Dive Oahu Owner’s House Burns Down Following (Apparent) Attempted Arson On His Surfboard Stand

by stab August 16, 2018 6 min read

An arson investigation is underway in Honolulu after Brian Benton’s – the owner of Dive Oahu and recent target of social media (and the occasional personal) attacks following his company’s outbidding of Star Beachboys and Hawaiian Oceans Waikiki concession stands next to the Duke Kahanamoku statue in Waikiki – house burnt down. 

Brian’s daughter entered the home when the fire started. “She came home and opened the side door,” Brian, who has remained silent during much of this island drama, tells Stab. “She was late for a date with her new boyfriend’s parents. She said she smelt something and our dogs were going nuts. She went outside to see what was going on and the back of the house was on fire. She got the dogs and herself to safety and the house burnt down in a matter of minutes.”

A month ago, one of Brian’s canoes was defaced and set adrift. “That made the papers,” says Brian. “What didn’t make the papers was all my surfboards on their stands at our concession had kerosene poured over them and the surrounding sand. They weren’t ever lit on fire. Apparently, it was a failed attempt. All we could do was quietly make a police report.”

The cause of the fire at Benton’s house has been classified as “undetermined” by the Honolulu Fire Department.

According to Honolulu Star-Advertiser: Honolulu police have opened an investigation into a fire at the Kailua home of the owner of the company that recently took over the Waikiki Beach concessions, even as the Honolulu Fire Department is unable to determine the cause.

HFD fire investigators were at the home today and estimated the fire’s damage at $800,000 to the structure and $400,000 to its contents. The investigators, however, were not able to determine the cause of the fire and closed the case after classifying the cause as “undetermined.”

HFD Capt. Carlton Yamada says undetermined means the investigators analyzed all possible causes but there was insufficient evidence to identify any one specific cause. He said undetermined also means there was insufficient evidence to eliminate other potential causes. He said the department can reopen the case if new information becomes available.

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Police investigation is underway, more information to come. Photo Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Here’s a quick recap of the Beachboys drama: Late Spring, Brian Benton’s Dive Oahu took over the concession stands on either side of the Duke statue at the world famous Waikiki Beach. This forced Star Beachboys (founded in 1972) and Hawaiian Oceans Waikiki (founded in 2002) out of the area at which they’ve spent the past decades working, giving surf, SUP, snorkel and canoe lessons at.

Terms as grave as “genocide” have been thrown around due to Dive Oahu’s takeover. The gripe is that Brian is a Haole. That he obtained the permits “illegally” and the city “got in bed with him” due to a payout they’d be receiving by giving Dive Oahu the bid (the finer details of all this can be read here).

Brian grew up in Compton, California and told Stab in an article published in June that he moved to Hawaii 35 years ago. After winning the bids, Brian said, “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.”

The Beachboys, however, are not completely wiped out. Tammy Moniz of the royal Hawaiian family told Stab after we published “On the Death and Subsequent Outrage over the Waikiki Beachboys” that “there isn’t a total death of the Beachboys. There are five stands on the central part of the beach. Three of us are still here doing what we do… perpetuating our Hawaiian surfing culture. We are here fronting Outrigger Waikiki.”

Questionable videos of the Dive Oahu employees have gone viral – most notably the clip of their workers screwing surfboard fins in backwards.

Any hiccup made by Dive Oahu is documented and portrayed on social media, many making the local news – they’ve been under a microscope since winning the bid back in May. The most serious recent incident is a man drowned in the vicinity of the Dive Oahu concession stand mid-June.

