On The Death And Subsequent Outrage Over The Waikiki Beachboys
The Hawaiian legal system is about as difficult as riding a surfboard with fins screwed in backwards.
The Beachboys first appeared in Waikiki in 1901. They courted movie stars, woo’d women, gave surf lessons, and by the 1960’s Elvis Presley wrote a song about them called the “Beachboy Blues,” about a beachboy sitting in a jail cell after a fight. I want to be her ever loving man, but I’m a kissing cousin to a ripe pineapple. I’m in the can.
Over a century after their inauguration, as one interviewee by the Honolulu Star Advisor claimed, the Boys are under a “genocide” by the city, and by Dive Oahu, a company owned and operated by one Brian Benton*.
Mr. Benton has become the target of many upset citizens on Oahu, who feel the culture and lifestyle of the Beachboys is being uprooted by his surfboard, SUP, and umbrella rental stands, now found on either side of the Duke Kahanamoku statue at the World Famous Waikiki.
Locals believe that greed is decimating the immutable foundation of culture that’s been many a tourist’s draw to the Hawaiian Islands for the last century**. Furthermore, that the Dive Oahu employees have no business offering any sort of oceanic guidance. Recently they’ve been spotted, in gym shorts and oversized Royal blue polos, screwing fins into rental soft tops backwards – an incident that Mr. Benton told Stab was staged by them. That it was a joke.
Previously, the Duke-adjacent stands were permitted to Hawaiian Oceans Waikiki (founded in 2002) and Star Beachboys (founded in 1972 by long-time Union heavy, the late Art Rutledge).
According to Matt Warshaw’s Encyclopedia of Surf, “When Hui Nalu captain Dude Miller made an arrangement in 1916 with the Moana Hotel to provide their concession on Waikiki, most of the Beachboys came from his club. Miller’s clean-cut uniform-wearing beachboys, known as the Moana Bathhouse Gang, officially weren’t allowed to drink, gamble, or touch female visitors while working.”
And after 1927 during the South Shore’s tourist boom, visitors “tended to the rich and famous, including the likes of Carole Lombard, Charlie Chaplin, Babe Ruth, Cary Grant, and Bing Crosby. The unsalaried Beach Patrol was a success, with Beachboys taking care of wealthy tourists, who, in turn, presented them with envelopes of cash upon their departure for the mainland.”
So, how did the Beachboys find themselves on the endangered list? Since Dive Oahu’s obtained the permits, Star Beachboys have taken them to court three separate times. All three times, Judge Ochiai denied their “Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order” and said it was “unlikely that Star Beachboys would prevail on the merits of its case.”
A press release from Hawaiian Oceans Waikiki cites the Beachboys “illegal” eviction from the city based on, amongst many other claims, the fact that “Dive Oahu agreed to pay 52.5% of its monthly gross revenues relating to beach activities on Kuhio Beach. The City determined Dive Oahu was qualified to bid due to its “Ocean Recreation Sales Revenue.”
It has been confirmed by the Mayor’s Office that Dive Oahu was the highest bidder, with Star Beachboys coming in a close second. Hawaiian Oceans did not file a court challenge and according to the press release, but were “closely monitoring legal proceeding with Star Beachboys and the city.”
After numerous attempts to reach out to Star Beachboys, there has been no communication with Stab. Just an unanswered telephone and a full voicemail box.
“The city created the outcome they wanted,” owner of Hawaiian Oceans Waikiki, Hubert Chang, tells Stab. “I was never notified of our eviction. They never served me the 30-day notice, and when I fought it, they showed me a letter they said they sent, but I never got. When we tried to work it out with the City, they failed to come down or do anything.”
“They [Dive Oahu] were the highest bidder,” continues Mr Chang. “But, if the City is concerned about the safety of the public—Dive Oahu is claiming they’ve done all this training but their employees are putting fins backwards in surfboards. I think the TV and the news should be showing that. The city got into bed with Dive Oahu and are taking a cut. That was my only stand. The business [Hawaiian Oceans] can’t run without it, and, for a lot of my workers, the stand was their only place to work.
