Extended sun exposure had turned the board yellowish in color, and the fishermen who found it initially mistook it to be from the wreckage of a boat.
Photographer Doug Falter was winding up a long afternoon surfing session on February 3, 2018, at Waimea Bay on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, when a huge wave swept him off his feet. The leash tying him to his beloved sky blue surfboard came off his leg and the board floated away from him while he desperately tried to catch up to it. However, as the sun was starting to set and the sky was turning dark, Falter lost sight of the board — the most expensive board he'd purchased and one attached to a plethora of fond memories.
"The leash just came undone, but the board was not damaged. It just floated away out of my reach. The ocean current just took it away and I couldn't catch up to it because the waves were just too big," Falter told VICE. "I was upset, bummed because that board meant a lot to me... I surfed really big waves with it and I surfed on a day of a well known big surf contest here in Hawaii." Unwilling to let go of hope, he posted photos of the big wave board on social media and handed out posters to local fishermen in hopes that they could somehow retrieve the board.
"Within the first two months, I was pretty sure that someone was gonna find it on the beach and research it and see my name and contact the [surfboard] shaper or myself and someone [would just come] around finding me, but somehow it did not happen," he said. "I just waited and waited and nothing came about." Little did he know at the time that that’s exactly what happened to his board. Well, almost exactly. Instead of local fishermen, the fishermen who found the board were more than 8,000km (4,970 miles) away, in Sarangani Bay, Philippines.
And instead of a couple of months, about two years had passed before they came across the Falter's surfboard. Extended sun exposure had turned it yellowish in color and the fishermen initially thought it was from the wreckage of a boat. They eventually sold the board to Giovanne Branzuela, a teacher at a public middle school on a neighboring island, who had to move to the island to teach, and left his children in Davao City. "At first, the fisherman did not want to sell it to me, until he agreed to sell for PHP2,000 ($40)," Branzuela revealed.
He took an interest in surfing when he saw the board and out of curiosity decided to look up the name that was printed on the surfboard. The name "Lyle Carlson" was written in the middle of an elephant design and Branzuela soon discovered that Carlson was known for shaping iconic big wave surfboards in Hawaii. When the men got in touch with each other, Carlson confirmed that the board was one of his creations and also notified Falter that a guy had found his missing surfboard somewhere in the Philippines.
"The way he told me was through an Instagram post. It had a picture of a surfboard. There was just one picture, that was enough for me to believe that it was my board," Falter recounted. "It was a dark picture, it was just part of the board." Carlson shared Branzuela's contact details with Falter and although the teacher responded to his Facebook message, it took him three weeks to send more photos. "It's mind-boggling, it was unimaginable. I thought my board will just deteriorate in the sun and crumble apart and will not make it to anywhere," said Falter. Knowing how important the board is to its original owner, Branzuela offered to return it to Falter.
"When Doug told me his story, I was really moved. I know how important memories are so I said I can send it back to him if he wants it back," said Branzuela. However, since shipping would cost quite a bit, the men realized that it would be easier for Falter to come to Sarangani and get the board himself. The teacher also requested Falter to help him gather reading materials that could entice his students to try surfing. "I think the perfect way to end the story is for me to go there. I think I could get him some boards," said Falter. "I would like to get some funding, some money to buy a couple [of] surfboards, and bring it to him and trade it for mine." Since he's unable to fly out and get his board right away due to the pandemic, the photographer has set up a GoFundMe campaign to buy Branzuela two surfboards and some reading materials for his students. It has raised a little over $1,700 as of Friday.