Remembering and honoring Matt Rapf

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On Saturday, April 13, friends and family gathered to honor Matt Rapf with a paddle out at First Point, the very place that he grew up and made many friends and memories. Photos by Dale Rhodes.

Hundreds attend paddle out at First Point before celebrating his life in an SRO memorial service

By Barbara Burke 

Special to The Malibu Times

“Matt always loved the rain and he loved going down to the ocean when it rained,” a tearful, grieving, shocked Jill Rapf said days after unexpectedly losing her wonderful husband and best friend, Matt Rapf, 61. Rapf died suddenly of a heart attack on Feb. 4, while paddling out at Zuma Beach in honor of Lyon Herron. When his family, friends, and our community lost Rapf, he was surrounded by his tribe as he transitioned in his absolute favorite place — the ocean.

So, it was fitting that on April 13, a dreary Malibu morning with rain impending, Rapf was again surrounded by his tribe of hundreds of friends and family who gathered to honor him with a paddle out at First Point, the very place that he grew up and made many friends and memories.

“How can he be gone?” a devastated Jill posted a few days after Matt passed, juxtaposing her post with the image of a brawny, smiling Matt in the ocean, the very picture of health and optimism, the image of him that many Malibuites will always recall.

“It was an epic paddle out in Matt’s honor,” Skylar Peak said. “He loved the rain piercing the ocean’s surface and our hills above beautiful Malibu.”

Andy Lyon, Rapf’s childhood friend, agreed: “The paddle out was amazing. We really lucked out because the forecast was for horrible weather and that freed up the whole beach and everyone could park.”

First Point was where Lyon and Rapf surfed for decades, Lyon noted, adding, “We could see Matt’s house from the paddle-out circle which was about a quarter of a mile from where he first surfed.”

Touchingly, Lyon recounted, “I was honored to take Matt’s ashes out on a big board with a wreath of leis.  I took him on his last go out and took him around the circle so everyone could see and honor him. Jill was able to spread his ashes and it was beautiful.”

Another of Rapf’s friends, Greg Beaton, described the entourage’s energy as family and friends embraced one another within the circle of love, honor and remembrance. “This is what surfing is all about – Having your friends around you, energy from the ocean and conversations that are as deep as the ocean,” he said.

Matt loved us and we loved him back. 

After the paddle out, those celebrating Rapf’s life proceeded to Malibu Gathering Church, where attendees honored him further, recalling how he befriended and helped so many in the community, his sometimes dark sense of humor, and his love of family.

“The memorial service was cathartic, emotional, and moving, and everyone felt Matt there with us,” Jill Rapf said. “It was not just somber or emotional because there was so much joy in it and the standing-room-only gathering was such proof of Matt’s life well lived and that he had touched so many people — there was such a great community response and it was a melding of all those who knew him, including people who he grew up with, who he surfed with, his real estate community, and his recovery community.”

Pastor Brian Kelly recalled how giving Rapf was, noting that just last December, he and five other dads took a trip to the Dominican Republic to learn about how Mission of Hope is helping Haitian children. 

“Matt was part of the Gathering Church for the last 15 years and God’s grace changed Matt’s life,” Kelly said. “Matt knew how important it was to remember that what changes your life is knowing that despite being more flawed than you know, God loves you more than you know. Matt was a great example of how God helps you be a better person, husband, father, and friend.” 

Tracy Stoker, who grew up with Rapf and attended church with him, shared, “I had the opportunity of watching Matt from the age of 10 through his teenage years and as a 20-to-30-year-old, and then, the transitions he made as he matured into life and its limits.” 

Barry Kearson, Rapf’s Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, spoke of his giving nature: “Matt was generous, sometimes to a fault, and he was a caring human being who did so many things for people struggling with alcohol and addiction — our sponsor-sponsee relationship was very intimate and like many who are grieving his loss, I still cannot believe that he is gone.”

Dale Rhodes also spoke about Rapf’s sobriety journey and his extensions of deep friendship.

“I have known Matt since we were 18 years old,” Rhodes said. “I was a competitive surfer, a kid from the valley who sometimes clashed with local surfers back in the ’80s, but Matt and I became friends and ultimately, he has been my AA sponsor for the last 10 years.”

There were so many sharing reflections about Rapf’s friendship connections.

“Matt loved us and we loved him back,” Jill Rapf said.  

Beaton shared, “Matt lived his life with passion and expression with family first and service above self inside and out of Alcoholics Anonymous.”  

“At the end of his life, the life none of us knew would be cut so short, Matt was truly a beautiful soul who loved his family foremost and his community of Malibu, and especially, his church family,” Stoker said. “His legacy lives on through his sweet wife, Jill, who continues to embody the love and devotion that Matt held dear.”

Jill Rapf and Lyon both commented that at the end of the day after the memorial, the rain subsided and a double rainbow emerged right where the paddle out had been and there were other rainbows as well, all seemingly helping to ensure that Matt Rapf would want those grieving him to also feel and share joy.

And now, as the Rapf family and Matt’s friends carry on in life, they are embraced by his tribe, buoyed by his love, and they will always honor him. 

“Matt was a kind man — a family man,” Peak said. “His honorable soul left us too early — Malibu is a better place because of him — Long live Matt Rapf!”