homepage logo

Wayno goes for the sweet smell of success

By Staff | Oct 1, 2009

Wayno Cochran stands proudly in front of his Honokowai surf shop.

Wayne (Wayno) Cochran’s Kilah Wiffa Surf Shop, it appears, has the distinction, so to speak, of being the only small or big enterprise that takes its name from an odorous sewage plant.

Wayno (nicknamed that by surfers) likes to give out a business card that reads, (we’re) “Just down wind from the Honokowai sewage treatment plant. If you can smell ’em, dats where we sell ’em.” Kilah Wiffa, by the way, is a local expression referring to certain bodily smells and sounds small boys often like to joke about.

Wayno’s willingness to use his offbeat sense of humor to name his new shop, as well as the decision to place it in a unique location in one of those ugly buildings that house West Maui’s rental car fleet, nevertheless looks as if it is paying off.     

Advertising comes from word of mouth, signage and a pair of surfboards at the tiny shop’s entrance easily visible from the highway. Despite difficult economic times, the shop is prospering, enjoying —again, if you’ll pardon the expression — the sweet smell of success.

Wayno Cochran took up surfing in California a couple years before his teens and headed off to Maui’s Honolua Bay after high school in 1960 to be a “surfing hippie.” When no surf was up, he initially worked at the old Banyan Inn on Front Street. Honolua was the lure because it’s one of the best surfing spots in the world, according to Cochran. The picturesque bay holds that ranking in his mind because of unique conditions that make it possible to surf a very long way on just one wave.

Despite the surfing life, Wayno has managed to support himself and his wife, Elle, by making and selling surfboards, owning a shop for 15 years at the pineapple cannery (now home to the mall), and extending his pineapple connection, so to speak, by parking cars for diners at the old Pineapple Hill restaurant. Later, he went on to work in landscaping.

His first surf shop was known for its sign: “Open when the surf is flat.” Surf up or not, it’s now 60 hours a week for Wayne in his new shop that opened in his current location last year. 

These days, there’s a lot more selling than surfing. On one recent busy morning, Wayno rented boards to a family of four for a week and arranged for surfing lessons at Lahaina Breakwall offered by a company that greets his customers. All this is done with a friendly banter, ranging from what restaurant he recommends for lunch to asking for a return report on which family member turns out to be the best surfer.

Surfboards rent for $20-$30 a day. Plunk down $500 to $1,000 and up, and you can buy a new custom board. Each Thursday morning, Wayno retreats to a very warm enclosed shed — best described as compact — on his Honolua Bay property, where he begins by shaping his boards.

“Making boards takes a lot of skill. It’s easy to mess up,” he noted. Wayno starts with a polyurethane core board that will not absorb water, outlining its shape and trimming it with a hand saw, then adds a couple of layers of fiberglass “that makes it more durable.” After drying, he planes and sands the creation, then turns it over to a colorist who creates and paints a sometimes intricate design. Wayno has no time for coloring these days, so most of the profit goes to the painter. Every board carries Wayno’s name plus date of manufacture.

Over the years, Cochran figures he’s made more than 2,000 surf and paddle boards. Hefty material and coloring costs keep profit low. Since he maintains careful records, he recently was able to return one stolen board to its rightful owner after it was spotted in a local pawn shop.

Wayno and Elle Cochran (profiled in the last column) live off the electrical grid. When Elle moved from what she calls the “Big City” (meaning Lahaina), light came from a Coleman lantern. Since then, Wayno has added solar power stored in a bank of batteries for light, TV and computers that Elle keeps humming, sending frequent e-mails to people about upcoming hearings relating to preservation of the land.  Water still comes from what is collected on the roof, and the “bathroom is the same kind used before plumbing,” he said.

This has been a good year for Wayno — 60 surfboards sold so far, though things have been slowing more recently.

Come November, he and Elle will know the outcome of a lawsuit vs. Maui Land and Pineapple Co. that could result in the loss of his land. 

For people who live off the grid, Wayno and Elle might be expected to live a simple life. But this being Maui, it is anything but. The resourceful couple is more active than most in fighting for what they believe is right, and we are all better off for it.