Terry Martin Passes Away

The legendary Dana Point shaper dies from melanoma at the age of 74

| posted on May 12, 2012

Terry Martin at work in his shaping bay at home in Dana Point in early 2012. Photo: Ellis

The Southern California shaping world has lost one of its forefathers today with the death of beloved Dana Point shaper Terry Martin. Martin shaped surfboards for more than 60 years, most of them with Hobie Surfboards, before losing his battle with melanoma at the age of 74. He will be missed.

The following is a feature from our June issue inducting Terry Martin into SURFER’s Shaper Hall of Fame.

From his shaping bay in Dana Point, Terry Martin recalls the first time he paddled out on a board he shaped by hand, a 10-foot balsa log. A pack of Ocean Beach regulars sat nearby, and a local lifeguard demanded a go. After two waves, he was hooked, and Martin had his first customer. “He paddled back to me and told me he wouldn’t be giving the board back. He told me, ‘I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you your board back when you make me one.’ One by one, these local guys came over and ordered one of my boards. So that’s how I got started. I was 14, you know. It was 1952.”

The demand for a Terry Martin surfboard started on that day, and now, six decades later, it’s still is going strong. Martin has since shaped more than 80,000 surfboards. For him, the most rewarding part of his work comes in the form of an 8 p.m. phone call from a customer, which he says usually goes something like this: “Hey Terry, this is John. Man, I’m telling you, I forgot how much fun surfing was.”

“What I try to do is make a board that when you want to do a certain thing on a wave, you don’t have to subtract energy into trying to make the board do it,” he says. “I make the board so that it will just do it. So that’s what I’m after in shaping. And it’s a challenge. And I love it. If they leave the water smiling, they’ll go surfing more often. That’s what I’m after in my shaping.” Call it job security, call it customer service, call it old school. For Terry Martin, it’s his life.

In 1963, 26-year-old Martin started shaping for Hobie Alter of Hobie Surfboards in Dana Point. To this day, it remains his first and only job as a shaper. He says he was given a gift, and when he realized it could support him as a full-time career, he never looked back. Generations, trends, and technologies have all come and gone, and amid it all Terry Martin was in the shop. “If you have something you enjoy, and you cultivate it, like I have for so many years, you’re going to get good at it—really good at it. And you will be happy all your life.”

This year, Martin was diagnosed with melanoma. After several rounds of chemotherapy, his body shows the wear of the cancer treatment. His trademark foam-dust coated beard has thinned, as has his frame. He’s just recently regained his taste, his voice, and his strength. Despite the adversity, his skill and passion for shaping surfboards never waned, instead it was something he held on to throughout his treatment. At 74 years of age, he’s the living definition of expertise. He shapes with the precision of a machine and the finesse of an artist.

The humble Martin considers his work nothing more than a service, and thinks himself to be just a means to an end. He believes his work simply connects a surfer to a wave, and through this philosophy he relives his youth in each board he makes. “Even recently, I’ll wake up before 4 o’clock in the morning and I’ll be thinking about an idea for a shape, a design. And I can’t go back to sleep. I get up and go to the shop, at 4:30 in the morning, and start shaping. And you know what, it never gets old. I’m as stoked today as I was then.”

  • Whamo

    Terry Martin’s shapes always worked well for me in Southern California surf. HIs surfboards were a big part of my surfing life for over 30 years. God bless his soul.

  • William (Bill) Thrailkill

    In 1965 I shaped in the rack, at Hobie, between Terry and Phil Edwards. Terry was generous with his time and helpful with the new guy, me. He was something to see, when he was on a roll shaping. Fast and precise. Sad that he is gone now. Saw him less than a year ago, and had a chat about, (what else) surfboards. Always a gentleman.

    Bill Thrailkill

  • Honey Badger

    A True Legend. Rest in peace, Terry….

  • Blizz

    Terry shaped the best board I ever rode. I even had the pleasure to watch him shape me a board a few years ago. I feel thankful for having had that opportunity. He is a total California cultural icon and will be missed. Regards to the family.

  • http://surfer Bob Taylor

    Terry mentored me on how to make Agave cactus surfboards. He will allways live in my heart. A world class shaper & lover of God. In the words of Psalm 90:17 “And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yes the work of our hands establish thou it.”
    He has gone on but his boards are the joy & love that he left with us.

  • bradford sanborn

    as a young boy i rember terry surfing ospray st by himself we nicked named that surf spot as terrys slides he was always good to the young kids from ocean beach

  • zeno malan

    Spoke with Terry a month ago by telephone. We were comparing notes about melanoma. I never knew Terry despite growing up next door to Hobie’s shop in Dana Pt. I was a lifelong Becker fan.
    I was introduced to Terry and Candy by a longtime friend Jeff Munoz(Mickey and Candy’s brother) for the purpose of sharing info.
    They were both very kind and I couldn’t feel more sorry hearing of his passing.
    Regards to you Candy, and your family.

