Donald "DJ"?Dettloff still can't figure out how his quiet Haiku property on Kaupakalua Road has evolved into a quirky Maui landmark. Known simply as "the surfboard fence," this towering structure made of hundreds of discarded surfboards has become a must-see attraction for residents and tourists seeking fun off the beaten path. Still, Donald admits it's all a fluke.
"I don't even try, really. I just sit over here and people come and keep bringing their boards," he says, pointing out a stack of five boards that were donated in the past two weeks. "I look at how big it is now and I just don't know what happened."
It all started back in 1990 when the forecast of a hurricane prompted Donald to secure his surfboards by wiring them to his fence. Artistic inspiration ensued and he decided to add a few more boards to his humble collection - nothing fancy, just discarded ones that he salvaged at the nearby junkyard.
Haiku resident Donald “DJ” Dettloff is flanked by his famous fence made of about 650 discarded surfboards.
"I'd pick up boards at the dump That was before, when you used to be able to go shopping at the dump - I'd go every weekend," Donald explains.
As the fence grew, so did the buzz in the surfing community. It wasn't long before boards of all shapes and sizes began showing up in his front yard. They haven't stopped since. Donald estimates the fence includes about 650 boards, with nearly 50 more ready to be added.
"It didn't get like it is now until the windsurfers," says Donald, pointing out the rows of giant boards lined up along the side of the property. "Once the windsurfers started coming, this thing just blew up."
A 2002 windstorm nearly destroyed the fence, forcing Donald to rethink his original single-row design. The reinforced structure is now made of two rows, one incorporating larger boards and a second row using short boards, allowing the wind to blow through it.
From old-school shapes to the modern designs, the hodgepodge of boards forms a uniquely mismatched continuity around the 3.5-acre property. A closer look reveals even more trinkets and an array of water gear strewn within the statuesque structure. Tattered leashes dangle from a tree like a velcro-laden wind chime, jagged skegs are wedged in random nooks, and a flashy collection of yellow buoys resemble bananas swaying in the wind.
If these boards could talk, they'd have a lot to say.
"People have given me boards telling me this is the first board to cross the channel or this is a race board used in the Olympics and things like that. So yeah, there's lots of stories behind the boards," Donald says.
Some have compared it to a kind of surfboard graveyard where old boards go to die. Donald prefers to think of it as a place where "junk" boards find new life.
"It's sad, so many people throw their old boards away at the dump. At least if they bring them here, I'll use them for something," he says.
But not all boards are destined for the fence. Occasionally a real gem will show up in his yard - too valuable to be left out in the elements. Those will go in the "keeper"?pile.
"I've got surfboards that are worth lots of money. It's amazing that people will just drop them off and leave," Donald says.
Surfers looking to unload their boards aren't the only ones migrating to the famed fence. Curious rubberneckers and camera-wielding tourists trek to the north shore landmark to check out this unique homage to surf culture. Ironic, Donald admits, since the fence was originally intended for privacy.
"At the time I didn't know all this was going to happen," he says, adding he can't believe all the attention his fence has garnered over the years.
Images of the fence have made their way onto the walls of art galleries, onto glossy pages of surfing magazines and calendars, and have been used as a backdrop for various television shows. Look for it in an upcoming edition of "Ripley's Believe It or Not!" book and a cameo appearance in the May 3 episode of CBS' "The Amazing Race."
While Donald considers his creation an "accident," his true passion lies within its borders, at the sanctuary he calls Ka'ohu Farms. The area is a haven for his mixed bag of plants and animals, including goats, ducks, cows, rabbits, pigs and dogs, along with rows of ti leaf, papaya and betel nut trees.
Admittedly "not the business type," Donald has enlisted the help of his mother, Donna Dettloff, to handle the technical matters.
"He'll always tell me, 'I'll take care of the fence, you take care of the business,' " Donna reports.
Under her guidance, the pair has created Surfboard Fence, LLC; lauched a Web site that sells T-shirts, postcards and prints; and is in the process of qualifying for a Guinness World Record for the largest surfing board collection - a meticulous application process that took nearly a year to complete.
"He's pretty humble so he won't brag, but he's worked so hard on that fence," Donna says, adding that she's like a proud grandparent, carrying pictures of the fence in her wallet to show off to strangers.
She laughs, "That's fine though, I'll brag for him because he's my son and I'm proud of the work he's done."
To find out more, visit www.mauisurfboardfence.com.
* Reach Lehia Apana at email@example.com.