Caring for the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk one board at a time

Rick Degrassi has replaced old and rotting wood from one end to the next
April 2, 2024

Story Location:
Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk
Queen Street
Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971
United States

It’s a chilly and windy morning in mid-March on the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk. The sun is beginning to rise earlier and set later, so there’s a feeling of spring in the air. But for today, winter is lingering.

City maintenance employee Rick Degrassi, charged with replacing old and rotting boards, has a smile on his face and wouldn’t want be anywhere else.

“God willing, I’ll be doing this until I’m 70 years old,” he said.

Degrassi has been replacing boards on the Boardwalk for a few years now. He’s not on the Boardwalk every day, but when he’s out there, it’s impossible to miss him. He drives a white box truck with a trailer that has everything he needs to get the job done without having to move. There’s an air compressor on the trailer. There’s a generator in the truck for electricity.

“There’s even a small fridge and a microwave,” said Degrassi, smiling, while pointing to the small appliances on a shelf inside the truck.

Degrassi keeps a variety of board lengths on the trailer – 12-, 16- and 20-footers. There are 24-footers back at the shop for the section of the Boardwalk near Gus & Gus, he said. 

Degrassi, who lives in the Oak Orchard area, worked for a construction company in Pennsylvania for 30 years before coming to eastern Sussex County. He said his parents moved to the area 25 years ago and were always encouraging him to move down.

“There’s a daughter and a granddaughter in Pennsylvania,” said Degrassi.  

That changed when his father died five years ago.

“I knew my mom couldn’t take care of herself, so I came down to take care of her,” he said. “She died three years ago, but it’s been so nice down here that I decided to stay.”

The morning of the interview, Degrassi was working on the southern end of the Boardwalk, between Queen and St. Lawrence streets. It’s one of the narrow sections, which Degrassi said he only works on in the off-season.

The days he is on the Boardwalk, Degrassi begins by walking the section he’ll to be working on. He carries a heavy metal rod, with one end sharpened to a point, tapping spots that look rotten. If there’s a board that needs to be replaced, Degrassi makes a small mark with orange spray paint.

Sometimes the middle rots first, but it’s typically one of the ends, he said. Pointing to another section of recently replaced boards, he said when those boards were pulled up there was a huge mushroom underneath.

“The sand is always wet and the end of the boards closest to the sand never really dries out,” said Degrassi.

With the day’s boards picked out, Degrassi begins replacing them one at a time. He measures a board’s length and width. Over the years, boards expand and shrink, which changes the shape, he said, adding that when the Boardwalk was rebuilt about 15 years ago, there was no gap left between the boards, so some of them have humps from being squeezed together.

To account for swelling, Degrassi said he likes to keep a 3/16th-inch gap on each side of the board. He cuts the new board to length and rips off the excess width. 

Removing the old board begins by drilling out the holes where the old screws are. Then he blows out the holes with the air compressor and removes the screws. He’s using 3-inch-long, star-headed stainless steel screws for the new boards. The old 3-inch-long, square-headed stainless steel screws are recycled and turned into scrap metal.

Not all the screws are easy to remove. There are some spots where a screw gun was used, but the screws didn’t go all the way in, so the job was finished by pounding them into place with a hammer, said Degrassi.

“You should try to get one of those out,” he said. That was not necessary the morning of the interview.

Prior to placing down the new board, Degrassi takes a putty knife and uses the blower again, removing the sand that’s built up between and underneath the boards.

“You eat a lot of sand sometimes,” he said.

Through the process of replacing a board, there are few minutes when there’s a hole in the Boardwalk. Even on a morning when it’s 40 degrees and windy, there are still dozens of people walking. Degrassi said, “Careful, watch your step,” to everyone who walked by.

“I say that so many times a day. I should get a shirt,” said Degrassi, laughing.

With its new oceanfront home prepped, Degrassi places the board down, using a crowbar to move the board as needed to get a uniform width while making his way down. As he’s installing the new screws, he makes sure to put them in different locations than the old screws.

“The new board will become loose real quick otherwise,” said Degrassi.

On average, Degrassi does eight to 10 boards a day. Some of the boards remain from when the Boardwalk was last redone, but Degrassi has also replaced some of the boards he’s put down himself.

“There’s still a lot of good boards left, but it can be hit or miss,” he said. “Boards are like people. Some go a long time, some go early. It can be a case of eeny, meeny, miny, moe.”

Now that he’s been doing it a while, Degrassi admits he looks at other boardwalks when he’s traveling.

“I go down to Ocean City and I find myself walking like this,” said Degrassi, with head down. “You should see how much better ours is.”


  • The Cape Gazette staff has been doing Saltwater Portraits weekly (mostly) for more than 20 years. Reporters, on a rotating basis, prepare written and photographic portraits of a wide variety of characters peopling Delaware's Cape Region. Saltwater Portraits typically appear in the Cape Gazette's Tuesday edition as the lead story in the Cape Life section.

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