An Ocean Separated Them. A Surfboard Connected Them. See: 2020 Has a Happy Story After All
This is a small story and there are other issues that certainly are bigger currently, but it reminds us to look for the positive and be grateful for the little things.
From Sports Illustrated By Greg Bishop
An unlikely tale about an Ohio mechanic who lost his cherished board on one side of the Pacific and a teacher from the Philippines who found it on the other.
In a year of a billion Zoom calls born from a global pandemic, after seven months as strange as any stretch in human history, two men—separated by thousands of miles, a language barrier and a world divided—meet one afternoon in August over video conference. Each one knows exactly how he arrived here, how improbable this digital crossing is. But as they dial in, neither, really, can believe it.
On one end is a 35-year-old professional photographer and amateur surfer, fidgeting in his bedroom in Hawaii. Tanned and T-shirted, he’s fixing his hair and complaining of a sunburn. His AC is cranking and the blinds are drawn to combat the rays from outside. He looks nervous, as if embarking on a virtual blind date.
On the other end is a 38-year-old schoolteacher in the Philippines who’s squeezing this call in between classes. Goateed, with close-cropped black hair, he speaks in imperfect English, profusely polite, all Thank yous and smiles. He addresses the other caller as “Sir.”
The surfer stammers, seemingly out of jubilation and confusion and the sheer absurdity of everything that led him here. “It’s pretty wild. … It’s pretty awesome. … I don’t know. …”
The conversation twists from awkward banter to talk of some higher purpose, how the two men are now bonded forever by one prized possession. The one that cost the surfer his entire savings, that he’d come to treasure and cherish like a family member. And then they dive deeper, into the cosmos, considering fate and purpose, loss and discoveries, the nature of humankind and what really matters to them. As these two callers recently discovered, we’re all more connected than we think.
Finally, the teacher reaches off-camera and with both hands conjures a large object, holding it up for display.
My baby, the surfer thinks.
Go back two years. Doug Falter was paddling out toward the kind of Waimea Bay waves that filmmakers live for—those big, cresting monsters that rise, rise, rise and fold over, forming a tunnel that propels elite surfers toward nirvana. Falter was one of those seekers who gives up a “normal” life, moves to Hawaii and settles on the North Shore of Oahu, making just enough money to chase this particular brand of high.
Already, on that afternoon in February of 2018, Falter says he had conquered seven waves that most humans would sprint away from, praying to the gods. Greedy, sure, but with sunset fast approaching, he wanted to try for one more. The clock ticked past 6 p.m. He figured he had 20 minutes.
From afar, a friend kept a loose watch. Lyle Carlson had crafted some of the world’s finest boards, including Falter’s, but right now he was keeping his eyes peeled as Doug paddle-paddle-paddled into the fray. Then Falter disappeared, caught, as far as Carlson could tell, between waves, trying to swim down so he wasn’t pummeled with the force of an NFL defense.
Carlson knew all the risks, and they were all severe. The force of a crash could break bones, contort spines, deliver concussions. A surfer could drown or, if his ride shifted wildly, quickly, the heavy leash that connected him to his board could tear a ligament. In Waimea Bay alone, Carlson estimates that thousands of backs have been destroyed. “That size of wave kills people, man,” he says. “When you’re standing near the lip of a giant one, it sounds like a jet engine. … And then it explodes, like a bomb going off, over and over.”