Hobie Alter was just looking for a way to replace balsa wood in the surfboards he made for his friends when he and Gordon “Grubby” Clark developed, through “a top-secret trial and error process” a way to make a polyurethane foam core surfboard.
The core not only made it possible to create smaller and lighter boards, they helped establish a whole new lifestyle built around surfing and the beach.
“Suddenly everyone wanted to be a surfer — and every surfer wanted a Hobie,” according to a history of his surfboard company.
Alter died March 29 at his home in Palm Desert, Calif. He was 80.
In addition to developing and shaping the form core surfboard in 1958, Alter was a competitive surfer and his Hobie brand went on to sponsor upcoming generations of top surfers.
Alter also developed the “Hobie Cat” small sailboat, the “Hobie Hawk” remote-controlled glider, the “Hobie Super Surfer skateboard,” the mono-hull “Float Cat” sailboat for flyfishing and a 60-foot catamaran.
Clark, Alter’s partner in those first boards, went on to form Clark Foam of Liguna Niguel, Calif., which produced foam blanks for decades before closing in 2005.
Hobie Designs has also become a leading developer of stand-up paddleboards.
Alter is survived by his wife Susan, three children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will take place at a later time still to be announced in Laguna, Beach, Calif., with a traditional surfer’s “Paddle Out” in front of the family’s home.
An excerpt from the movie "BoardRoom" looks at how Alter and Clark developed their surfboards.