By Jonathan Clancy
There’s a bond between surfers like no other. Surfing unites perfect strangers, encourages like-minded folks to accomplish lofty goals together, and most importantly makes people smile. Within any surf community there are characters that define what it means to be a surfer, to help others, to teach, and to persevere through adversity. For Newport, Patrick Martin was a man of just that nature.
On May 10, Patrick “Shep” Martin paddled out to Marines, his favorite spot, to enjoy some fun waves. Just 45 minutes into the surf, Martin collapsed face down on his board due to a heart attack and later died at Newport Hospital, he was only 58 years old. It’s a loss that was felt by generations of surfers here in Newport and around the globe. “He had a great last session,” assured friend Andrew Florey who helped swim Shep to shore.
Martin spent his life teaching those fortunate enough to know him the art of surfing and sharing stoke. News of Martin’s passing spread quickly through the line-ups, beaches and surf shops. Shep was an Original Water Brother, one of a tight knit group that helped pioneer surfing spots like Ruggles and Marines. An OWB, as Water Brother surf and skate shop owner Sid Abruzzi explained, “is an original group of guys and this was our goal. We’ve always been Water Brothers...and all it is, is maybe the nucleus center, the core of Water Brothers. It’s sort of like the center of the circle.”
On May 18 at Belmont Beach in Newport that circle was never more tangible as hundreds were gathered to remember their dear friend. The waves were small, the wind was onshore, and the tide was high. On the beach Dr. Love read from the book of Ecclesiastes, “A good name is better than precious ointment…and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit…Wisdom is good with an inheritance and by it there is profit to them that see the sun. For wisdom is defense, and money is defense but the excellence of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.”
After the sermon and a load of cheers, Sid led over 100 surfers out to Marines for a heartfelt sendoff. The group formed a circle, holding hands, sharing words and splashing in honor of their fallen friend. Some folks shared a few waves before coming to shore, others remained chatting on their boards and eating shrimp cocktail served by Shep’s old buddy Ringo who had pulled up on his boat.
After the paddle out, a fire was lit, music played from a small radio, and friends gathered with Martin’s family around a driftwood memorial built over the past week. Messages to Patrick were written on the wood and surrounding stones.
Long after most surfers had exited the water, one man on a stand up paddleboard made his way to shore from around the point. He was dressed in a tuxedo and drinking a Red Bull. Just as he was about to step safe and dry on shore a wave came, knocked him off the board and into the red seaweed. Again the crowd cheered as life long friend Greg Tano got to his feet and joined the party. “Shep was the ultimate surfer,” Tano said. Greg wore the tux to commemorate Martin’s work as a fine dining waiter at the Chart House in San Diego. Shep shredded the tux after many years and started his own technology-consulting firm the Sheppard Group.
Shep eventually returned home to RI where he spent some time working at Water Brothers. “Losing Shep was like losing one of the stones, like losing the bassist of the band, like losing part of the shop. He was a good soul and he overcame so many hurdles,” said friend and co-worker Logan Hill.
Martin’s niece, Jen Fitzgerald, was overwhelmed by the amount of people that came out to the event. “I had no idea this many people loved him as much as I do.” She picked up a childhood photo left on the memorial and pointed out that it was taken in the same exact spot that we were standing. “This is where he spent his childhood, where he hung out, it was his stomping grounds, where he went out, in style.”
Shep scoured the earth in search of good surf. He touched the lives of many along the way. Abruzzi told me that similar paddles outs for Patrick were held that same day in Hawaii, Australia, and California. In the recorded message during a Water Brothers surf report the week after Patrick’s passing, Martin’s brother Harry said, “Shep came back to the East Coast to find the perfect wave and he did, and the perfect wave was you.”