Roughly one mile out to sea, somewhere between Pillar Point Harbor and the No. 3 buoy, Dan Stuckey found something unusual.
Stuckey, a seasoned fisherman on the Coastside for more than 30 years, was crabbing on the morning of Jan. 11 when he came across an abandoned surfboard drifting in the open ocean. The board was adorned in colorful handprints and written messages. Stuckey suspected it was no ordinary board.
“Just looking at it, I could see all the comments about kids with cancer, so I knew there was something special right away,” Stuckey said.
It turned out the 10-by-6-foot surfboard belonged to Jojo Roper, a professional surfer from San Diego. Roper’s board is covered with drawings and messages from cancer patients, families, nurses and doctors from the Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego. Roper began a tradition of visiting the center in 2018, letting staff and children paint the board on each visit. At the end of each winter season, Roper auctions each board to raise money for cancer research.
Roper is a close friend of El Granada’s Luca Padua, who had three boards, including Roper’s, tied to the back of his Jet Ski during a marathon session at Mavericks the day before. But upon returning to the harbor that evening after surfing some of the biggest waves of his life, Pauda got word that another friend at Mavericks was missing and had not returned. With the sun setting, Padua, running on adrenaline, hastily unloaded two boards, forgetting to put away Roper’s. He sped back out to the harbor to find his friend. There was no sign of him.
When he came back, Padua heard his friend was safe and sound in the parking lot. The same couldn’t be said for the board that had slipped off the ski.
Amid the huge swell that brought 50-foot waves to Mavericks that day, the board floated down the reef. It steered clear of the rocks until Stuckey found it by chance and hauled it aboard the following morning.
“The odds of losing a board that day, at night and having someone find it the next day, that’s wild,” Padua said.
Roper said he doesn’t blame Padua for forgetting about his board in the heat of the moment.
“When you hear somebody is in trouble, you’re not thinking about a surfboard on the ski,” Roper said. “You’re thinking, ‘I have to find and help this guy.’”
Stuckey didn’t think the board had come detached from a fallen surfer because the leash was still intact and wrapped around it. He told the San Mateo County Harbormaster and Harbor Patrol about the discovery when he returned to shore on Jan. 11. Word eventually reached Roper the board had been recovered. Padua met with Stuckey the following day to reclaim the board.
“It’s a blessing we got the board back,” Roper said.