Da Hui, who has been leading the charge against Mr. Benton and Dive Oahu posted this to their Instagram after the drowning: BREAKING SURF NEWS: TODAY WE ARE SAD TO REPORT A MAN NEARLY (DROWNED) TODAY IN WAIKIKI DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF DIVE OAHU @diveoahu BEACH STAND JUST 40 FT. OFF-SHORE. A HAWAIIAN SURFER FOUND HIM FLOATING IN DA WATER & FOAMING FROM HIS MOUTH & BROUGHT HIM INTO SHORE ON HIS SURFBOARD YELLING FOR ANYONE TO HELP HIM TRY & SAVE THIS MANS LIFE. ALL EMPLOYEES OF DIVE OAHU JUST STOOD THERE & DID ABSOLUTELY NOTHING & OFFERED NO HELP TO THIS DYING MAN FIGHTING FOR HIS LIFE. WE WERE HAVING OUR DA HUI @dahui.hawaii MEETING TODAY ON DA BEACH IN WAIKIKI RIGHT NEXT TO DIVE OAHU BEACH STAND & OUR DA HUI BOYS WERE THE 1ST TO RUN OVER & HELP THIS SURFER TRY & BRING THIS MAN BACK TO LIFE. ALL EMPLOYEES WITH @diveoahu CONTINUED TO TRY & TEACH SURF LESSONS RIGHT IN FRONT OF THIS DYING MAN & THE DIVE OAHU EMPLOYEES ON DA BEACH STOOD AROUND CASUALLY TALKING & OFFERED NO ASSISTANCE OR HELP. WE HAVE PLENTY OFVIDEO TO PROVE THIS AS YOU CAN SEE & WILL SEE. WTF @diveoahu. It goes on…

You can read the full post here and watch the accompanying video below.

Dive Oahu released this statement in response: 

As we are aware, the first person to respond to the victim was a good Samaritan in the water. Two of Dive Oahu’s staff members were alerted to the situation by someone yelling for assistance and they rushed to their aid. These two staff members assisted inbring the victim on to shore where a bystander on the beach identified themselves as being an off-duty paramedic, Dive Oahu’s staff moved aside to allow this individual to implement CPR. On-duty lifeguards were then quickly onscene and taking charge of the situation. During the incidentDive Oahu’s staff stopped all rental transaction as is our protocol. Dive Oahu assisted in maintaining an egress by asking all onlookers to move back, keeping a section of the beach clear in order to assist first responders in their rescue efforts. Dive Oahu’s top priority is always safety. Safety of our customers, staff, and everyone enjoying the ocean. Dive Oahu is deeply saddened by the loss of life that resulted from this incident and is always proud to support our C&C Lifeguards in protecting ourocean going public.

Owner and operator of Star Beachboys, Aaron Rutledge reached out to Stab roughly a month after our initial story went live – prior to publishing we’d attempted to get a hold of him and Star Beachboys in general. While our multiple attempts yielded no response, Mr. Rutledge finally got back to us. 

“We are still in a battle with the city over the concessions. Hopefully it will be resolved soon and we will be back operating one of the stands again and get the beachboys back to work. In the meantime, we have opened a small retail shop across the street from the beach where we are operating and giving lessons. It’s ok for now, but we are needing to get our canoe back in action, then we can really offer the tourists the full package of what a Waikiki beachboy is all about,” Mr. Rutledge told Stab.

“Dive Oahu is still in non-compliance of the contract since the day they opened and are not offering canoe rides,” he continued. “It’s a shame that the city has allowed them to operate for this long without being in compliance and offering all of the services of the contract. It’s the first time that canoe rides are not being offered at the two city concessions in Waikiki’s history.”

The canoe situation, according to Brian should be sorted by the end of this week. “We have two [canoes] ready to go… one was stolen and destroyed,” Brian says. “Our canoe captain should be getting his license by Thursday, so that’s good news.”

From Benton’s claims that their employees and customers are being harassed – including one incident where two teenage girls were pulled off their surfboards resulting in minor cuts and bruises – to the social media onslaught to an (apparent) attempt at arson on the beachstand’s surfboards and his house burning down, Brian is understandably worried; although, he says he is not deterred.

“It sucks,” says Mr. Benton. “We are not pointing fingers. I hope they can determine that it was an accident, but with the surfboards being done just 30 days before this [his house burnt down Friday night] it scares me. As a parent, I want to know what happened.”

We will continue to follow this story as more information becomes available.

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