By Lillian Boyd
Hobie Surfboards is celebrating 70 years since the inception of Hobie Alter’s surfboard design.
As written in Hobie: Master of Water, Wind and Waves by Paul Holmes, Alter’s revolutionary changes to the surfing and sailing industries began when he started shaping balsa wood surfboards in his family’s Laguna Beach garage in 1950.
“I was just getting into surfing, and some friends told me Hobie was the guy to go to for a board. I went to his garage, and we struck up a 60-year friendship,” said the late Wayne Schafer, a former friend, fellow surfer and co-worker. “Every board I’ve ever had has been a Hobie.”
Alter’s father had grown tired of the sawdust mess in 1954 and helped the budding shaper open his Dana Point shop on Pacific Coast Highway. A shortage of balsa wood prompted Alter’s early experimentation with new materials, and the transition to foam and fiberglass began.
Alter and his friend and co-worker Gordon “Grubby” Clark developed a polyurethane foam that, when covered with a fiberglass shell, led to lighter, more high-performance surfboards. The new method and materials also streamlined production and lowered costs.
At the time, Clark was staying at Schafer’s home on Beach Road. Recovering from back surgery, Clark was bedridden when Alter asked for his help, knowing Clark had studied math and chemistry in college.
“That’s how it all started, right here in my beach house,” Schafer previously told San Clemente Times. “Grubby had nothing to do besides lying in bed reading and looking at TV, so he agreed to help.”
Clark gave Alter a list of books to bring him from the library, and he began reading and studying the chemical properties of foam to use for surfboard blanks.
“One night, I was invited to a little shop Hobie and Grubby had rented in Laguna Canyon,” Schafer said. “We went at midnight, because their experiments were top-secret.”
Schafer recalled how cement was poured over a surfboard form to make a mold. Steel fasteners were fabricated to Alter’s specifications at the local metal shop for use in holding the mold lids closed.
“The cement and metal were necessary because when the foam expanded, it kept blowing their wooden molds apart,” Schafer said. “I remember it vividly, how I was sworn to secrecy. ‘Wayne, we can’t talk about this,’ Hobie would say.”
But as Alter began developing surfboard technology, word got out. Alter’s little shop put the Dana Point/Capistrano Beach area on the map as a surfing destination.
“Alter created an effective assembly of surf shop employees, factory workers, and an adept surf team,” said Kris Carlow, Hobie Surfboards’ marketing director. “All together, Hobie would become one of the ’60s’ largest surfboard manufacturers.”
The Hobie Surfboard is now celebrating a 70-year milestone, with a celebration originally scheduled to have occurred last summer.
The event would have kicked off with the third annual Hobie Festival, in collaboration with the Vintage Surfboard Collector Club. In years past, the event offered a vintage flea market, historical offerings from surfboard collectors, and live entertainment. Furthermore, later in the summer season, Hobie Surf Shops planned to host a “Talk-Story” with Surfing Heritage (SHACC) founder Dick Metz and surfing icon Mickey Munoz.
But plans for a celebration were unable to come to fruition, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic limiting public gatherings.
“If ever there was a storm to weather, (2020) was the toughest one to navigate,” said Jake Schwaner, general manager for Hobie. “But because we have been positioning ourselves for years to do more with less, we did what we had to do. We have great people in place, we followed the guidelines, worked hard and smart, and our loyal customers came out in support.”
In today’s industry, Hobie Surfboards continues to honor its historic origins, Carlow adds. Hobie shaping staff, comprising Gary Larson, Michael Arenal, and Adam Davenport, builds boards by hand.
Carlow says Hobie Surfboard staff remains optimistic for the future with the surfboard industry growing and demand being at an all-time high.
“We use a combination of modern and traditional materials to develop a new genre of surfboards—one that possesses the aesthetics of the ’60s and the performance of today,” Carlow said. “We’ve never lost sight of Hobie’s first ethos of supporting the local community. Our staff and ownership is consistently on the lookout for enthusiastic surf team members and a motivated workforce.”
Lillian Boyd is the senior editor for Picket Fence Media and city editor for Dana Point Times. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Humboldt State University. Her work experience includes interviewing incarcerated individuals in the Los Angeles County jails, an internship at the Pentagon covering U.S. Army news as well as reporting and anchoring for a local news radio station in Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @Lillianmboyd and follow Dana Point Times at @danapointtimes.