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Vol. 16, no. 3
June/July 2013


Finders (not) Keepers 
Story by Shantel Grace
Photos by Elyse Butler

On an early Tuesday
morning I meet Dale Rohlf, owner of Waipahu’s All Island Treasure Detectors, on a West O‘ahu beach. He’s wearing a black Lycra pullover and a pair of bright yellow earphones, and he’s got metal-detecting equipment strapped to his arms. The sun is bright, the sky cloudless and the surf is too high to allow snorkeling offshore, but that doesn’t stop 72-year-old Rohlf from his daily routine of combing Hawai‘i’s ocean shallows for lost jewelry. He’s already been at it for two hours this morning, and his waterproof bag is overflowing: The day’s yield so far amounts to a handful of World War II bullets, six soda tabs, thirteen coins, a broken-up Coke can, a handful of sharp metal wires, two rusty fishing lures and a fourteen-karat gold man’s wedding band worth about $250 in scrap metal. “It’s been a good morning,” Rohlf says. He’s out of the water now and pouring the contents of his pouch onto a hot cement bench to show me his haul. “But I still haven’t found what I’ve been looking for.”


This morning’s mission is a white gold-and-diamond wedding band that belongs to a woman who posted an ad in the “Lost & Found” section of Craigslist a few days earlier. “She hasn’t given me a lot of details,” Rohlf says, “but she told me the vicinity of where I might find it.”


Back in the water, the six-foot, 215-pound sleuth works quietly, walking steadily with his arms swinging from side to side. His physical fitness and concentration come from a career spent in the Navy as a submariner. “I’m sure people have their own ideas of what a metal detector looks like or acts like,” he says. “All I can say is that it’s a great workout. I’m in the water sometimes for hours at a time, walking against a surge of waves, swinging the detector in one hand and digging with the other.” There’s more to it than that, though. “More than anything,” says Rohlf, “I look at it as a way to escape.” He also looks at it as a way to give back—because most of the treasures he’s found over the years he’s returned to their owners, asking only for a small donation to cover his fuel and time. “I’m financially comfortable enough that I don’t need to keep what I find,” he says. “There was probably a time in my life when I didn’t look as hard as I should have to find the person who lost whatever it was I found. But nowadays, rather than the objects I find, I get a heck of a lot more satisfaction from the look I see on people’s faces when I ask them, ‘Is this what you were looking for?’”