The mid-1900s alteration of modern surfboard composition -- from dense, heavy balsa wood to fiberglass encased foam cores -- incubated largely inside the imaginations of two men: Hobart "Hobie" Alter, creator of Hobie Surfboards, and Clark Foam founder Gordon "Grubby" Clark.
For the next two and a half months, the Surfing Heritage Foundation (SHF) in San Clemente, Calif., will be celebrating that seismic shift in surfing history. Its "Innovations of Hobie" exhibit is running at the museum from April 29 until July 15. And in a nod of respect to Alter's influence on surfing, Clark is a principal financial backer of the display. (Also helping is the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the philanthropic outlet of the Hilton Hotel tycoon that was established in 1944. Alter held close relationships with Hilton's sons).
Alter started making balsa wood logs in 1950; by 1958, he and Clark were working with foam. "They were experimenting with polyurethane and got it to where they could pour a respectable blank," recounted exhibit curator and SHF creative director Barry Haun. "Other people messed around with it, but it was Hobie and Clark creating a huge supply."
Soon shapers were producing lighter, faster, and more responsive boards in much less time and in greater quantities, allowing board supply to match demand. Alter eventually formed a surf team that included Phil Edwards, Corky Carroll, Mickey Munoz, and several venerable riders in the surfing pantheon. Coincidentally, the film "Gidget" was stirring a surf craze from coast to coast. Lineups ballooned as a result.
But surfing represents only a fraction of Alter's pursuits. He spent a bulk of the 1960s designing skateboards, and contributed to the launch of the sports apparel industry. "He and a couple of other brands started printing their names on T-shirts. In Hawaii, they became tourist must-haves," Haun explained. A gifted craftsmen, Alter then directed his affection for sailing into producing catamarans. Hobie Sunglasses launched in 1982, and 15 years later he introduced lines of bodyboards, snowboards and kayaks.
"Innovations" enumerates Alter's contributions to the action sports world, and is the inaugural premiere in SHF's Croul Family Foundation Gallery -- a newly added space that will allow the museum to rotate exhibits throughout the year. In addition to the amassed artifacts -- the second catamaran Alter built, along with his remote control gliders and multiple skateboard, snowboard, surfboard fin and early polarized sunglass models -- SHF erected a 400 square-foot replica of Alter's first surf shop, which opened in 1954 in Dana Point, 60 miles south of Los Angeles. And 12 of Alter's surfboards will chronologically document his career. The Smithsonian of surfing is, as Haun put it, "gathering all the pieces of the puzzle."
In late July, following the conclusion of "Innovations," SHF will usher in a photography exhibit chronicling the area of San Onofre, home to Lower Trestles, the only World Tour stop in the lower 48.