A Surf Board Drifted from Hawaii to the Philippines and Started a Friendship Between the Two Owners
It traveled over 5,000 miles across the ocean and was still in one piece.
Doug Falter returned home on the evening of February 3, 2018, teary-eyed and exhausted. The 33-year-old professional photographer had just run from one end of Hawaii’s Waimea Bay to the other—the length of three football fields—while frantically scanning the water like a starving seabird in search of a fish. Still not finding what he was looking for after more than an hour, he tried scaling some nearby rocks to get a better view. But by then, night had started to fall.
At home, Falter took his search online. “Was surfing tonight and lost my baby,” he wrote on Facebook. That “baby” was a ten-and-a-half-foot-long baby blue surfboard that had been custom-made for him. Hours earlier, the crash of a big wave and the powerful swells of the bay had separated Falter from this prized possession.
“I caught the biggest waves of my life on that board,” Falter later said. “That’s why it means so much to me.”
He hoped it would wash ashore in the coming days and that whoever spotted it would have also seen his Facebook post. But instead of pushing Falter’s surfboard to shore, the currents of Waimea Bay swept it out to sea, away from Oahu and from the Hawaiian Islands altogether.
Weeks passed with no sign of the surfboard. Then months. Lyle Carlson, who had customized the board for Falter, told him of another lost surfboard that was found—four years later—after a fisherman hooked it. “That did give me hope,” Falter says, “but by that time I was like, ‘I just have to forget about it.’ ” He saved for months to buy a new custom surfboard, for $1,500. “Those boards aren’t cheap,” he says.
But Falter never completely forget about the board, which—six months after and more than 5,000 miles away from where it disappeared—floated by the remote island of Sarangani in the southern Philippines. The local fisherman who found it didn’t have much use for his unusual catch of the day, so he sold the board to Giovanne Branzuela, a 36-year-old elementary school teacher. Branzuela hoped to learn to surf and one day share the skill with his students, who regularly accompany him on beach cleanups.
“It’s been my dream to ride the big waves here,” Branzuela says. He bought Falter’s surfboard for $40.
The once-blue board had faded to a pale straw color during its journey, but its distinctive markings were still there: two elephants, one at either end, each framed in a diamond emblem. Underneath the emblems were the words “Lyle Carlson Surfboards, Oahu, Hawaii.”
“I couldn’t believe it,” Branzuela said on realizing how far the surfboard had traveled. He reached out to Carlson online last July and sent him a photo of the board. Carlson, in turn, reached out to Falter, who then contacted Branzuela directly to ask for more photos. Those extra shots confirmed the board was his. Falter was shocked to learn that his “baby” had drifted across the world’s largest ocean—and survived. “It was the craziest thing I had ever heard,” Falter says.
He was ecstatic, but not only for himself. “When I heard this guy bought it because he wanted to learn how to surf, I thought, ‘This is the coolest way I could have ever lost $1,500.’ ” Seeing interest in the sport grow means a lot to Falter. “I couldn’t imagine a better ending to this story,” he says.
But the story was far from over. Even now, months later, Falter and Branzuela are in contact almost every day. The coronavirus pandemic has delayed their plans to meet in person, but Falter knows his surfboard is in safe hands in the Philippines. “I told him I would take good care of it,” Branzuela says.
In the meantime, Falter wanted to thank Branzuela with some surfing supplies, but the teacher asked for school supplies instead, such as backpacks for his students and materials to help them learn English.
“That fueled me to raise money for the kids,” Falter says. So far, he has collected $2,500, which he has used to buy and ship maps, puzzles, classroom posters, textbooks, and workbooks, along with beloved children’s titles like Charlotte’s Web and The BFG as well as volumes in the Harry Potter series. “I’m just happy for the opportunity to do something good,” Falter says.
As for the surfboard, Falter is delighted that Branzuela is using it, if only for splashing around in shallow waters, since he is a novice. When Branzuela bought the board, he had no idea it was made specifically for a man of his exact size. “It’s pretty wild—we’re the same height,” Falter says of the happy coincidence. When the two men finally do meet for the handoff, Falter plans to make it an even exchange by giving Branzuela a brand-new board. And before he leaves the Philippines, Falter wants to do what Branzuela hoped the board would do: teach him to surf. Next, learn about the most incredible undersea treasures ever found.