Boarded Up

A brief tour of the world's largest (and only) surfboard fence

Meet DJ Detloff, the man behind what we think to be the only surfboard fence of its kind. Photo: Evans
Meet DJ Detloff, the man behind what we think to be the only surfboard fence of its kind. Photo: Evans

Maui at Sunset. Driving along Hana Highway, a mile up the ravine from famed Peahi Gulch, I see a mother lode of surfboards leaning against a fence. Closer, I realize, "Wait, they are the fence." Hundreds of boards, standing shoulder to shoulder like tombstones in a cemetery.

I pull my suspiciously clean rental up the rutted driveway to find a group of men and dogs in lazy congress around a fire. The oldest of them wears a tank top that reads "Defend Molokai". He's about 60, small but still muscular, his gray hair braided into tight cornrows. He gets up, introduces himself as DJ Dettloff, and greets me with a handshake that communicates firmly that he's seen a few things.

He agrees to show me his collection and we walk along the edge of the property where the boards have been strung up with baling wire to create hundreds of feet of fence for his property. There are almost too many to concentrate on any one in particular. There are more than 800 of them in total, Dettloff says. Cartoonishly large guns, thick-beaked '80s thrusters, monstrosities with five stringers, tandems, foam boards, windsurfing boards, longboards turning to peanut brittle in the sun. Basically every iteration of tail, rocker, concave, rail, outline, foam, pigment, and fiberglass ever to have entered the shaper's vernacular. And some that clearly haven't, like an egg-shaped thing that looks like a giant floating snow saucer. Here is as near a history of the sport as you'll find outside a book. Part museum, part orphanage, part catacomb.

"I began collecting them about 12 years ago," Dettloff says. "I just couldn't imagine them being destroyed. Soon people were dropping them off in the driveway."

I ask him which board is his favorite, but he shrugs and it's clear that he does not share my enthusiasm for the fence. It's less of a show hobby for him, more of a custodial duty. Besides, he's eager to show me what he's got going on inside the fence: orchards and gardens (papayas, avocados, betel nut, tea plants), a mini boat yard (several boats, one possibly lived in), a giant shipping container, several old diesel Mercedes, and husbandry pens (four pigs, three cows, two horses). "I hate horses," he says with a habitual laugh. "No good recipes."

Around the fire he gives me a short autobiography: grew up in Oahu, spent his childhood sneaking onto the Kanehoe Marine Base to dive and surf ("Permanently banned," he notes) and the rest of his life working fishing boats and construction. He moved to this property in the '80s and raised a son and a daughter who became a rodeo champ.

Each time I make the motions like I'm going to leave, I'm preempted by a hand on my shoulder and another beer in front of me. It turns out, even though they're doing most of the talking, I'm the night's entertainment. When they're finally ready to let me go, they make sure I don't do so empty-handed. I've got a stack of bumper stickers, postcards, clippings, and even a local phone book, which for some reason Dettloff insists I take.

I still have that decomposing phone book on a shelf at home, stuffed between volumes of history and fiction. The other day I opened it up and flipped through the pages. There, on the middle-page maps, were penciled in the locations of several waves that I now have a filial obligation to return to and explore.

Photo: Evans
Photo: Evans
Photo: Evans
Photo: Evans
Photo: Evans
Photo: Evans