  • Kim Fioriglio,

    A great man I remember well, way beyond a sharper. One of the best craftsmen ever in the business.
    He never made a board for you that he thought you should be riding. He took your dimensions or a magic board and he would make a photo copy
    Thanks Terry RIP
    Atlantic City, NJ/Pavones,Costa Rica, ex-amateur Hobie Team Rider

  • Roger Miller

    The first thing I ever bought on credit (with my brand new visa card) in 1976 was a new Terry Martin longboard. It remains my most favorite board of more than 45 years of surfing. I read the article in the June issue & told a friend that no thrill could match having him shape another one for me.
    He inspired us and gave us gifts shaped by his hands.

    RIP Terry

  • michael ginsberg

    Had the great pleasure of working with Mr Terry Martin for nearly 10 years and can say without exception he was the best craftsman ever to put planer to foam.I have never witnessed a man with such discipline and humbleness and integrity in our profession and thank him from the bottom of my heart for making my life richer and wiser. He had a sense of humour which was classic and a way of telling stories few others possessed and a committment to his religion which was personal and real. We will miss this truly special man.thank you and enjoy stage two ginz

  • Dana Sachs Manley

    You one of my inspirations when I was just a little gremmie. My Mom June and my Dad’s Chuck Manley, Hal Sachs and Raymond Patterson all were your friends. You make a nice mark in our worlds. Thank you and enjoy the wonderful place you now surf in heaven!
    Dana P Manley

  • jay

    the perfect 40 minute surfboard (done by the surfers journal) is a thing of beauty.

  • mitch talcove

    Other than being a great craftsman, Terry was a super guy. One of nicest guys you.ll ever meet. It’s tragic he lost his sister Susan two months a go and older brother not long before. A whole generation of Martin’s gone within a short time to cancer.

  • http://zip BERNIE BAKER

    My first real surfing hero to pass away was world shaper John Bradbury, before that my sister who matted home break Rincon, then my mom and dad who allowed me the freedom to stay on this coastline…and in the last 6 months so many Greats have left the pad that I reel at night thinking of the sum total of their brilliance. With Terry’s (Martin) final salute you once again clearly realize what these tribal elders shared with so many of us and the lucky few who called them close friend or family. We all need to breathe in their air for just a moment and smile a final hug for Terry in his next journey.

  • Paul Grundman

    One of , if not the most genuine and warm hearted shaper. The first shaper I ever met , first board I ever had, and still have yet to see his kindness to be outdone. Thank you Terry for the legacy, for the stoke, for the smiles.

    My prayers and thoughts are with his family, and his extended Hobie family. There is a missing piece in the human form in Hobie now, but not a hole in the soul of Hobie. No sir, that form has left a bright light in it’s place that will shine forever.

  • Pat Hughes

    Wow . . . just found out Terry has passed. He was the best. My funny Terry Martin story was back in. . . I think 1973 so I call Terry at home asking him to shape me a short squatty wide “twin fin” shape that Bing just introduced. He say’s he can and to meet him at the Hobie shaping barn around 8pm in a couple of days. I show up as appointed with the blank and Terry starts shaping it up. About 15 minutes into shaping, Mr. Micky Munoz pops in unexpectedly and busts us royally and starts barking at Terry about shaping bootleg ( non Hobie revenue producing boards ) . Terry was in the zone and didn’t miss a shaping stroke while Munoz finishes his rant. Munoz left in a minor huff. Terry just kept on doing his masterful thing with joy, professionalism and excellence and he said when he finished shaping ” Micky is a good guy, he’s just doing his job”. Terry was the best. One of the best human beings I ever met.

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  • John Nolan

    I moved to San Diego from Australia in 1965, bringing with me a Scott Dillon board. Three months later it was stolen. I knew Terry and asked him if he had an old board I could have for a reasonable price. For $20 he gave me a Phil Edwards model that he had just shaped from reject foam. That was Terry. Always generous, always a joy to be around. One story: we went into a Baskin-Robbins on Point Loma. Terry asked the girl what was the most ice cream she had ever stacked on a single cone. She said six. Terry said I’ll have seven — butterscotch. He ate them all.

  • Wes Price

    I opened Natural Design Surf shop in 1972. Terry shaped most of the boards when we opened. I remember that Surfer Magazine had just run an article on Terry “Shaper of The Century”. That really helped us as the boards he shaped sold immediately. I shaped some of the boards and I could see immediately the quality of his work was superb. He coached me and he was just a great inspiration. Terry seemed different than most shapers as he was just focused on his work and although he was at the top of his game he never displayed any ego. We closed the shop in 1980 but we always ran into him somewhere in town. My grandkids are surfing now and one year before Terry passed away we went to his shaping room and had a nice fish board made. Garrett my grandson was in awe as Terry and I shared so many good times we had in the 70’s with the shop. Terry was just a great story teller you just had to listen. His memory will be with me forever. Terry we miss you. Thanks for the inspiration and legacy you have left us.

  • HobieQuad

    Best board I ever had was shaped by Terry…