Hobie Alter & Grubby Clark
Hobie Alter was born October 31, 1933. He was raised in Ontario, California. His family had a summer house in Laguna Beach where he discovered the ocean was his playground. He was introduced to surfing by Walter Hoffman and began to surf at the age of 16.
In 1950, after returning from a trip to Hawaii, he began building balsa wood surfboards at his parents’ house in Laguna Canyon. By 1953 he had built 99 surfboards at his home shop there. Later that year Hobie decided to open a surfboard shop in Dana Point, California.
One day, Ken Doolittle walked into his shop and showed him a small block of foam. He said this foam was hard, dense and light, and would not dissolve if coated with polyester resin and fiberglass. Hobie began to imagine the possibilities of surfboard construction with this new foam. At the time balsa wood from South America was not only difficult to obtain, but its quality and lightness was never guaranteed.
Hobie’s endeavor in the Dana Point surf shop was quite successful. He started employing people to help shape, glass and produce surfboards, including glasser Gordon “Grubby” Clark in 1958. Gordon Clark had been to engineering school and was able to do complicated equations in chemistry. He was also able to figure out the principals of mold-building and the mixtures of this new foam.
Both Hobie and Grubby began experimenting to perfect the molds and chemicals to make a perfect surfboard blank. Others had been working to achieve a workable foam core but Hobie and Grubby were the first to make a marketable blank. These blanks were much easier to shape, cheaper to produce, had fewer flaws and were more obtainable than balsa wood. With the expansion of the popularity of surfing this source provided a more reliable supply of surfboards.
Other surfboard manufacturers saw the benefit of this polyester foam. In 1961, Gordon and Hobie decided to split their business into Hobie Surfboards and Clark Foam. Grubby Clark began producing these foam blanks for the surfing industry which signaled the end of wooden surfboard construction. From 1958 until 1970, Hobie Surfboards was one of the leading manufacturers of surfboards in the world.