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Hobie Alter On CNN / Fortune


  • Hobie Alter On CNN / Fortune

    Hobie Alter, the father of the modern beach cat is highlighted in this recent article by
    CNN/Fortunes Magazine's Dinah Eng. Here is an excerpt:

    Foam and fiberglass. If you're not a surfer, that combination means little to you. But if you like to ride the waves, you can thank Hobie Alter, the man who combined those two materials. That breakthrough made boards 20 pounds lighter and easier to use, as well as simpler to manufacture. It helped transform board-making from expensive balsa and fiberglass projects that you shaped and sanded in your garage into an economical, mass-production process in the 1950s.

    His Hobie Surfboards became top sellers and helped launch a multibillion-dollar industry. In later years Alter also designed a radio-controlled glider, the Hobie Hawk, and helped make multi-hull sailing affordable and easier with the popular Hobie Cat. He passed the company to his sons two decades ago. (The company declined to discuss its revenues.) Today, at 80, he still gets out on the Pacific -- but these days it's on a motorized catamaran rather than a surfboard. His story:

    My grandparents and my dad were orange growers in Ontario, Calif. My mother's father liked the beach, so he bought some property in Laguna. As soon as school got out, we would go straight to Laguna Beach, which was a perfect location for surfing. So I grew up bodysurfing and belly-board surfing.

    Back in the 1940s surfing existed in Hawaii, but people didn't know much about it in California. When I was 14, my father couldn't find a surfboard, so he bought me a paddleboard that I'd use at low tide. A year later I met a guy named Walter Hoffman, who was one of the best riders on the Pacific Coast at the time. He told me where to buy the balsa wood and fiberglass, and my dad thought that was pretty neat. So my dad paid $45 for the materials, and I started building surfboards.
    All the boards back then were homemade. The first surfboard I made came out really good, and pretty soon people started wanting me to build boards for them. I'd take orders, and could build three to four a week in my folks' garage. I'd make about $20 profit on each board, and I built boards every summer through college.

    MORE: The rise of the Tweezerman
    Eventually it was too messy to be building all those boards in the garage, so my dad said, "You need a shop. Try to go into the surfboard business." I had built 80 boards in four years, and he was impressed that I'd done that with no advertising. He thought if I got a place out on the highway and people saw the shop, I'd do even better. So when I finished junior college, I knew I'd go into the surfboard business.
    There wasn't a surfboard industry when I started. In 1953 my dad and I went to Dana Point, where property was cheap, and found a lot off the Pacific Coast Highway. Dad got a guy to build the shop with a showroom, and I paid $1,500 for the lot and $15,000 for the building and tooling with my savings.
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