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Surf legend Hobie Alter greeted hundreds in December at the Surfing Heritage and Cultural Center to celebrate a book on his life. Photo by Jim Shilander
Surf legend Hobie Alter greeted hundreds in December at the Surfing Heritage and Cultural Center to celebrate a book on his life. Photo by Jim Shilander

By Andrea Swayne

Hobart “Hobie” Alter, pioneer of the modern surfboard, proprietor of Southern California’s first surfboard shop and Hobie Cat inventor, passed away Saturday at his Palm Desert home surrounded by family and friends. He was 80.

Although the official statement posted on the Hobie company website did not list a cause of death, friends confirmed that Alter was diagnosed with cancer approximately five years ago and had been battling a host of health challenges ever since.

As chronicled in the recently released biography, Hobie: Master of Water, Wind and Waves, by Paul Holmes, Alter’s revolutionizing of the surfing and sailing industries began when he started shaping balsa wood surfboards in his family’s Laguna Beach garage in 1950. After his father had enough of the sawdust mess, Alter opened his Dana Point shop in 1954.

It was in that shop where, along with friend and employee Gordon “Grubby” Clark, Alter developed a polyurethane foam that, when covered with a fiberglass shell, led to lighter, more high performance surfboards as well as streamlining production and lowering costs.

Later, a love of sailing led Alter to apply his foam and fiberglass recipe toward a lighter and more affordable sailing catamaran, the Hobie Cat, which according to the Hobie website, remains the world’s best-selling catamaran.

Throughout his career, Alter’s ideas and inventions continually shaped and advanced the surf industry. The invention of removable surfboard fins and his company’s early involvement in surf apparel led the Hobie brand to its place among the most successful surf industry brands of all time.

One of Alter’s last public appearances was in December, at a celebration of Holmes’ biography at the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center in San Clemente. Other icons of the surf industry, as well as a slew of family, friends and fans were in attendance to reminisce about the long and storied life of the legend.

Details regarding services have yet to be announced, however the official statement confirms there will be a memorial paddle out in front of the Alter family’s Oak Street home in Laguna Beach. The time and date will be announced.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to one of the following:

Sport of Kings Foundation, in Memory of Hobie Alter—PO Box 2499, Capistrano Beach, CA 92624

Surfing Heritage Culture Center, Hobie Alter Scholarship Fund—

Orcas Island Community Foundation: Deer Harbor Volunteer Fire Department, in Memory of Hobie Alter—

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