Sports: Sunny Moves On

A post-retirement Sunny Garcia looks back on the surfing life.


Published:

photos: Sean Davey
Sometimes Sunny Garcia's tough-guy image obscures all that he's accomplished as a professional surfer, but Sunny makes no apologies for who he is or where he comes from. He had a rough-and-rumble upbringing in Wai'anae, and decided early on that intimidation and physical force were necessities for survival, even with his surfing ability. Garcia saw professional surfing as his ticket out of west O'ahu, and so began his career in 1986 at only 16.

While success never came easy, Garcia fought his way up—figuratively, and, at times, literally—to become the world champion in 2000 and the second male surfer from Hawai'i to pull off the feat. He also won the prestigious Triple Crown of Surfing series a record six times, and amassed 38 career event victories that spanned the globe and 20 years of competing on the Association of Surfing Professionals tour. When Garcia retired at the end of 2005, he did so as arguably the most accomplished professional surfer in Hawai'i's history.

"I started surfing because I love to surf. I wanted to accomplish things, and I did it the only way I knew how," says Garcia, who turned 36 last month. "I am who I am. It's not that I'm trying to be a tough guy or anything, but I fight for what I believe in and I'm not really worried about the consequences. I'll be the first one to admit that I've been wrong a lot of times. But there are some things in life I'll never apologize for, and definitely not for being myself."

Being from Wai'anae and a poor family, Garcia says he wanted to show kids that, even if you're not as privileged as others, it is possible to go out and follow your dreams. "As long as you steer that very narrow road," says Garcia, "dreams do come true. I feel good; I lived my dream. Now it's time for me to make room for the rest of the young kids, and hopefully, down the line, I can help some of them follow their own dreams."

Sunny Garcia surfs at Backdoor, on the North Shore of O'ahu.

Garcia still plans to compete in select events, like the three on O'ahu's North Shore that make up the Triple Crown, which he won most recently in 2004. Though he admits he'll be a little depressed when the tour starts up again (at the end of February) without him for the first time in two decades, he plans to continue fighting for what he believes in, whether it's setting straight a guy in the lineup he deems disrespectful, or advocating for Hawai'i surfers within the sport's administrative bodies. Most of these local surfers, including ones who've competed against him, still see him as "The Man," even in retirement.

"He was just a guy who loved competing and had a strong approach to everything," says Kaua'i's Kaipo Jaquias, who competed on tour with Garcia throughout the '90s. "He's a true local boy. At times, it may seem like he's a bully, but, at other times, he's just standing firmly for what he believes in. He was true to the sport, he was there for one thing: to compete. He was the leader for us Hawai'i surfers for a long time."

Subscribe to Honolulu