"The first time I met Barca, he was 14 years old. He just showed up on my front porch with a board bag. He said, 'Hey, Bruce and Andy said I could stay here.' He ended up on my couch for weeks," remembers X Games Surfing contributing photographer Jason Kenworthy.
For all intents and purposes, this is when Dustin Barca's life in the surf spotlight began. Coming up on the quiet, relative Hawaiian backwater that is Kauai's northern shore, he was caught of in the wave of Garden Isle talent that was soon to sweep the surf world. Barca would eventually join the Irons brothers on the road, qualifying for the ASP World Tour in 2009. Meanwhile, his childhood friends Rico Jimenez, Danny Fuller, Reef McIntosh and Aamion Goodwin were enjoying a multitude of free-surfing successes.
"This isn't for me," he muttered to me on a gray day in Mundaka during that rookie year. The waves had been flat for days, and it just wasn't happening for him. "I miss Hawaii."
A few months later, I bumped into him in Hawaii. He was sitting on the porch, strumming a ukulele, wearing nothing but a pair of boardshorts. "How much better is this?" he smiled.
His heart has always been in the islands, and as many a Hawaiian surfer has come to find out, the warm, blue water of Pacific is hard to escape. By 2010, he was done with the world tour, disinterested and keen to spend more time at home with his family.
"I had to get my priorities right," he explained. "You know, do you want to go surf crappy waves with people you don't know or do you want to be home with your family, raising your kids? It's an easy call."
This hiatus from competitive surfing allowed Barca to maintain an income thanks to his sponsors' support while providing him the freedom to chase waves and the time to pursue his other interest: MMA training.
He promptly built a gym in his backyard and took to rebuilding his body. His fighting fundamentals had long since been put in place. The son of a former karate teacher, by age 14 Barca was already deep into jiu-jitsu. He'd transition to training in Muay Thai before surfing got in the way.
Refocused on the fight life, by 2011 he was ready for his pro debut. On May 20, the Kaua'i Knockout Championships came to town. Weighing in at a wiry 155 pounds, Barca won his first fight with a Round 1 knockout.
"It's been a secret dream of mine for a long time," he said afterward.
Maybe it has something to do with how Barca has maintained his body, or maybe it's his fatherly instincts. Either way, over the past year Barca's interests have shifted yet again. These days, he's a vocal opponent to the mega food company Monsanto and an ardent campaigner against genetically modified organism (GMO) testing in Hawaii.
The anti-Monsanto/GMO movement in Hawaii is growing in strength, garnering media attention from outlets ranging from local papers and blogs to the New York Times and Al Jazeera.
"You have to fight for your land, for your people, for what is right," says Barca. It would appear he's doing just that.