Evan Quarnstrom riding his favorite board. He left it behind in Madagascar.
Evan Quarnstrom riding his favorite board. He left it behind in Madagascar.
(Via Evan Quarnstrom)
Opinion from Community Voices

I left my board with a Malagasy surfer: How I learned to let go of what I cherished

Santa Cruz native Evan Quarnstrom left his favorite surfboard halfway around the world — on purpose. He gifted it to a surfer in Madagascar he had met who needed it more than he did. But he misses it. Here, he reflects on the bond between a surfer and board and the memories and surfer friends he made from Brazil to Indonesia to Madagascar during his almost two-year travel adventure.

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I knew I would never see my surfboard again the minute the boat taxi launched.

As we glided across the crystal water off the desert coast of southwest Madagascar (Africa’s largest island), I watched the village of Anakao fade into the distance, along with my cherished board.

The board had been my companion for nearly two years as I circumnavigated the globe. Surfing was a big part of the journey — a door into other communities, lives and seats at dozens of dinner tables.

The board holds memories. Together, we rode waves in Brazil, flew out of barrels in Indonesia, forged new surf friendships in India and nervously entered sharky waters on Reunion Island.

I rode it through the end of my 20s and into the uncharted waters of my 30s, as I discovered a new version of myself while traversing four continents and 10 countries.

It was tattered. Worn. But also uniquely mine. Every ding a moment. A connection. A reminder of where I had been and what I had done.

Surfers understand what boards come to mean, but it’s harder to put into words for non-surfers the visceral connection that a surfboard creates between a surfer and the ocean. That link has been intrinsic to my life since growing up in Santa Cruz.

That’s why I felt a particular sorrow and nostalgia leaving this particular board behind.

But I don’t regret it. I’m happy about it.

I left it in a good place, with someone who needs it. It has a new home where it will help create a new surf story. I gifted it to a local Malagasy surfer who had inspired me.

I felt it was his turn with the board.

But still I’ll miss it.

It was the only board I took when I left my career in 2021 for a life of adventure, surfing and travel.

Evan Quarnstrom spent almost two years traveling the world and connecting through surfing.
Evan Quarnstrom spent almost two years traveling the world and connecting through surfing.
(Via Evan Quarnstrom)

I can still see and feel its off-white hue and 5-foot-7-inch frame. Over the years, it lost its unblemished shine. But it still catches waves like it did in its prime.

A professional surfer will burn through dozens of boards a year. They purposefully ride lighter boards — with less fiberglass — to enhance performance. But those boards are more prone to break.

Everyday surfers like me who have to make a normal living don’t have that expensive luxury. So we buy our boards to last.

As a result, most surfers bond with their boards.

To an outsider, this might sound cheesy, but surfers get it.

Surfing is a lifestyle, an outlet for both physical and mental health, a source of joy, a sense of purpose and a form of meditation.

That’s why every surfer remembers their first board.

Some even still have them decades later. The first memory of that magical sensation of gliding on water — riding a wave – is impossible to forget. For me, 17 years after my first wave, I still can recall the board and the sensation.

So when I bought a one-way ticket to a foreign land and spent years with one board, I naturally grew fond of it.

The board had been a goodbye present from my former employer. They knew I was searching for an all-round good, Swiss army knife-type surfboard that I could use for traveling. I wanted a board that could surf a wide range of conditions, big to small, strong to weak. But it also had to pack away easily onto a bus or train to accompany me on the adventure.

The board is a Hypto Krypto model by Haydenshapes. It’s a unique shape, meant to be ridden a few inches shorter than a standard shortboard. It is relatively wide and holds a disproportionate amount of volume toward the center and nose to create more speed while paddling and riding the wave.

It’s marketed as a “one-board quiver” and has grown obscenely popular since videos went viral of Australian pro surfer Craig Anderson catching the wave of a lifetime on the model in Indonesia eight years ago.

I had never ridden one, or anything similar.

