Sunny Garcia: the life of the Hawaiian power surfer

January 23, 2020 | Surfing
Sunny Garcia: one of the best Hawaiian surfers of all time | Photo: Cestari/WSL

Sunny Garcia is a living legend and one of the most respected surfers in Hawaii. Two decades after his world title, he still holds a couple of records.

Vincent Sennen Garcia was born on January 14, 1970, in Mā'ili, on the west coast of Oahu, in Hawaii.

His mother was a housekeeper, and his father worked as an automotive technician. Garcia is of Filipino, Hawaiian, Chinese, Irish, and Native American descent.

Vincent "Sunny" Garcia started surfing at the age of seven.

The nickname - Sunny - was given to him by his mother after his cheerful personality as a young child.

Sunny Garcia: winner of six Triple Crown of Surfing titles | Photo: Servais/WSL

Lust for Life

In 1984, he won the United States Surfing Championships and quickly understood that he wanted to ride waves for a living.

The Hawaiian dropped out of school in the ninth grade, turned pro at 15, and rapidly became one of the most powerful surfers of the early ASP World Tour days.

In 1986, Garcia defeated the 1984 surfing world champion, Tom Carroll, at the Gotcha Pro.

However, his first dark period arrived when cocaine took over his life at the age of 18, and he crashed his Pontiac Firebird Trans Am big time.

One year later, Sunny recovered from his first Armageddon and resumed his professional surfing career.

Between 1990 and 2000, he finished every single season in the top 10 thanks to his old school power surfing skills that helped him dominate the Hawaiian lineups for over a decade.

Inspired by Australian power surfer Mark Occhilupo, who surprisingly conquered the 1999 Championship Tour title, Garcia moved to Kauai and focused on hard training sessions alongside Andy and Bruce Irons.

Sunny Garcia was once described as "the modern-day Cassius Clay" by Australian pro surfer and journalist Derek Hynd. He is 5'11'' tall and his muscles speak for himself.

He is a passionate surfer, but also loves dogs and motocross.

Sunny Garcia: applying the brakes at Jeffreys Bay | Photo: Saunders/Creative Commons

Ups and Downs, Brawls and Records

Outspoken, exuberant, impulsive, volatile, provocative, brutal, but also energetic, fearless, charismatic, courageous, genuine, and gentle.

Garcia got into fights and made friends for life; attacked judges, and dedicated his time to make surfing a well-paid, full-time job for generations to come.

The sport had somehow found its yin and yang character.

The Hawaiian served as president of the World Professional Surfers (WPS), the surfers' representative body, and lobbied for the raise of the minimum prize money $135,600 to $250,000 in surf contests.

In 2000, Sunny Garcia was crowned ASP World Tour champion after having won two events - Billabong Pro and Rip Curl Pro - and finishing runner-up in the Bluetorch Pro.

The Hawaiian regular footer lent his name to a console video game - "Sunny Garcia Surfing" (Playstation 2, 2000), and is the star of the surf movie "Sunny Dayz - A West Side Story" (2002).

Sunny Garcia: celebrating victory at the 2000 Rip Curl Bells Beach | Photo: Tostee/WSL

Garcia retired from professional competitive surfing in 2005 but made a comeback to requalify for the elite tour.

Nevertheless, in 2006, the Hawaiian veteran was sentenced to three months in prison, seven months of house arrest, and 80 hours of community service for tax evasion.

According to a US District Court Judge in San Diego, Garcia failed to pay around $117,000 in taxes from 1996 through 2001.

On his chest, a tattoo reads: "Death and Taxes."

In 2011, Garcia and Jeremy Flores were disqualified from the Breaka Burleigh Surf Pro after being involved in a fight with a local surfer.

Brawls were part of his life. Garcia had already been expelled from Catholic school and kicked off his junior high basketball team.

In the early 2000s, he even punched his fellow Hawaiian, Derek Ho, while competing in Australia.

In 2002, Garcia participated in the reality series "Boarding House: North Shore" and slapped surfers who displeased him.

"They're saying I'm the Mike Tyson of surfing. And you know what? I take that as a compliment," the legend said in an interview afterward.

Sunny Garcia: one of the best Hawaiian tube riders of all time | Photo: Saguibo/WSL

Sunny married three times (Angela, Raina, and Colleen) and has three children - Kaila, Logan, and Stone Garcia - from his first marriage. Kelly Slater is the godfather of Garcia's eldest child, Kaila.

Kaila's son took his grandfather's name and learned to surf with him.

Garcia holds the record for the most Qualifying Series event wins - 22 trophies, and was the second professional surfer in the history of the sport to win over a million dollars in prize money.

He is also the only surfer to have won six Triple Crown of Surfing titles (1992, 1993, 1994, 1999, 2000, and 2004).

The athlete supports Surfers Healing and Mauli Ola Foundation and is often seen participating in beach cleanups. Garcia is also an active promoter of the Hawaiian culture.

Depression and Suicide Attempt

Garcia has been battling depression for several years and started talking about it openly and publicly since 2014.

In April 2019, the Hawaiian surfing legend was found unresponsive and unconscious in his home after attempting suicide.

Sunny Garcia was hospitalized in critical condition but survived. The Hawaiian remained in an intensive care unit for several weeks.

He has been slowly but steadily recovering, celebrating each little triumph. The Hawaiian legend is still regaining motor functions, working out on a stationary bike, and improving his auditory processes and brain functionality.

While he continues to heal, one day at a time, he surrounded by love, laughter, and ohana. Sunny is on a marathon, not a sprint.

Hopefully, we will all see him back in the water soon.

SurferToday.com uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Learn more on our About section.