Read Surf Champ Sunny Garcia’s 2006 “I Fight For What I Believe In” Interview
The six-time Triple Crown winner bowed out of competition in 2005 as Hawai‘i’s most accomplished surfer, but his hard-edged lifestyle caught up with him. Now recovering from surgery, he faces a long road and a gofundme account is soliciting donations to defray medical costs.
As well-known for his pugnacious, don’t-back-down persona as for his tremendous gifts as a surfer, Sunny Garcia made no bones about the source of his combative personality: a hard upbringing growing up poor in Wai‘anae. Today, Garcia is on life support in a Portland, Oregon hospital.
He scratched his way up the ranks of competitive surfing, starting at the age of 16. Garcia started strong in his 1986 debut, scored consistently in the top 10 during the 1990s. Vanʻs Triple Crown of Surfing calls him “The Triple Crown of Surfing Owner” as the only person to win three consecutive titles. He faded as new blood entered the sport (particularly in the form of Kelly Slater) and made a memorable comeback in 2000, winning a world title in the then-ASP WCT Tour.
Garcia has been in critical condition since April 29 when he was found unresponsive in his home. Sources told Surfer Magazine he had attempted suicide.
Friends and fans have been posting messages of encouragement on social media, where Garcia had shared some of his struggles with mental illness. Daughter Kaila Garcia posts updates on his progress on his GoFundMe page and on Instagram. As of Thursday, surgery had been performed to insert a breathing and food tube. “My dad @sunnygarcia is out of surgery,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “… He’s OK and he’s doing good … Surgery was kind of rough but he made it.”
After a successful 2008 comeback from his premature retirement, Garcia’s last ranking was in 2010. Throughout his career, the same personality traits that enabled his rise from rags sabotaged his career at various times as Garcia became more known for an explosive temper and an open embrace of physical violence. He also ran afoul of the IRS and would serve time for tax evasion.
But in 2006, the then 36-year-old was reflective when he spoke about his decision to step back from the competitive surfing circuit. Click here to read our 2006 HONOLULU story.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention hotline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and find more resources at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.