Industry mourns Hobie Cat inventor

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Hobart “Hobie” Alter, surfboard and sailboat innovator, died Saturday in his Palm Desert, Calif., home. He was 80.

According to a statement, which did not list a cause of death, Alter opened the first regional surf shop in Dana Point, Calif., in 1954. With dwindling balsa wood supplies, Alter developed the first foam surfboard, a design that produced a lighter and more responsive board.

Alter then unveiled his namesake “Hobie Cat,” which is credited with bringing high-performance sailing to the masses.

“The Cat that Can Fly” could be launched off any beach and soon became one of the world’s top-selling sailboats.

Alter was diagnosed with cancer about five years ago and since then had experienced serious health problems, Paul Holmes, author of "Hobie: Master of Water, Wind and Waves," a 2013 biography, told the L.A. Times.

Other inventions of Alter include the “Hobie Hawk,” a high-performance remote controlled glider; the Hobie Super Surfer skateboard, a revolutionary 33-foot mono-hull sailboat; a “Float Cat” for fly-fishing; and the “Katie Sue” (named for his mother Katie and his wife Susan), a 60-foot power catamaran that he built from scratch.

“As the result of this serial innovation, the name Hobie has come to mean a great deal to the world,” a statement on the Hobie website said. “But it is the integrity of the person behind the name that has meant so much more to family and friends. A humble man of incomparable character, he made it clear that the one thing of which he was most proud, was his family. His sister recently recalled that their father taught Hobie early on to always tell the truth, no matter the consequence, and that any deal worth doing could be done with a handshake.”

Alter brought that lesson into every aspect of his personal and professional life.

“He was incredibly giving of his love, his time, his resources and his expertise. Always the first to do whatever was necessary to help those in need. Yet he never wanted any accolades or recognition,” the statement read. “His kindness, sage counsel and generosity literally transformed countless lives.”

But Alter was quick to say: “A lot of people helped me along the way. I’m just trying to return the favor.”

Hobie received the Waterman Achievement award from the Surfing Industry Manufacturers Association in 1993, was inducted into the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame in 1997 and admitted as an inaugural member of the National Sailing Hall of Fame in 2011 alongside Dennis Connor and Ted Turner.

Details of Memorial Services are pending and, in keeping with tradition, there will also be a surfer’s “Paddle Out” in front of the family’s Oak Street home in Laguna Beach, where it all began. Date and time are still to be determined.

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