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Friends, family and admirers paddle out at Doheny Beach to celebrate the life of the surfing and sailing legend

Hundreds paddle out at the Hobie Alter memorial, April 18 at Doheny State Beach. Photo by Tony Tribolet/xpsphoto.com
Hundreds paddle out at the Hobie Alter memorial, April 18 at Doheny State Beach. Photo by Tony Tribolet/xpsphoto.com

By Andrea Swayne

“Have a Hobie Day” is more than just the catch phrase of the proprietor of Southern California’s first surf shop, pioneer of the modern surfboard and Hobie Cat sailboat inventor. It was, and is, a motto. A way of life shaped and revolutionized by Hobart “Hobie” Alter.

For the hundreds who assembled at Doheny State Beach Friday to honor the life of Hobie, the gathering epitomized a Hobie day.

Alter died, surrounded by family, at his home in Palm Desert on March 29. He was 80.

Fulfilling his request for a traditional Hawaiian paddle-out memorial after his death, family, friends and admirers paid their respects for the man and his gifts to surfing and sailing culture.

The water ceremony began a circling of attendees and a Hawaiian prayer song. Eric Keawe officiated the Ho’okupu tribute. The ceremony included family members scattering ocean water, sand and rock salt from Hawaii, a tradition representing the purification of body, soul and life, Keawe said.

The event succeeded as a celebration of life, and of the fun brought to life by Hobie Alter.

Alter’s transformation of the surfing and sailing industries and culture began in 1950 when he started shaping balsa wood boards in his family’s garage in Laguna Beach. By 1954 his father, annoyed with the dusty mess, helped Hobie open a shop on Pacific Coast Highway in Dana Point. It was there that, working with friend and co-worker Gordon “Grubby” Clark, the modern surfboard’s transition from wood to polyurethane foam and fiberglass began.

In 1967, Hobie’s love of sailing prompted him to apply his foam and fiberglass recipe toward the creation of a lighter and more affordable sailboat—one that could be launched from the beach and piloted by a single sailor—the Hobie Cat.

Following the water ceremony, and back on land, the crowd lingered to share stories and reminisce about the man who was a loved one, friend, mentor and pioneer of fun.

The send-off included a standing row of foam surfboard blanks where people pinned photos and notes to Hobie as a visual remembrance and showing of gratitude.

Jack Culp, 10, of San Juan Capistrano writes a note for Hobie during the the April 18 Hobie Alter memorial at Doheny State Beach. Photo by Andrea Swayne
Jack Culp, 10, of San Juan Capistrano writes a note for Hobie during the the April 18 Hobie Alter memorial at Doheny State Beach. Photo by Andrea Swayne

People of all ages and varying levels of connection with the iconic innovator expressed their thoughts on paper adding to the moving display. Ten-year-old Jack Culp of San Juan Capistrano was among those who felt moved to pen a note to Hobie.

“I feel honored to be here. He has made such a difference in the surf industry and everything water related. I came here because I really wanted to honor him for that,” Culp said. “Hobie was my friend’s great uncle. I think he was really lucky to have had him in his family.”

As people mingled, admiring the large assemblage of classic Hobie surfboards, Hobie Cats and classic cars bearing the iconic brand name, many took a turn on stage, behind the mic to talk story and share fond remembrances of time spent with Alter.

Among those sharing stories were Hobie’s son Jeff Alter, Mark Johnson of Hobie SUP Boards and fellow waterman and friend Mickey Munoz.

Sheri Crummer of San Clemente also shared a story, then summed up the session with a heartfelt “thank you” to Hobie.

“I would like to thank Hobie for all the joy and all the stoke he gave everyone over the years,” Crummer said.

The indelible legacy of joy and stoke Hobie leaves in death—ingrained by his more than six decades of ingenuity and invention—will certainly live on.

Hobie Alter, rest in peace.

To view a video of the event, see below. If the video doesn’t load properly, refresh your browser.

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