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Hobie Alter: The Surfer Who Shaped an Industry and Culture
Hobie Alter’s contributions to the surfing industry and culture have earned him the honor of having a memorial erected within Dana Point. A fitting location for the Hobie Memorial, Dana Point is the home of the first Hobie Surfboard shop, which opened on PCH in 1954, where Surfer Magazine was created, where Bruce Brown produced The Endless Summer, and many more, all of which was the catalyst for the surfing industry’s launch into the mainstream of society.
A HOBIE RECOLLECTION
By Steve Pezman
A few years before he passed, early in the affliction that would take him, I visited Hobie at his and wife Susan’s Palm Desert home overlooking a golf course fairway.
I was there to record him telling the story of his life. He enjoyed storytelling and in relaxed fashion, we spoke for a couple of hours.
Although knowing of the upcoming physical ravages of his disease, he interrupted our session to show me a recent device he had created to perfect his golf swing. As with many of his inventions, he first recognized a need, then figured out the solution; as usual to help his own game. Of course, actually making one would frequently require various jigs and quite a bit of set-up expense, way more than practical for a one-of item. So, son, Jeff was licensing that concept to a golf equipment manufacturer to produce and market, basically so Hobie could have one to use.
That was the mode in which Hobie, the inventor, ended up. He figured out a toy or tool that he wanted to have for himself; be it a balsa surfboard, a launch-off-the-beach in front of his house sail-cat, or an RC Glider he could fly off the cliffs overlooking Dana Point, and one by one, they all turned into businesses run by someone else. When the Hobie name became so well known it was sought after for an American Express TV ad, Jeff licensed it too.
Towards the end of our interview, fiddling with a facsimile of his golf swing apparatus, he told me that now he just comes up with ideas that don’t exist that would be helpful or fun, and figures out what they look like, how they work, and how to make them. Then, if the whole deal turns out good (as most all do) he hands them off to son Jeff to market with the proviso that he gets the first one off the line. Naturally, all the gismos are named after him.
After our session, before I left, he wanted to show me something in the garage that he’d been playing around with (remember, this is the late 90’s). As we entered through the rear door I glanced around and noticed what looked like a model helicopter, about the size of a small football, lying on his work bench. He picked up a RC controller and suddenly the copter was rising off the bench and circling him, then me, then around the entire garage. As it was buzzing around our heads, Hobie explained that when he flew he liked to put his brain in the cockpit. Suddenly, while standing next to him, I realized he was not standing next to me; he was in it at that very moment.
BEACH ROAD IN THE 1950’S
By Pam O’Neill
Robbie Roberson is my nephew and we grew up around Hobie’s little shop in Dana Point. Hobie was about 10 years older than me, and my nephews were like stair steps, a little younger, starting with Johnny, Gene, Robbie, and Mike, and then my brother Pat. We ran around in a tribe “ruling Coast Highway” in the 50’s there in Dana Point, begging Hobie for scraps of his surfboard wood. Kind of annoyed but, “always kind,” he would give us the scraps and off we would go. We would carve little boats to float in the ocean on Beach Road, and trying to float in the ocean, or catch a wave when we scored a big piece of surfboard wood. Who would’ve ever guessed that Robbie Roberson at 17 years old would start working for Hobie; beginning Robbie’s love of building boats for Hobie and others, and his lifelong love of the sea. Thank you Hobie, for the “time of our lives!!!” Always in our hearts.
Here is a column I did on Hobie and family that was published in the Orange County Register. I hope you like it.
HOBIE DYNASTY, THE NEXT GENERATION
By Corky Carroll
As most of you know the legendary Hobie Alter passed away last year. It was a huge loss to all of us in the surfing community the world over, but especially in the south Orange County area. During the formative years of the modern surfing era there was almost nobody in the San Clemente to Laguna Beach area, who had anything to do with building surfboards, that didn’t work for Hobie at one time or another. He was the leading surfboard builder in the world. This eventually led to the Hobie Catamaran line, Hobie apparel, Hobie Model Gliders and Hobie Sunglasses. Not to mention the Hobie retail stores and Hobie dealerships all around the country. The dude was the king of the surfing industry.
Pretty much my entire professional surfing career was spent riding Hobie Surfboards, working in the Hobie shop in Dana Point and running the Hobie Surf Team. During that time I became lifetime friends with not only Hobie himself but also his entire family. I used to take Hobie Jr. surfing at Cottons Point and skiing at Snow Valley when he was like 10 years old. The one thing that really sticks out to all of us who worked for the Hobie brand, and I am sure all ten zillion of the other ones will agree, was the tremendous amount of pure stoke that was prevalent in all aspects of everything that was Hobie. He treated us all very well and was as straightforward and honest as anybody I have ever met. Nobody ever had a bad thing to say about him because there just wasn’t any bad stuff, he was a great guy and we all loved him.
Hobie Alter Jr., and his younger brother Jeff grew up eating, breathing and learning from the Hobie Empire. Many years ago Hobie himself pretty much left the running of things to them and spent most of the last part of his life following things that interested him and that he loved to do. He made incredible sailboats, got deep into fly-fishing in Idaho and spent most of the time in the Pacific Northwest. At one time the rumor is that he owned more that 50% of the town of McCall, Idaho and there was a call to change the name of the town to Hobie, Idaho. He always had a knack for turning having fun into a way to make a living, something that I have always respected and tried to immulate. He was much better at it though as his success in life is record of fact. I am more of a “starving artist.” The dude had the right idea on how to life. I always said if I couldn’t be me I would want to be Jimmy Buffet. But it would have been pretty cool to be Hobie too.
