Outdoor industry icon and surf, sailboat, and kayak innovator Hobie Alter, at age 80, passed away peacefully on March 29 at his home in Palm Desert, Calif. C&K contributor Chuck Graham pays tribute to the late ocean-sports pioneer by reliving a chance journey turned epic in the Channel Islands National Park courtesy of a borrowed Hobie Odyssey.Click HERE to read more about the innovative life of Hobie Alter and his legacy of bringing ocean adventures to the everyman.
By Chuck Graham
I had some doubts about how my solo trip around Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands was about to play out. My Necky kayak was being repaired, but I had a deadline looming on the horizon, so I had to borrow a kayak for the task ahead. I didn’t anticipate any mishaps around the two largest isles in the Channel Islands National Park, unless those wretched, freezing northwest spring winds howled across the volcanic chain. I would’ve been a fool to think I could sidestep those wailing winds, so when that first northwesterly wisp brushed my brow, I knew I was in for it during my island odyssey.
Ironically the kayak I borrowed from a friend was a Hobie Odyssey, and it was about to be thrown into some mean seas churning across the Santa Barbara Channel. Things began to go south on a deserted, driftwood-strewn beach as the winds picked up steam somewhere on the front-side of Santa Rosa Island. First, while setting up my tent, the wind torqued it and I broke a tent pole. I rigged it with a sturdy piece of driftwood and good old reliable duct tape. That didn’t last long because in the middle of the night three elephant seal pups decided it was a good idea to sidle up on either side of my tent. That’s a solid 900 pounds pinching in on those thin walls, but at least those teary-eyed pinnipeds kept me warm!
Early the next morning I listened to the marine weather report on my radio, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was blurting out a small craft advisory, 40-knot winds, gusting to 50, 7-to-11-foot seas with only a 10-second period. It was to last for three days. I had to go now. The Odyssey plowed through the first set of waves, but offshore shoals were capping and rolling from a mile off the beach. The next set of waves washed me to shore where I untangled balls of kelp from my kayak. I regrouped and made it outside the shoals, and more importantly around Brockway Point to the east. From there, I dodged heaving seas on the way to Carrington Point–the Odyssey hanging tough in the soup around the southeast end of Santa Rosa.
Emboldened by leaving Santa Rosa in my wake, my confidence grew despite the Odyssey meeting the Potato Patch head-on off the west end of Santa Cruz. It’s a mysterious place where undulating waves collide with powerful inconsistent currents causing swells to ratchet upward without warning. Nearly capsizing on several occasions, I managed to keep the Odyssey beneath me as I paddled furiously for wave-battered cliffs and the first of many sheltered coves along the front-side of Santa Cruz.
Hazards Anchorage was the first cove I reached after paddling six miles beneath honeycombed cliffs. It was my island sanctuary after 23 miles of anxiety-filled paddling, and even though Hobie Alter has departed Mother Earth, his legacy carries on down this windswept channel with journeys like this one. The odyssey continues.
—Take look back at the Alter’s life of innovation and the kayak production it’s led to today: