Before the catamarans, for which he most famous, Hobart Laidlaw (Hobie) Alter built world-class surfboards. A champion surfer himself, Alter began building his own boards in a garage at aged 16. He was soon selling 6,000 boards a year. Starting with balsa-constructed boards, he soon set the industry standard for surfboard design and construction, pioneering and perfecting the use of polyurethane foam – a method still in use today. It wasn’t long before Hobie had to set up a factory to meet the demand for his boards, ranked among the best boards in the world. Sale of the surfboard business funded the development of the original Hobie 14 that emerged in 1968. Hobie 14 started as a beach phenomenon limited to Southern California. But a 1970 feature in ‘LIFE’ magazine brought the Hobie Cat Company to national awareness and ultimately popularizing sailing for thousands. Not to be left out of the equation is Alter’s genius at promoting his catamarans with a new type of sailing culture. Along with friend and partner Wayne Schafer, his first employee Sandy Banks and business manager Art Hendrickson, Hobie took the new boat across the country, lining up dealers and organizing informal races. The company began to structure informal races into classes, starting a regatta department. From days spent at surfing and motorcycle meets, Alter remembered the combination of camaraderie and competition. He believed that half the fun of competing is getting together, and knew that if people raced a Hobie they’d enjoy the boat. Alter also knew that many of his potential customers lived far from yacht and sailing clubs, meaning the company had to organize its own events. But no one envisioned the enormity of the regatta scheme’s success – hotels overflowing, sponsor participation, competitors headed for world championships in far-flung locations. For more than two-thirds of Hobie owners, the catamaran was their first boat and regattas continue to fuel the enthusiasm. Coast Catamaran went public in 1971. In 1976, only eight years after the first 14-footer was launched, Hobie sold the company to Coleman Industries. Tony Wilson, a 1969 buyer of one of the original Hobie 14s, purchased the Coast Catamaran Division from Coleman in January 1989, changing the name back to its roots of the Hobie Cat Company. Throughout the Coleman era and into the Tony Wilson period of ownership, Hobie Alter retained his ties and attachment to the company that now bears his name.
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