa wood-and-fiberglass surfboard in his family’s Laguna Beach garage. The boards performed well, and soon he was selling them to friends. By 1954, however, his parents had grown weary of hardened-epoxy bits peppering their lawn, so his father helped him open Hobie Surfboards, Southern California’s first surf shop, in nearby Dana Point.
The business was a success and demand for his boards grew as surfing became increasingly popular. But by 1958 balsa wood was becoming scarce. The company’s first serious breakthrough came when Hobie and his buddy Gordon 'Grubby' Clark developed the world’s first foam surfboard blanks, which they crafted into foam-cored fiberglass surfboards. Lighter, faster and more agile, these boards revolutionized surfing. Soon, Hobie Surfboards was producing 250 boards per week, all handmade in Dana Point.
Other successes followed, including the introduction of modern skateboards, a skateboarding team and an apparel line, but the real genius—and the product with which Hobie’s name would become forever synonymous—was yet to happen.
In the mid 1960’s, Hobie became interested in freestyle sailing that could be done right off the beach. After investigating different multi-hull designs, including sailing Woody 'Spider' Brown’s Manu Kai, Hobie started building fiberglass prototypes in 1967 with his buddy and fellow surfer-cum-sailor, Phil Edwards. His testing methods were simple: take it out in 30+ knots, sail it hard and see what breaks. Refine/Fix/Innovate. Repeat.
The result was the Hobie 14, the world’s first fiberglass catamaran. Virtually overnight, high-speed sailing became accessible to everyone thanks to this brilliantly simple, infinitely transportable design. To build community and promote boats, Hobie immediately started organizing regattas large and small, beginning with a July 4, 1968 race off of Dana Point, California. These now-infamous affairs, which grew to include regional and national events, as well as world championships, emphasized fun, not formality. A newly minted Hobie 14 class association and its monthly publication, The Hobie Hotline, kept sailors connected and a new lifestyle based on sailing, friends and good times emerged.
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