Hobie Jr. and Jeff Alter have been running the Hobie brand for a long time now and have kept the stoke alive and well. Hobie surfboards, Hobie Sunglasses and Hobie Stand Up Paddleboards and Paddles are considered top of the line worldwide. They are still headquartered in San Juan Capistrano not far from the old Hobie Surfboard factory that I spent so much of my youth hanging out. When you go to the Hobie building you see happy and stoked people. Many look like they just got out of the water and probably most of them have, weather they look like it or not. Nothing has changed. These are water people.
I recently stopped by to pick up my new Hobie SUP. I had to pay the traditional team rider price of a six-pack, Miller Lite of course. Forever that has been the deal. When I was in the warehouse I swear I could feel the presence of the Patterson Brothers, Bosco Burns, Jim Gilloon, Phil Edwards, Mickey Munoz, Terry Martin, Ralph Parker, Butch Van Artsdalen and all the other Hobie alumni. Many of these dudes are still alive. Most of all I could feel the good vibe that is and always has been everything Hobie. The dynasty lives on.
Hobie Cat R&D, Late 70’s / Early 80’s
By Robbie Roberson
We were building the first Hobie 33’s in the R&D Mold Shop, and myself and Phil Edwards had recently quit smoking cigarettes. We were trying to get Hobie to quit also, as it was pretty scary working around the chemicals and having Hobie smoking all the time.
One day it really came to a head and we all yelled at Hobie to not smoke, as the whole place might blow up. Well, Hobie got pissed off and called us all over to the acetone rinse tank. He then took the lit cigarette he was smoking and threw it in the dirty acetone bucket.
Needless to say, we all freaked out and scrambled away, fearing an explosion. Hobie just laughed and yelled out that it was ok; that it needed a spark to ignite the dirty acetone.
…Hobie quit smoking cigarettes shortly thereafter.
By Mike Hynson
“I was shaping for Hobie up in Dana Point when he opened a shop on Grand in Pacific Beach. He hired Chuck Hasley to manage things and I had a shaping room built in the back for custom orders. One day Billy Caster, Skip Frye, and I ganged up on Chuck and asked him if he had any ideas about getting into the Malibu Surf Challenge. First thing we needed, he said, was to become legitimate, part of an organization with bylaws and memberships. So he made some calls about a club he remembered from back in the forties and early fifties in La Jolla called the WindanSea Surfriders who teamed up with the crew from the San Onofre Surf Club. He found out that they were technically still a club, but because they hadn’t really been together for years they gave us permission to use their status and their name.
We started game planning and went to Hobie. “If we can come up with a club, will you sponsor us?”
“You’re on,” he said. No questions asked, Hobie offered to lease a bus and a driver to take us to Malibu if we got it together in time for the contest.
After voting in a board; Chuck as President, I was VP, and Caster was Secretary, we started recruiting everyone we knew who surfed. Man, it was rapid fire. Everybody we asked, nobody even hesitated. We swore them in right on the spot. Over beer and in between pool shots at the Glad Hand Bar on Girard in La Jolla, Chuck announced the bus ride to the Malibu Challenge to the crew, “It’s official. The WindanSea Surf Club is looking for members to surf in our first contest up in Malibu. Basically, anyone who goes is in the club.”
Everyone knew San Diego beaches were loaded with juice and that our surfers were the best of the best. Everybody except the surf clubs up north, that is. They had such big egos, especially Long Beach. In their minds nobody came close to their level. This was just the secret weapon we would need for our first competition. Can you spell ambush?
Within minutes we signed up Bobby, Raymond and Ronald Patterson, Wayne Land and Al Nelson. Then early the next morning I picked off Diff, Tiny Brain, Snow Man, and Butch Van Artsdalen, who worked at the Hobie factory in Dana Point. Butch spread the word up in Orange County and Joey Cabell, Mickey Munoz, and Dave Willingham jumped on the bandwagon.
Forty-eight hours later we recruited thirty members, including artist Butch Cornelius, who came up with the WindanSea logo and, thanks to Hobie we got a verbal okay to enter the contest as the newest surf club in San Diego County.”
– Excerpt from “Mike Hynson – Transcendental Memories of a Surf Rebel“
A HOBIE RECOLLECTION
By Tom Morey
I owned Hobie surfboard #4 circa 1951, was early love interest rival of his for years (Sharon Orr, then later Sharon Rhiemers who became Sharon Alter).
Along the way I absorbed, to a great extent from his example, his life style. In time, after creating the boogie and processes which made possible soft surfboards, he expressed appreciation for my work and we became friends.
I want you to know that Hobie is not dead per se. He is a celestial being and FREQUENTS my dreams. He is an archetype. Like Zues or Venus. Will never die, appears in dreams and lives on.
Or, are his occurrences in dreams just the workings of an overactive imagination? Are any of us any more than strongly developed imaginings?
– Tom Morey
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