Friday, October 03, 2008

Hobie Cat's 40th

[ From: Homegrown Hobie Cat Marks its 40th Year By COURTENAY NEARBURG ]

It's been 40 years since Hobie Alter, Sr. launched his first beach catamaran, the Hobie 14, off the coast of Capistrano Beach in the summer of 1968...

Alter had already made a significant name for himself by 1968 as an innovative surfboard shaper and designer in Southern California. He began in the early '50s building balsawood boards in the garage of his family's summer home in Laguna Beach. Alter paired up with Gordon Clark, later of Clark Foam, to develop foam filled fiberglass surfboards in 1958, an innovation that would make the Hobie brand famous.

"I was already two weeks behind the day I opened the doors," Alter said of his surf shop on Pacific Coast Highway, a space his father bought for him for $1,500 in 1954 after his surfboard manufacturing operation outgrew the garage and spilled out onto his Oak Street lawn.

Alter had no formal training or education as an engineer, but design came as naturally to him as ocean sports. During a visit to Waikiki, he rode on legendary surfer Woody Brown's custom 40-foot beach catamaran, the Manu Kai. Alter returned to California and began looking at catamarans for himself. Alter bought boats but was not satisfied with their performance overall.

"We had to come in and be better than what was there and not be copying them," Alter said of his predecessors and competitors. He does not describe himself as an "inventor" so much as a "designer" who takes an idea and makes it better. "It's evolution, I guess."

Just as Alter was playing with catamarans, Art Hendrickson introduced himself at the surf shop in 1967, asking Alter what else he could do besides make surfboards. Hendrickson provided the capital for the ensuing nine months of experimentation that led to the first regatta of Hobie 14 prototype catamarans on the Fourth of July, 1968, when Alter and his friends raced against each other.

"I think the catamaran sailing world generally agrees that Hobie Alter's innovations have been the most defining (in terms of) impact on recreational and racing circles within catamarans," Scott Miller, a member of U.S. Sailing's multi-hull council, said by email. "There were other good competitors but Hobie was far and away the leader. The Hobie 16 is still in production after 40 years and is still (probably) the most raced catamaran in the world."

"We are the Kleenex of catamarans," Hobie Cat marketing director Dan Mangus said. "Our brand has crossed over that line. We're still a leader in the industry."

The Hobie Cat Company, based in San Juan Capistrano, operates three manufacturing plants that produce catamarans, kayaks, boating and kayaking accessories. Alter sold Hobie Cat in 1976 to the Coleman company, popular makers of camping equipment and accessories. The company has been owned by a private investing group for the past 15 years, according to Mangus.

"I was sitting around this table with a bunch of guys who didn't get their feet wetter than when they took a shower," Alter said of his decision to sell to Coleman in 1976. "I didn't really like running the business. I liked building things."

Alter licensed his brand freely throughout the '70s and '80s, but would revoke his license if he felt the new operators were not adhering to the quality and reputation of Hobie products. According to Hobie Sports president and son-in-law Mark Christy, Alter is "absolutely manic about his products being the best or at least close to it."

... These days, the senior Alter divides his time between a home on Orcas Island in Washington, where a custom-built 60-foot catamaran is moored, and Palm Desert, where he bought a home four years ago with his wife, Susan...

Homegrown Hobie Cat Marks its 40th Year With a Race | | Laguna Beach Independent

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