And at first I didn’t like it. It required relearning weight distribution and foot placement compared to the boards I had been riding. My first few sessions on the board left me feeling doubtful.

But I got the hang of it.

Through my journey, from South America, to Asia, to Africa, we connected. As I picked up and discarded a couple other boards along the way, the 5’7’’ Hypto Krypto always stuck by my side.

After 19 months of travel, I arrived in Madagascar.

Kids in Anakao, Madagascar, often surf with hand-me-down and makeshift boards.
Kids in Anakao, Madagascar, often surf with hand-me-down and makeshift boards.
(Via Evan Quarnstrom)

Outsiders and professionals have been surfing the waves of Africa’s largest island for decades, but the sport is still in its infancy for locals. Boards — or any surfing equipment for that matter — are hard to come by.

I soon met Max Manapototra, who like me was born in 1992 and loves to surf. I was drawn to his genuine, friendly character and authenticity.

Madagascar is one of the most impoverished nations on the planet. Attaining the basic resources for survival is a challenge for many, let alone procuring the necessary equipment to go surfing.

But Max doesn’t complain.

He is quiet, positive and openly shares stories with new friends. He keeps only one board for himself, giving any extra boards he comes by to other Malagasy surfers. Surfing with him is fun; he’s grateful for whatever conditions are on offer and he’s just as stoked to watch someone else get a wave as when he gets one himself.

I insisted Max try my board and was impressed how seamlessly he transitioned to using it. He’s a damn good surfer.

I spent a night chatting with him about his childhood growing up as one of eight children and living through the trauma of losing a sister and his father. I shared with him that I, too, recently lost my father — a somber, life-changing moment that we were both going through.

He told me how initially his mother, burdened with the family finances, frowned on his decision to surf. Surfers in her eyes were lazy pot-smokers with no direction. When Max was in his late teens and not attending school, Max’s mother even moved the family away from the ocean to force him to refocus on his studies.

But Max was hooked on the ocean and in 2018, he headed to Madagascar’s southwest coast, a surfing paradise, where he got a job as a guide for a surf camp in the small, carless village of Anakao.

That is where we met in May.

He earns just $200 per month, and we often spoke about how local surfers struggle to get equipment. They surf on whatever they can get their hands on, whatever foreigners leave behind. Many of the local kids I met were sharing hand-carved wooden planks as boards.

The boards were clunky and cumbersome. Kids in Santa Cruz might not even recognize them as surfboards. But the Malagasy kids don’t care. They are proud of their boards and smile just like a surfer who just caught the wave of the day when they play in the water.

The night I was set to leave Anakao, I started wrapping up my board for travel. And then I stopped.

I knew I had to leave it.

I rarely feel sentimental about material items, but I felt a surprising emotional attachment. I hadn’t even realized I felt that way until it was time to say goodbye.

Memories overwhelmed me: teaching people to surf in India, securing my board tightly on bumpy city buses in Brazil, feeling elated when I had completed a particularly difficult barrel just the day before in Madagascar.

Letting go of my board felt symbolic of my journey. It was time to leave the board behind and move on, just as I had left my previous life behind and started a new chapter abroad.

I placed the board on the wood rack near Max’s room and texted him. He was out guiding a surf trip. We had already said our goodbyes. In my note, I wished him luck with the board and hoped that we could one day share some waves again.

In all likelihood, I will never see Max again. I definitely won’t see the board again.

The board will mean a lot more to Max than it would to me. I’ll buy a new one sometime soon, start a new story with it.

Meanwhile, that board will allow Max, and other surfers of Madagascar, to create their own memories, forge new friendships and leverage the power of the ocean to write their own stories, their own futures.

Evan Quarnstrom is a Santa Cruz native with an affinity for surfing, the outdoors, traveling and studying languages. He graduated from Harbor High School in 2010 and went on to study international business at San Diego State University. After seven years working in the surfing industry, Evan now works as a freelance writer and online English teacher. He has been to 25 countries and counting. See his other Lookout pieces here.