by Jeni Bone
A veteran exhibitor at Sydney International Boat Show for the past 20 years, Hobie is a stalwart of the Convention Centre, with an imposing display this year – the brainchild of Steve Fields, Managing Director of Hobie Cat Australasia – which won the brand the 'Display of Excellence' Award for 2012.
Hobie Steve Fields
'We want people to come in, walk around, touch and feel the boats, put themselves in the picture,' says Steve of the perfectly positioned stand with its alluring beachy scene, complete with buoys, gulls, a grass hut, sand-coloured carpet, plus the sound of sea birds calling and waves ebbing and flowing.
'We bought all our own lights, carpet, audio, decoration. The cost of floor space is so high, it’s worth buying your own display pieces rather than hiring,' says Steve. 'After three or so years, you’ve got the use out of them to make it worthwhile.'
The Hobie market is both entry level and the connoisseur – the yak fisher, competitive paddler and Baby Boomer looking to get close to the water with little cost, great portability and no impact on the environment.
'For some people, it’s their first boat. It’s affordable, you can get out on it immediately with no skills or registration in many cases,' explains Steve. Then for the competitive, the Hobie 16 is a racing legend.
'We are really making inroads in China,' he continues. 'The mortgage belt market is embracing the western lifestyle – like South Korea is. It has taken us 10 years, but we have finally found reliable partners in China and now we’re feeling the benefit of that. Our export business has doubled in the past two years.'
This iconic brand, which emerged from Oceanside, California in the 1950s and has dabbled in balsa surfboards, skateboards and every kind of kayak and sailboat, is manufactured in the US and locally, the fibreglass hulls are made at Huskisson on the south coast of NSW. All up, there are 210 employees in both facilities.
'We take care of exports in South-East Asia and depending on the exchange rate, we export back to the USA if the Aussie dollar is less than 85 cents.'
Around the world, Hobie sponsors and participates in regattas and tournaments for fishing, kayaking and sailing. Next on the agenda is the Hobie 16 World Championships, which were last held in China.
'We have sponsored 20 such events since 1976,' says Steve. '
On a boat show front, Hobie is a familiar sight at events around Australia, including the Brisbane Tinnie & Tackle Show in March, which Steve says 'really works' for the brand. Then there’s Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
Sydney is the standout. 'Sydney gets the crowds through and really has the ‘wow’ factor. We get good floor sales and strong leads for the next 30 days, without fail. A boat show has to be a great family day out. There needs to be plenty to see and do. I usually visit a show before we commit to exhibiting to see if I get that ‘warm fuzzy feeling’. If I do, I want Hobie to be there.'
This year’s Sydney International Boat Show started slowly, but Friday was very strong. 'It was amazing,' confirms Steve. 'The weekends belong to families and then the Monday, the suits come in.'
A bit about the brand
Alter Hobie started his empire in his parents' garage in 1950, when he decided to apply his love of woodworking to the sport of surfing. His dad backed out the Buick to make room for a shipment of balsawood, and Hobie got out his drawknife and carved out his very first surfboard. Friends soon started dropping by and before you knew it there was no room left for the Buick.
Hobie and the sport grew together. A couple of years and 40 tons of sawdust later, Hobie opened up Southern California's first surf shop in Dana Point. Then in 1958 Hobie and buddy Gordon 'Grubby' Clark began experimenting with new materials, literally inventing the polyurethane foam surfboard. The new boards were lighter, faster and easier to ride than anything else in the water. Suddenly everyone wanted to be a surfer—and every surfer wanted a Hobie.
By the mid-1960s, while the Beach Boys were making records, the legendary Hobie Surf Team was setting them. Hobie's lineup was a veritable Who's Who of surfing greats. Phil Edwards, Joey Cabell, Corky Carroll, Micky Munoz, Joyce Hoffman, Joey Hamasaki, Gary Propper, Billy Hamilton and Herbie Fletcher are just a few of the champions who supported the distinctive Hobie diamond logo over the years.
In the late 60s Hobie started messing around in boats. Hobie developed a prototype for a lightweight, fast and easy-to-sail playboat based on the Polynesian twin-hulled catamaran. History soon repeated itself.
What Hobie's foam surfboard did for surfing, the Hobie Cat did for sailing, introducing a whole new way to have fun in the sun and revolutionizing an industry in the process. In the past four decades, more people have taken to the water on a Hobie Cat than almost any other sailboat design. Hobie Cats are still the world's best-selling cats and it's hard to find a body of water on any continent that doesn't have an active Hobie racing fleet.
In the years to follow, plenty of other ocean innovations emerged from Hobie's imagination: the Hobie Power Skiff, a 33' monohull sailer, a 60' ocean voyaging power cat and innovative fishing floats and a wide range of kayaks, as well as radio-controlled gliders, skateboards, wakeboards, snowboards, bodyboards, waterskis, polarized sunglasses and sportswear.
More at www.hobiecat.com.au