Laurie Hermann reflects on her years as Hobie Alter’s tandem surfing partner, winning competitions around the region together in the 1960s.
By Sharon Stello
Laurie Hermann was only in junior high when she embarked on a surfing adventure that would bring her success around the region and plenty of fond memories.
It was the 1950s—during the heyday of surf culture—and Hermann, who grew up in La Cañada, often went with her family to the beach in San Onofre, where she enjoyed riding waves.
“My dad had always been a water person,” Hermann says. “He body surfed all his life and did water polo in college and swam laps in our pool. So it was natural for him to be drawn to that. So really when I was in elementary school, we started going to San Onofre. … And so it was right from the get-go something that we as a family did.”
Another family also frequented that stretch of sand: Hobie Alter, who was in his mid-20s, along with his wife and their children. The two families became friends, often running into each other during these beach outings.
One day, Alter, who had made a name for himself as a surfboard shaper—beginning in his parents’ Laguna Beach garage—was looking for a tandem partner for the annual San Onofre surf contest. He needed someone small and light to lift, flip and put atop his shoulders for the tricks done on a longboard while riding a wave in. He asked around at the beach and someone recommended Hermann (whose last name was then Hoover).
“A family friend pointed me out and we, just kind of on a last-minute thing, went in the contest and that was the beginning of it,” says Hermann, now 75 and living in Sun Valley, Idaho.
She had done springboard diving and surfed solo, but this was her first foray into tandem surfing. However, the pairing worked well together and they continued to team up for the contests every year at San Onofre, Dana Point, Huntington Beach and other locales—even one time in Makaha on Oahu, Hawaii, where they placed second to local Hawaiian Albert “Rabbit” Kekai and his partner. “It was wonderful. I was a fortunate young lady to get to do all that,” Hermann says.
She continued the endeavor through junior high and high school until graduating in 1964 and moving up north to attend Stanford University.
Hobie passed away in 2014 at age 80. Reflecting on the time they spent together, Hermann says, “he and his family were just really, really nice.” Hermann adds that, “He was, as you know, an inventor, so he was always intrigued with new things, whether it was creations on his part or …, with our tandem surfing, he would always be looking for new tricks to do. He would, I think, watch ice skating … and look for different moves.”
As a surfboard maker and inventor, she says, Alter was always upgrading their tandem board, on which they successfully executed many different moves—“all kinds of flips and standing on his shoulders and standing on one leg on his shoulders and … [then] he would take his hands off so I would just be standing there on his shoulders and he had his arms out to the side. … That was one of my favorites,” Hermann says.
While the stunts were no doubt impressive to watch, Hermann most treasures her time with Alter and just being out on the water. It was a “happy, free-spirited … [and] cheerful time,” she says. “In retrospect, I think … [about] the incredible experience of being on a surfboard with him as he chose [the waves]—looked at the surf … and discerned which waves to catch.”
When they were at the beach on the same day, he’d ask if she wanted to go practice. “And of course I would. I just loved it,” Hermann says. “I can think of times waiting for a wave and just looking back at shore and the water being glassy and the waves being good and it being a sunny, beautiful day and just feeling really grateful.”
As a team, they did well, often placing in the top three and taking home a trophy. “There were a few other teams that were always our biggest competition. But, you know, I always felt … that we were … always rooting for everybody improving and doing better and better. … It was a good, wholesome environment in those days.”
The San Onofre Surfing Club still hosts an annual contest with a novice tandem category.
When Hermann moved up north to attend Stanford, she stopped tandem surfing because there was no time to practice, although she continued to surf at San Onofre as her parents had a house in San Clemente. The families stayed in touch for a little while, off and on. “He and his wife would stop by our house in La Cañada, where I grew up, say if they were on their way to the mountains or something,” Hermann says.
The couple also attended Hermann’s wedding. She met her husband, Randy, at Stanford. She became a registered nurse and he a doctor. In the 1980s, the couple moved to Idaho, where they raised two children and ran a medical practice for four decades, retiring just a few years ago.
Although Hermann traded the beach for mountains, she enjoys the setting with its changing seasons. “We downhill ski and cross-country ski in the winter and, in the other months, we hike and backpack and mountain bike,” she says. “… We love it here and we’ve been fortunate with this, too.
“… I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had and doing the tandem surfing was one. These are crazy times, as you know, with COVID and all the rest, so we all have to go forward with thoughtfulness and also gratitude for all we do have.”