Good-natured surfboard builder from La Jolla, California, once described as the "Michelangelo of shapers"; best known in the 1960s and '70s for his exquisitely crafted big-wave guns.
Diffenderfer was born (1937) in Beverly Hills, California, raised in La Jolla, began surfing in 1949, and two years later shaped his first surfboard, out of balsa. In 1955, after graduating from high school—where he played for the golf and football teams, and dated classmate Raquel Welch—Diffenderfer made the first of several annual trips to Hawaii; the following year he began shaping boards commercially in La Jolla, mentored by Pat Curren and influenced by the hydrodynamically advanced designs of boardmaker Joe Quigg. Diffenderfer was one of the first shapers with a full understanding of rocker—the board's nose-to-tail curve, as viewed from the side; now recognized as one of the most important design characteristics.
Diffenderfer had meanwhile become an accomplished surfer, and was featured in Bruce Brown's 1958 movie Slippery When Wet. (It was Diffenderfer who later suggested to Brown that the explosive left-breaking wave just west of Ehukai Beach Park, on the North Shore of Oahu, should be called "Pipeline.") The glib and handsome Diffenderfer moved to Hawaii in 1959, where his streamlined big-wave boards quickly earned him a devoted following; in 1960 he shaped for both Inter-Island Surf Shop and Hobie Surfboards; in 1968 he became partners with laminator Tony Channin to form Channin-Diffenderfer; in the early 1970s he lived and worked in Kauai, and made boards for some of the era's best Hawaiian surfers, including Jeff Hakman, Joey Cabell, and Jimmy Lucas. Many regarded a Diffenderfer gun as equal to those made by shaping guru Dick Brewer. Returning to his roots, Diffenderfer also began making a limited number of boards out of balsa wood. By the early '80s, Diffenderfer estimated he'd shaped roughly 25,000 boards.
Diffenderfer was inducted into the International Surfing Hall of Fame in 1991; by then he was putting much of his time and energy into golf, and made several attempts, none successful, at qualifying for the PGA Seniors Tour. He spent the first half of the '90s in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, where he designed a resort golf course and continued to shape surfboards. He had a prank-filled cameo in 1994's Endless Summer II.
Diffenderfer , twice married, died of brain cancer in 2002, at age 64.