Some fathers pass down a love of fishing to their sons. Others share the tradition of fixing cars or building a model train set. Josh Martin’s family legacy is shaping surfboards.
Over a nearly six-decade career, Martin’s father, Terry, was said to have shaped more surfboards than anyone else in the world — some 80,000 — although the exact number isn’t known. Terry, who was given the nickname “The Machine,” created signature boards for surf legends like Gerry Lopez, Gary Propper and Joyce Hoffman.
The first board Terry made was out of lighter balsa wood and redwood that he had salvaged from a lumberyard trash heap. It weighed only 20 pounds and had no fin, which allowed him to do moves that other surfers couldn’t accomplish. Pretty soon, surfers took note, and Terry was taking orders and making boards in his father’s garage.
Terry Martin, 74, died in 2012 at his home in Capistrano Beach after a battle with melanoma. His death was announced by the Hobie Surf Shop in Dana Point, where he had worked off and on for 40 years.
Over the years, surfing transformed into a global business, and custom hand-shapers were largely replaced by factories.
But the art of hand-shaping a surfboard has not been lost. Martin, 45, for one, is carrying on the tradition as a reflection of his father’s love for the craft.
He owns Martin Shapes and works out of his residential property, which is in the same neighborhood where he grew up in Capistrano Beach.
It’s in a workshop in his backyard where Martin — who is most often barefoot and wearing board shorts and a T-shirt bearing his last name — can be seen up to 12 hours a day shaping boards. Inside the windowless workshop are shelves holding orders for his newest clients, Hobie and Waterman’s Guild, a surfboard glassing shop in Santa Ana.
“I don’t want to make boards that hang on the wall,” said Martin, who shares the two-story home with his wife and two daughters. “It’s a surfboard. I want it to be surfed. If it gets dinged, then that’s part of the deal.”
Martin says he builds a shaper-surfer relationship with each customer before creating a board by hand. He’ll ask a customer a number of questions, learning what kind of wave the rider likes to surf and how much he or she weighs as well as determining his or her athletic ability.
For instance, a customer in Los Angeles who found Martin Shapes on the social media site Instagram and requested a custom board, rides at Sunset Point — which Martin notes offers a softer and slower wave — weighs 180 pounds, stands 5-foot-8 and prefers to knee paddle. Such a description calls for a wider and flatter board so the surfer is more stable and able to glide out in the ocean.
“You can tell the best surfer is the one who has the best smile on their face because they’re having the most fun,” Martin said.
Clients are invited to watch Martin build their board in his workshop, where he saves leftover resin scraps and wood for future projects. A custom-board usually takes three to six weeks to make, he said, and can run from $900 to $1,300.
Martin has taken orders from all over the world. He is in the midst of shaping a board for Rachael Tilly, the 2015 World Surf League’s women’s longboard champion. His father shaped her boards when she was 11, Martin said.
His love for shaping boards started around age 6 — “When I first got foam dust in the eye,” he says. He’d spend most of his time in his dad’s shaping room. At 7, Martin’s dad made him his first board but didn’t teach him how to use it.
“Dad was sharp. He didn’t want what could be a tough father-and-son lesson, so he left it up to Bill Humphreys,” Martin said with a laugh.
Humphreys, then a lifeguard, would become marine safety chief for San Clemente.
Of course, it wouldn’t be long before Martin would be catching waves at Doheny State Beach.
At age 8, Martin pushed a broom in the afternoons at Hobie Surf Shop. In middle school, he started making fins at Hobie, and by high school he was shaping boards with his dad. In the late ‘80s, Martin began shaping full-time at Just Add Water Surfboards in Laguna Canyon.
While there, he was offered a chance to shape hundreds of identical boards for a display in J.C. Penney stores, but the contract would have paid him half of what he was making.
His initial decision was no, but his father told him it would be a good chance to hone his skills.
Without any computer-shaping programs or machines, Martin hand-shaped each board. Looking back, he said it was a privilege since the task helped him develop the muscle memory he has today.
“My dad was very systematic in the process, and I tend to be more artistic in my approach,” Martin says. “He respected my artistic side, but he’d attack a board more mathematically. He instilled in me a method and systems that allowed me to turn it into a production.”
Martin has several favorite boards that are stored in the family room, in racks hanging from the ceiling, but one that holds special meaning to him is a board made by his father.
Engraved on the wood in his father’s writing is a message that ends with Matthew 3:17:
“This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
For more information, visit martinshapes.com.