Nestled among the foliage in Haiku, Donald Dettloff is used to drawing a crowd with his unique fence. This North Shore landmark consists of someting like 300 surfboards, short and long, as well as windsurf boards. Dettloff says he gets a lot of attention for his surfboards, which surround half his property. “We get about a car a week, but usually if they see me they turn around real quick!” he says, laughing.
Earnest and animated, Dettloff says he started building his surfboard fence four years ago as a fluke. “I used to scavenge surfboards from the old Makawao dump and fix them to sell,” the longtime island resident says. He began tying his surfboards to his fence to secure them from his brother-in-law, who accidentally tried to sell a board from Dettloff’s personal quiver. Liking the way it looked, he just kept tying.
Today, surfboards of all colors and sizes outline his land. Dettloff says some of the boards are from the 1960’s and ’70s. One popular board colorfully proclaims “BAM!” with a large Superman logo. Dettloff says many people like to get their picture taken standing next to it. There are boards from Australia and California, and many boards previously ridden by surfers like David Husing, whose grave sits at Paukakalo.
Friends and neighbors donated many of the boards, but an occasional pile of boards will appear mysteriously in his driveway. He doesn’t mind the random offerings; in fact, he welcomes them.
“I’ll need about 300 more boards to finish it,” he says of his fence. But when he receives boards in fair condition, he’ll fix them up and loan them to young local rippers.
Dettloff says a windstorm nearly ruined the fence two years ago, forcing him to storm-proof the boards. “I put a lot of thought into the arrangement,” he says. “It’s actually two fences.”
The outer consists of tall windsurf boards and guns, while the inside is lined with short boards, leaving a gap for the wind. The boards stand at all heights, most yellowed by the sun, some shave ice-colored. There are many recognizable names: Kazuma, T&C, Mana, Naish, Timpone. Hana Highway Surf and HGA stickers are everywhere.
The interior of Dettloff’s surfboard fence is as colorful and lively as the exterior. Several tall longboards flank his driveway, and his mailbox depicts yet more surf paraphernalia. The property is essentially a farm, which Dettloff claims is nearly self-sufficient.
Old buoys hang from a starfruit tree, and the family sells lychee and citrus fruit. Dettloff says people come up to him nearly every day asking to buy beetlenuts, which he sells for 50 cents apiece. “We don’t advertise at all, but we do a good word of mouth trade,” he says.
Tall palm trees shade the household’s many animals, including pit bulls, cows, horses, dwarf bunnies and fat pigs with names like Steak and Kalua. As I walk through, a pregnant Chihuahua begins hassling a bunch of day-old chicks.
Dettloff’s children surf and participate in 4H and rodeo, and his wife is a prizewinning lei maker. Dettloff jokes easily that with all their projects, he’ll be ready for the apocalypse.
Dettloff seems to have as many ideas as he does boards. He has tentative plans to open a fruit stand, using an old boat as a venue, and has a few artistic ideas for the many skegs and straps—“surfboard hardware,” as he calls it—that he’s taken off his boards. He even thinks about taking down one board at a time from his fence, then taking it to the ocean so he can tell people he’s ridden each board.
“I’m not a painter,” he says. “I can’t dance or sing, but I am an artist, and this is my art. This wasn’t easy, but I love it.” MTW