Terry Martin Passes Away

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

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."