Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 October 2020

Lost at sea: How a surfboard drifted 8,000km from Hawaii to the Philippines

The custom-made surfboard was found on the island of Sarangani, two years after it went adrift from the US state

Doug Falter posing with his surfboard in Hawaii in October 2015 (left) and Giovanne Branzuela with the same surfboard on Sarangani island in the Philippines (right). AFP Photo
Doug Falter posing with his surfboard in Hawaii in October 2015 (left) and Giovanne Branzuela with the same surfboard on Sarangani island in the Philippines (right). AFP Photo

When 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 8,000 kilometres 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 on the Hawaiian island of O'ahu, Falter was alerted via social media that it had been found near the island of Sarangani.

And the new owner – local primary schoolteacher 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," Falter told AFP.

"I was certain that the board would never be found again."

A surfboard floated over 8,000 kilometres from Hawaii and was found in the waters of Sarangani, in the Philippines. Wikimedia Commons / Michael E Peligro
A surfboard floated over 8,000 kilometres from Hawaii and was found in the waters of Sarangani, in the Philippines. Wikimedia Commons

Branzuela, who bought the badly weathered surfboard from his neighbour a couple of months ago for 2,000 pesos (Dh152), said fishermen had found it floating in the sea in August 2018 – six months after Falter lost sight of it.

They thought it may have fallen off a passing yacht and sold it to 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, Branzuela looked him up on Facebook and sent him a photo of the board. Carlson shared the picture on Instagram, tagging Falter.

Filipino teacher Giovanne Branzuela (L) posing with his surfboard, once owned by big wave surfer Doug Falter who lost it while surfing in Hawaii, along with his village mates on Sarangani island in the Philippines. AFP PHOTO / COURTESY OF GIOVANNE BRANZUELA
Filipino teacher Giovanne Branzuela (L) posing with his surfboard, once owned by big wave surfer Doug Falter who lost it while surfing in Hawaii, along with his village mates on Sarangani island in the Philippines. AFP Photo

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

"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 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 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 20 metres high.

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

In the meantime, Falter shared short YouTube videos on surfing basics and is raising money to send supplies to Branzuela's school.

"It's an excuse for me to go to the Philippines and visit and basically complete the story," said Falter.

"I think it would be a great ending to teach him how to surf."

Updated: September 21, 2020 06:52 PM

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