Hobie Surfboards

Dominating boardmaking company from the late 1950s to the early '70s, founded by surfer and ocean sports industrialist Hobie Alter, and headquartered in Dana Point, California. Alter started building and selling balsa boards out of his parents' Laguna Beach garage in 1950. Three years later, his father bought him a small plot of land on Pacific Coast Highway in nearby Dana Point, a town with only two other businesses at the time. Alter designed and built a small factory/retail building, and Hobie Surfboards opened in 1954—the first commercial surfboard outlet in Orange County and the first shop of its kind built from the ground up. Stock boards originally retailed for $65.

Looking for an inexpensive and readily available replacement for balsa, Alter and surfboard laminator Gordon "Grubby" Clark spent several years experimenting with polyurethane foam, leading to Hobie Surfboards going to an all-foam policy in 1958. Clark left the company in 1961 to found Clark Foam.

In 1962, firmly established as the industry leader in a small but booming market, with newly licensed Hobie Surfboard dealerships in San Diego, Honolulu, and Peru, Alter tore down his original Dana Point building and rebuilt with larger shaping facilities and a 1,200-square-foot, 150-surfboard display area. He began to heavily promote an all-star team of surfers that included Phil Edwards, Joey Cabell, Joyce Hoffman, Gary Propper, and Corky Carroll (all of whom had signature model boards, another Hobie innovation), and expanded rapidly on the East Coast, licensing the Hobie name to nearly 20 dealers.

Bruce Brown's original live-narration Endless Summer tour was brought into the Hobie marketing process, as a van full of Hobie-backed surf stars drove the perimeter of the country, giving demonstrations during the day, with Brown screening his movie in the evenings. The company moved quickly on the mid-'60s skateboard craze, with the redwood laminate Hobie Skateboard and the juice-company-cosponsored Hobie/Vita-Pakt Skateboard Demonstration Team.

Surfboard sales continued to rise, peaking in the mid-'60s at about 6,500 boards per year. The Hobie board, Sports Illustrated said in 1966, was "the Cadillac of the surfing world." Top board craftsmen who worked for the Hobie label over the years included Edwards, Renny Yater, Mickey Muñoz, Joe Quigg, Terry Martin, Don Hansen, and the Patterson brothers, Robert, Raymond, and Ronald. Boardmaking overhead was high, though, and profits for this part of the Hobie operation were never spectacular. "I only made $50,000 the best year I ever had building surfboards," Alter later admitted.

The late-'60s shortboard revolution was a disaster for all the major boardmakers of the period, Hobie included, as they were first stuck with an inventory of obsolete longboards, then unable to keep up with careening shortboard design changes. Hobie Surfboards was still a force into the next decade, but nothing like it had been in the '60s. Alter himself meanwhile had all but left the surf industry after the 1967 introduction of his Hobie Cat catamaran, which exploded in popularity after being featured in a Life magazine article. By the mid-'70s, Hobie Surfboards—still with more than a dozen retailers—had switched its focus from surfboards to beachwear and skateboards, later adding a Hobie-brand line of sunglasses, bodyboards, snowboards, kayaks, sailboats, and wakeboards. Hobie was the second-largest producer of beachwear in America in 1987, behind Ocean Pacific, but ahead of Quiksilver and Gotcha.

The Hobie stores were bought and sold several times, with Alter retaining ownership of just the original Dana Point site.  In 2010 the company moved its Dana Point store back to Pacific Coast Highway, into a remodeled 4,400-square-foot former post office, just 100 yards up the street from the original store. Original Hobie boards, meanwhile, became highly prized collectables; a well-preserved balsa model can fetch up to $7,500 at auction.