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Lillian Boyd, Dana Point Times

Hobie Surfboards is celebrating 70 years since the inception of Hobie Alter’s surf board design.

As written in Hobie: Master of Water, Wind and Waves by Paul Holmes, Alter’s revolutionary changes to the surfing and sailing industries began when he started shaping balsa wood surfboards in his family’s Laguna Beach garage in 1950.

“I was just getting into surfing and some friends told me Hobie was the guy to go to for a board. I went to his garage and we struck up a 60-year friendship,” said the late Wayne Schafer, a former friend, fellow surfer and co-worker. “Every board I’ve ever had has been a Hobie.”

Hobie Alter started shaping surf boards in his father’s Laguna Beach garage. Photo: Courtesy of SHACC

Alter’s father had grown tired of the sawdust mess in 1954 and helped the young shaper open his Dana Point shop on Pacific Coast Highway. A shortage of balsa wood prompted Alter’s early experimentation into new materials and the transition to foam and fiberglass began.

Alter and his friend and co-worker Gordon “Grubby” Clark developed a polyurethane foam that, when covered with a fiberglass shell, led to lighter, more high-performance surfboards. The new method and materials also streamlined production and lowered costs.

At the time, Clark was staying at Schafer’s home on Beach Road. Recovering from back surgery, Clark was bedridden when Alter asked for his help, knowing Clark had studied math and chemistry in college.

Photo: Courtesy of SHACC

“That’s how it all started, right here in my beach house,” Schafer previously said to Dana Point Times. “Grubby had nothing to do besides lying in bed reading and looking at TV, so he agreed to help.”

Clark gave Alter a list of books to bring him from the library, and he began reading and studying the chemical properties of foam to use for surfboard blanks.

“One night I was invited to a little shop Hobie and Grubby had rented in Laguna Canyon,” Schafer said. “We went at midnight because their experiments were top secret.”

Schafer recalled how cement was poured over a surfboard form to make a mold. Steel fasteners were fabricated to Alter’s specifications at the local metal shop for use in holding the mold lids closed.

“The cement and metal were necessary because when the foam expanded it kept blowing their wooden molds apart,” Schafer said. “I remember it vividly, how I was sworn to secrecy. ‘Wayne, we can’t talk about this,’ Hobie would say.”

But as Alter began developing surfboard technology, word got out. Alter’s little shop put the Dana Point/Capistrano Beach area on the map as a surfing destination.

“Alter created an effective assembly of surf shop employees, factory works, and an adept surf team,” said Kris Carlow, Hobie Surfboards’ marketing director. “All together, Hobie would become one of the 60s’ largest surfboard manufacturers.”

Alter died in 2014 and Schaefer died last year. But the legacy lives on and Hobie Surfboard is now relishing a 70-year milestone, with a celebration originally scheduled to have occurred last summer.

The event would have kicked off with the Third Annual Hobie Festival, in collaboration with the Vintage Surfboard Collector Club. In years past, the event offered a vintage flea market, historical offerings from surfboard collectors, and live entertainment. Furthermore, later in the summer season, Hobie Surf Shops planned to host a “Talk-Story” with Surfing Heritage (SHACC) founder Dick Metz, and surfing icon Mickey Munoz.

But plans for a celebration were unable to come to fruition, in light of the coronavirus pandemic putting a halt to public gatherings.

“If ever there was a storm to weather, (2020) was the toughest one to navigate,” said Jake Schwaner, general manager for Hobie. “But because we have been positioning ourselves for years to do more with less, we did what we had to do. We have great people in place, we followed the guidelines, worked hard and smart, and our loyal customers came out in support.”

In today’s industry, Hobie Surfboards continues to honor its historic origins, Carlow adds. Hobie shaping staff, comprising Gary Larson, Michael Arenal, and Adam Davenport, builds boards by hand.

Carlow says Hobie Surfboard staff remains optimistic for the future with the surfboard industry growing, with demand being at an all-time high.

“We use a combination of modern and traditional materials to develop a new genre of surfboards; one that possesses the aesthetics of the 60s and the performance of today,” Carlow said. “We’ve never lost sight of Hobie’s first ethos of supporting the local community. Our staff and ownership is consistently on the lookout for enthusiastic surf team members and a motivated workforce.”

A previous report written by Andrea Swayne contributed to this article. 

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