“It is what it is, it’s just very sad.”
The crosshairs of this criticism and outrage are locked onto Mr. Benton, who, in a now-deleted but then-excited Facebook post prior to the contract, claimed he had “only owned one surfboard in his lifetime and in the coming days would have over 100.”
In the same post, he also stated that he’d gone on vacation to Waikiki 18 months prior with his friend, and saw the surf, SUP and dive rental as a lucrative business platform.
“While she was looking at all the hot guys I was looking at the dollars being made by renting chairs, umbrellas, surf boards [sic]. Within days I started looking for a contract. Soon a contract appeared and with my TRUSTED team we went and put together are [sic] best bid ever. In short we won.”
This is where a lot of the resentment lies.
Brian’s originally from Compton, California but he’s been living in Hawaii for the past 35 years. He outbid Star Beachboys and Hawaiian Oceans Waikiki who had long held the two concession stands on both sides of the Duke statue.
“We won this contract,” he tells Stab. “The reality of this whole situation is it’s an organized protest. But, when we took over the contract, we offered the workers [of Star Beachboys and Hawaiian Oceans Waikiki] jobs including health and dental care. We pay our surf instructors ten dollars an hour plus up to an extra 40 each time they give a lesson. The problem is, no one wants to cross over.”
Da Hui is leading the charge against Brian and Dive Oahu via a social media attack, scribed in overwhelming capitals, condemning Brian personally for winning the bid for the permits. “Da Hui has picked up over 50k subscribers because of this,” Brain claims. “#diveoahu is popular everywhere, it’s trending; which is hilarious.”
According to Mr. Benton, the past few days the police have been at their stand for up to four hours a day due to harassment of his workers and employees. “The problem I’m having right now is the beachboys are taking aim our customers and that’s not cool,” he continues. “Right now, anyone with a surfboard with our name [Dive Oahu] on it is getting harassed. Yesterday, I had 13 and 15-year-old girls getting their leashes pulled every time they stood up. The 13-year-old got hit by a board and got cut. We filed a police report.”
Because of all the negative attention put on Dive Oahu via social media, and this “organized protest” Brian told Stab he hasn’t spoken to the media. The incident with his teenage customers yesterday was the tipping point.
Reading self-indulgent online reviews can be tiresome, however, the star system has merit; especially in finding which company is most fit to run things like concession stands, including surf lessons and rentals; the more reviews the more accurate the representation… and Yelp is a helpful indicator.
Enter the three companies in this “war” against the Beach Boys: Hawaiian Oceans Waikiki, Star Beachboys and Dive Oahu.
None of the companies have a significant amount of reviews (Star Beach Boys—64 reviews/3 stars; Hawaiian Oceans Waikiki—51 reviews/3.4 stars; and Dive Oahu—192 reviews/4.5 stars).
If we’re going on customer service alone, according to Yelp, Dive Oahu treats their customers better than Star Beachboys and Hawaiian Oceans Waikiki.
Scroll past the bashing of the last three weeks, following this permitting outrage, you slide into mostly positive reviews. Brian Benton personally responds to every single Yelp review, whether glowing or damaging (for the negative reviews, he offers refunds), whereas this reaction is sparse on both Hawaiian Oceans Waikiki and Star Beachboys’ Yelp pages.
Still, customer service, legal permit acquisition, and cultural asphyxiation be damned, there’s just no excuse for screwing someone’s fins in backwards, and allowing them to bring a floating cheesegrater into the ocean.
*Although, according to Matt Warshaw’s EOS, the Beachboy culture died with the Duke in 1968 and Rabbit Kekai, who died in 2016 is often noted as the Last Beachboy.
**It’s worth noting, that a bit down the beach, according to Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s office, there is a non-profit stand set aside by the city council to promote and maintain the Beachboys’ lifestyle ran by the Shaka Foundation. Also, there are two additional stands perpetuating surf culture in Waikiki.
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