Joe Matera on the Ocean City beach about four years ago. Matera, of Upper Township, started a Christian surf camp in Ocean City that has since spread to four states.

Joe Matera wasn't quite as serious about surfing as he was about God.

Still, Matera, who lived in Upper Township and was 55 when he died last month, was extremely passionate about riding waves.

That was one of the things Laura, his wife, admired about him. She knew up front how much he loved to surf, and she thinks most people don't feel that deeply about anything. So she figured if Joe could care so much about surfing, he had the capacity to care about other areas of life.

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She also understood from the start how serious Joe was about his religion. The two met at a church group in Ocean City when Joe was 35, 10 years older than her. She admits at first he seemed a bit "immature" - partly because of his surfer side - but adds that Joe also looked younger than his age. Still, it didn't take long for him to change her mind.

"Our second date ... I just knew I would marry him," Laura said. "Then he said, 'I think we're going to get married.' I said, 'I know.'"

And even though Joe's life was cut short by malignant melanoma, his family knows he got to live his dream. Because Joe eventually made a living that combined two of his passions.

"I guess when he was 40, he went into a full-time surfing ministry," his wife said.

He had been part of a group called Christian Surfers United States. But his big break came when he got involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Laura says FCA is mainly active in "ball sports," but "Joe said, 'I don't know anything about sports. I'm going to start a surf camp.'"

Joe had lots of experience starting youth groups, going back to when he was 19. He and his brother, Bob, then 14, opened a store, Off the Wall Skateboard Supply, in Riverton, where they grew up. To help spread the sport, they started a skateboard demonstration team, said Bob, now 50, of Upper Township.

Decades later, Joe would teach thousands of kids to ride waves at FCA Surf, which started in Ocean City but now has camps in four states. FCA Surf just finished its 10th year in Ocean City, where its staff includes several Materas. Joe and Laura's three daughters, Claire, Kate and Louise, all grew up surfing at the camp.

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