HOBIE ALTERIndustry Pioneer and Innovator
Hobart "Hobie" Alter was the founder of the Hobie company, a world-renowned manufacturer that produced surfboards, the Hobie Cat catamaran sailboat line, and, of course, skateboards. During the 1960s and 1970s the Hobie brand became one of the biggest names in skating. The company avidly promoted the sport and sponsored some of the most famous and innovative riders of the day.
Born and raised in Ontario, California, Hobie Alter made his name in surfing before he turned to skateboarding. Alter’s early encounters with surfing came by way of his family's vacation house at Laguna Beach. During the summer of 1950, the Southern California teenager began making 9-foot balsawood surfboards for himself and his friends. Soon enough, Hobie’s so-called hobby became a business. By 1954, at the age of 21, Hobie opened up his first surf shop at Dana Point. The Hobie store was landmark, as it was also reportedly the first surf shop to open its doors in Southern California. In 1958, after numerous experiments with foam and glass construction, Hobie made a breakthrough and brought the first foam & glass surfboards to market. The release of the Hollywood movie Gidget
in 1959 helped popularize surfing and created a new demand for surfboards. Hobie benefited from this and his company's surfboard business took off.
The release of Gidget
also coincided with the manufacture of the first known commercial skateboards. The Skee-Skate was produced in 1959 and other mass-produced skateboards soon followed. These first commercial skateboards, much like the common homemade boards of the day, used steel roller skate wheels and were difficult to maneuver.
In 1962, Hobie set out to improve on what were then only toys, and teamed up with Mark Richards at the Val Surf surf shop in the San Fernando Valley to design and produce a professional line of attractive high-performance skateboards. Each company put their own name on the boards, manufactured by a wood furniture company in nearby Los Angeles. In 1964, Hobie partnered with the Vita-Pakt juice company and created the Hobie Skateboards brand and the Hobie Super Surfer skateboard team. Members included Woody Woodward, the Hilton Brothers, Danny Schaefer, Danny Bearer, Wendy Bearer, and George Trafton. Another team member, Patti McGee
, became Hobie’s first and only professional skater of the era, bringing the brand even more attention.
The 1970s not only produced new technology that would shape the future of skateboarding, but new riders who would bring innovation to the forefront. The Hobie Skateboard Team of the 1970s was composed of some of the greatest riders of the day. Mike Weed and Skitch Hitchcock broke ground when they appeared in the first skateboarding feature film Spinn'in Wheels
in 1975. Other team members included Gregg Weaver, Kim Cespedes, Garrison Hitchcock, Bob Skoldberg, Ed Nadalin, Steve Shipp, Dale Smith, and John "Woody" Woodstock from the East Coast. Later Hobie members included legends such as Eddie "El Gato" Elgueria, Darrell Miller, Kevin Moore, Curt Kimball, Steve Evans, and Charlie Ransom.
By the early 1980s, skateboarding began yet another decline. The Hobie brand and its team faded away quietly into the background as new manufacturers and riders began to move into the limelight. Nonetheless, in two short decades, Hobie Alter gave skateboarding the boost it needed and helped lay the foundation for the future. This is underscored by the fact that most skaters from the 1960s can only remember one brand—Hobie—and quite often this was also their very first skateboard.— Craig Snyder