Sunday October 31, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Hobie Cat

On this Day:

In 1933, Hobart “Hobie” Alter, the American surf and sailing entrepreneur and pioneer who created the Hobie Cat, was born in Ontario, California (d. 2014).

The Hobie Cat is a small sailing catamaran manufactured by the Hobie Cat Company. Hobie’s line of products includes surfboards, sailboats, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, and pedalboards, although the Hobie Cat Company is known worldwide for its catamarans. Hobie also designed a successful monohull, the Hobie 33.

The company founder, Hobart Alter, began as a surfboard manufacturer in the late 1950s. According to another source, Alter’s focus changed in 1961 to designing an easily beached fiberglass catamaran. The impetus of this shift is attributed to a 1961 boat show in Anaheim, CA which placed Alter in a booth selling surfboards, next to Art Javes, the designer of the new (1961) AQUA CAT 12 sailboat. That sailboat featured lightweight fiberglass hulls with an aluminium tube structure supporting a trampoline style deck for seating. The AQUA CAT catamaran did well in shallow water, but relied on dagger boards to reduce slippage side wise under sail. Dagger boards were also used by the much heavier Pacific Cat from 1960. That design featured a solid fiberglass deck on a 19-foot × 8-foot boat, giving it a weight of almost 500 pounds. Following the 1961 boat show, Alter contacted Arthur “Art” Javes, designer of the AQUA CAT to tell him he was also entering the fledgling catamaran market. The first Hobie Cat is credited with being first built in 1965 and featured a structure similar to the AQUA CAT, but slightly heavier with asymmetrically-shaped hulls that did not rely on dagger boards. This design was more readily beached than the AQUA CAT or Pacific Cat.

From 1967 on, the new Hobie Cat Company went on to become the largest manufacturer of small catamarans in the world. In 1967, Alter designed the Hobie 14 Catamaran. Alter wanted to make a boat that could be easily launched into the surf. In 1969, Hobie released the Hobie 16, the most popular catamaran ever and the most competitive catamaran class in the world. Over 135,000 Hobie 16 Cats are sailing around the world. The Hobie 18 in 1976, Hobie 17 in 1985, Hobie 21 in 1987, Hobie 18SX in 1989, Hobie 17 Sport in 1990, Hobie 20 in 1991, Hobie 21 Sport Cruiser in 1992, Hobie Wave in 1994, Hobie TriFoiler in 1995, the Hobie Getaway in 2000, then the Hobie Bravo in 2001 (per WIkipedia).

Before the catamarans, for which he was most famous, Hobart Laidlaw (Hobie) Alter built world-class surfboards. A champion surfer himself, Alter began building his own boards in a garage at age 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 popularized 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 (per

First, a Story:

We had a party on our Hobie Cat the other day. It was a sail-abration!

Second, a Song:

One thing about a catamaran – you can fly the hull and experience the thrill of riding on the edge.

Here is Joseph Bennett’s tutorial on how to fly the hull in a Hobie Cat 16.

“This is the one that will change everything. If you are a catamaran sailor who hasn’t yet experimented with lifting the hull it’s a great way to improve your control of the boat as well as being great fun and looking cool!

This technique is the same if you’re single handed or two up, just balance the weight, sails and steering. The wind in this video is around 12 knots for the easy bit and then around 6 knots for the advanced section.”

Here is Joseph Bennett flying the hull on his Hobie Cat 16. I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

““Hark, now hear the sailors cry, Smell the sea, and feel the sky,
Let your soul & spirit fly, into the mystic.”  Into the Mystic – Van Morrison

Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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