Friendship Made over a Surfboard Drifted 8,000 km from Hawaii to the Philippines

Sep 21, 2020 | NEWS, Philippines, SPORTS, US

When Doug Falter (L) lost his board in a wipeout in Hawaii two years ago, he never imagined it would be found in the remote island of Sarangani in the southern Philippines, where it is now owned by local primary school teacher Giovanne Branzuela (R)

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 (5,000 miles) 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, 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,” Falter, 35, told AFP via Zoom. 

Surfboard From Hawaii to Philippines

Map showing how a surfboard from Hawaii ended up in the Philippines.

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

Branzuela, who bought the badly weathered surfboard from his neighbor a couple of months ago for 2,000 pesos ($40), 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 neighbor 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.

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- Feb 3rd 2018 I remember I counted seven good rides that session. After catching so many waves I finally wiped out on one and my @lylecarlsonsurfboards board floated away after the leash came off my ankle at around 6:00 pm. I swam as hard as I could to try and get to it. I ran from one end of Waimea Bay across to the other side and scaled the rocks trying to get a visual until it was completely dark. I was really upset as I managed to catch the biggest waves of my life on this board. Thats why it meant so much to me. My hope was that a fisherman might find it. I heard Kauai was a possible landing spot for lost boards like mine. Having never heard from anyone I figured it was lost at sea. Fast forward to a couple weeks ago. @lylecarlsonsurfboards posted about a man finding my board in the Philippines and contacting Lyle via Facebook. Mind you- This is 5,200 miles away! Apparently he bought it from a fisherman to learn how to surf. As bummed as I was when I lost it, now I am happy to know my board fell into the hands of someone wanting to learn the sport. I couldn’t imagine a better ending to this story than to see the sport of surfing begin in a place where nobody surfs. If it weren’t for travel restrictions I would have raised money to bring boards for learning and surf supplies and be on a plane to go and visit Giovanne. I could teach him how to surf and hopefully a few of his 144 students. He is in charge of a school on the islands where my board is and i’m sure some of the kids would love to learn. I guess this means for now the most I can do is raise money to send him a goodie package with wax, leashes, books and magazines for his students to learn english. I just priced out shipping for a box big enough for a couple surfboards and it was 600 USD to go almost all the way to where he is. So at the very least for now I want to send the necessities. We are at about 1,000 dollars. Every penny will go to this cause and Im so excited to put a package together! Thank you to everyone who has donated. It means so much! Link to donate in Bio🏄 Photo - @jdbaluch

A post shared by Doug Falter (@dougfalter) on

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

Carlson shared the picture on Instagram, tagging Falter.

“It turned out it’s a surfboard from Hawaii. I couldn’t believe it myself,” Branzuela, 38, told AFP via telephone.

“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.” 

Giovanne Branzuela with the Surfboard

Filipino teacher Giovanne Branzuela (L) poses with the surfboard, once owned by big wave surfer Doug Falter who lost it while surfing in Hawaii two years

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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 meters (60 feet) 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 neighboring Balut island.

In the meantime, Falter shares 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.”