NEW YORK — Hobart "Hobie" Alter, whose designs for foam surfboards and low-cost catamarans helped popularize surfing and sailing, has died. He was 80.

NEW YORK — Hobart "Hobie" Alter, whose designs for foam surfboards and low-cost catamarans helped popularize surfing and sailing, has died. He was 80.


He died on March 29 at his home in Palm Desert, Calif., according to a statement posted on the website of San Juan Capistrano, Calif.-based Hobie Designs Inc. No cause of death was given.


"Hobie declared that he wanted to make a living without having to wear hard-soled shoes or work east of California’s Pacific Coast Highway," the statement read. "By ‘making people a toy and giving them a game to play with it’ he was able to realize this dream. And in the process, he introduced the world to an outdoor lifestyle and a collection of products that made things just a bit more fun for all of us."


Hobart Laidlaw Alter was born on Oct. 31, 1933, in Ontario, Calif., about 35 miles (56 kilometers) east of Los Angeles. The son of a second-generation orange farmer, he spent summers in Laguna Beach, where in 1950 he began crafting 9- foot balsa wood surfboards for his friends.


In 1954, he opened the area’s first surf shop in Dana Point, further down the state’s Pacific Coast, and pioneered the development of polyurethane foam surfboards with his friend and employee Gordon "Grubby" Clark, according to a history on the company’s website. Hobie quickly became the best-selling surfboard brand in the world.


Alter then turned to his other favorite water sport, founding the Coast Catamaran Corp. and in 1968 produced an affordable fiberglass catamaran called the Hobie Cat. The 14- footer could be carried by one person, towed behind a car and launched off any beach. Life magazine called it "The Cat that Flies."


The craft, along with the larger boats that came after it, democratized sailing, allowing anyone with $999 entrance to a sport that once required membership in a yacht club, according to "Hobie: Master of Water, Wind and Waves," a 2013 biography by Paul Holmes.


By 2011, when Alter was inducted alongside Ted Turner and Dennis Conner in the National Sailing Hall of Fame, there were 14 Hobie Cat models and more than 100,000 on the water.


Alter’s success also made him a culture figurehead, with brands including Ocean Pacific and Hurley licensing his name for beach apparel. He retired in 1992.


Alter is survived by his wife, Susan; a daughter, Paula; and two sons, Hobie Jr. and Jeff. His survivors also include eight grandchildren and a great-granddaughter. The family is planning a memorial service and surfer’s "paddle out" in front of his home in Laguna Beach.