Surfboard drifts 8,000km from Hawaii to Philippines

A combination photo showing Mr Doug Falter (left) with his surfboard in 2015 and Mr Giovanne Branzuela with the same board, two years after the American surfer lost it in a wipeout.
A combination photo showing Mr Doug Falter (left) with his surfboard in 2015 and Mr Giovanne Branzuela with the same board, two years after the American surfer lost it in a wipeout.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MANILA • When American big wave surfer Doug Falter lost his board in a wipeout in Hawaii, his best hope was for a local fisherman to pick it up.

He never imagined it would be found more than 8,000km away in the southern Philippines.

More than two years after watching his pale blue custom-shaped board disappear in the huge swell of Waimea Bay, Mr Falter was alerted via social media that it had been found near the remote island of Sarangani.

And the new owner - local primary school teacher and aspiring surfer Giovanne Branzuela - was happy to give it back to him.

"When I saw the picture of it, I couldn't believe it, I thought it was a joke almost," Mr Falter, 35, told Agence France-Presse via Zoom. "I was certain that the board would never be found again."

Mr Branzuela, who bought the badly weathered surfboard from his neighbour a couple of months ago for 2,000 pesos (S$56), said fishermen had found it floating in the sea in August 2018 - six months after Mr Falter lost sight of it. They thought it may have fallen off a passing yacht and sold it to Mr Branzuela's neighbour for a few dollars.

Despite months drifting across the Pacific Ocean, the name of the board's shaper, Hawaii-based Lyle Carlson, was still visible on the now-yellowish surface.

Curious, Mr Branzuela looked him up on Facebook and sent him a photo of the board.

Mr Carlson shared the picture on Instagram, tagging Mr Falter.

"It turned out it's a surfboard from Hawaii. I couldn't believe it myself," Mr Branzuela, 38, said.

"It's been my dream to learn to surf and ride the big waves here," he added. "For now I can use his surfboard. I told him I will take good care of it."

The pair have been chatting on Facebook and Mr Falter plans to visit the small island to retrieve his board after coronavirus travel restrictions are lifted.

"That board meant so much to me because of my accomplishments on it," said Mr Falter, a commercial photographer who took up surfing about 15 years ago in Florida before moving to Hawaii.

"It was my first big wave surfboard custom-shaped for myself. I surfed it on the biggest days I've ever surfed in my life," he said, including the 2016 Eddie Aikau big wave surf contest in Waimea Bay when the swell was 20m high.

Mr Falter said he wants to give Mr Branzuela a beginners' surfboard in exchange for his and show him how to catch waves around Sarangani and neighbouring Balut island.

Meanwhile, Mr Falter shares YouTube videos on surfing basics and is raising money to send supplies to Mr Branzuela's school.

"It's an excuse for me to go to the Philippines and visit and basically complete the story," said Mr Falter. "I think it would be a great ending, to... teach him how to surf."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2020, with the headline 'Surfboard drifts 8,000km from Hawaii to Philippines'. Print Edition | Subscribe