"Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure ... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat". -- Theodore Roosevelt
Sunny Garcia will not likely be a politician, military strategist or President of the United States. But every word of our late great presidents quote above leads to emphasize that this Waianae bred surf icon is every bit the warrior- and lives and dies for what his gut tells him. Dubbed "Sunny" for a happy disposition as a keiki, Vincent Sennen Garcia was born January 14, 1970. Now even at age 44 I'd say his mom got it right. For those close to Garcia he is as an affectionate, fun loving friend as they come. Even a bit of a jokester at times, Garcia is genuinely happy with the simple things. Media and lore have painted a somewhat skewed version of Sunny as a darker and angry soul at times. But this writer and friend knows otherwise.
The six-time Triple Crown Champion doesn't live without controversy and challenge. Garcia hates to lose, but he's not a poor sport. The Hawaiian simply does not appreciate disrespect. His road to ASP World Championship in 2000 is wobbled with dips and valleys that would rival even the most intense subjects of True Hollywood Stories. At age 16 Garcia self-started, dropped high school and proceeded to live up to his uber-famous statement and life decree " I m gonna whoop some Top 16 ass." And indeed he did. A rush of fame and more money than he 'd ever juggled before the classic "fast lane" bumps came into play. Though simply stoked on surfing and easy around his friends, Garcia had something to prove.
Learning the hard way about ASP fines, love and marriage, taxes and jail time, Garcia earned a "don't mess with me" reputation and was never shy to tell the judges or administration exactly what was on his mind. From child stardom to adult prison time for tax evasion, Garcia still lives one day at a time. En route Garcia holds the record for most WQS event wins, 22, and holds more Triple Crown of Surfing titles than any other surfer in history. He is the most victorious surfer in Hawaii.
Initially retired in 2005, Garcia can't help himself. In classic power form Garcia nabbed a solid third place showing in the Quiksilver Big Wave event in Memory of Eddie Aikau. He is now competing again on the ASP in select events. With two back-to-back ISA Grand Masters Gold Medal Victories, Garcia inspired many by also winning the ASP 4-Star HIC Pro at Sunset Beach last winter.
After spending the last month with Sunny in Ecuador (first for the ISA Masters Event then a fun filled two week stint in Panama) we sat down to talk about life, friendship, jail time, surfing and one of his all time favorite subjects: winning.
Accepting consequences: We all suffer consequences for the choices we make in life. And I've suffered the consequences. Right or wrong, ya know? To me, the choices that I make at the time are right to me. They might be wrong; I'll say that, they might be wrong. But they were right to me at the moment and that's the choices I made and I can't take them back."
People's opinions: I'm human like everybody else. For the most part I feel that love. But every now and then I dip down in that low self-esteem and I catch myself reading those things (about himself). But it is what it is. I know if I do enough good things, people notice that ... opinions change. The only thing I can do is be the best that I can be. Nothing more nothing less. That's all I try to do."
Having a funny side: People never get to see that side ya know? Whatevers. Most people come to an event, right? That's where most people see me. They see me either at the event or they watch the TV and see me at the event. I hate losing so I'm just there for one reason. I'm there for gold. If you're not thinking gold, just stay home. That's how I'm at every event and that's usually what people see. At the event I'm focused, more intense. For me there is only one goal. Show up at event, surf the event to win.
Being judged: I don't know. It is what it is. No one ever sees all the guys that I've saved in Hawaii. They only seen the guys that I've got into hassles with. All the Australians, all the Brazilians for that matter that aren't my friends that they could have got beaten up and sent home, but ya know I went over and smoothed everything out. No one ever hears about those stories, but I'm the "bad guy" and I "deserve to be in jail." Sometimes that really wears on me. In the long run I know a lot of people love me, my family loves me, my friends love me, and all those people that I've helped over the years really appreciate all the help that I've given them and for me, that's all that really matters.
Positive/negative feedback: You read all the things, and I go on there every now and then. There are some real lowlife people in this world. Like seriously. I went to prison for taxes. And I had people writing me stuff on those things just like, "You're a criminal" and "You deserve to be in jail." Like come on, you act like I raped your daughter or something. Seriously, I went to prison for taxes.
Being from Hawaii: I would say one thing good about being from Hawaii is, ya know, through all the ups and downs that I've had through my career, never has Hawaii made me feel ... not wanted. When I was in prison I got letters everyday, just wishing me well, just encouraging me to come out and do good things. Hawaii is just a great place. You can do wrong and be forgiven it seems like. Or at least for me it seemed that way.
Serving time: I went to jail for taxes. Basically in the long run, I'm responsible for overseeing all the choices that my CPA makes and I have to live with that. But I'm not a CPA and I don't know how to file taxes, so for me to file wrongly is virtually impossible. I might have signed something after the CPA got everything ready but whatevers -- I'll take that blame. It's funny you know, I say this, prison was like a vacation for me. Took some time off of my life to concentrate on me. No cell phones, no agents, no sponsors, nothing. Got up everyday, I did my job. I wouldn't say I was a happy person in prison, not at all. I was pissed. Pissed that I was there pissed that everything that had happened to me happened to me. I went to jail, I had lost my wife, my life, I mean, it all crumbled down. Fortunately for me I had friends there. When I got there, the guys that I knew knew I was coming. They had running shoes for me. Ran everyday, I swear I must have done 20 miles a day. I had a good cot, I had a good pillow. The only thing I didn't have when I got to prison was a jacket. And when I got there it was the middle of January and I swear it was like, the mornings were like 16 degrees or something. So it was freezing. Overall it was a good experience. I wasn't happy to be there, but I'm happy that it happened. A reset. Yeah, it gave me a whole different outlook on life. Bad habits die hard. No matter what happens to you in your life you might want to change, eventually you kind of always go back to who you really are. For me it just made me appreciate life a little better. Not to say that I wasn't appreciating everything that I had, but you know being on tour at a young age, making a lot of money you get jaded. And being at the top of the sport for so long, you don't notice all the little things that are going on around you that are so great. You don't realize how good you have it until they take it all away from you.
Surfing after jail: I didn't surf for a while. When I was going through court and all that I didn't even really surf a good six months, but by the time I got out of prison around when they had the Hurley contest I was probably in the best shape of my life. Whether the event was on or not, I was down there early in the morning practicing. And luckily they didn't run the event for the first couple of days. I went straight into a heat with Kelly Slater and the other one with Mick Fanning. Two champs right off the bat. But I was stoked. I had fun, I got to surf good Trestles, got to hang out. At that particular time it was good for me because it brought that life back into me because, ya know, I was still feeling kind of dead from the whole process.
Competitive drive: I hate losing. Card games, driving somewhere with someone in a different car, just wanting to get there first, I don't know. It's one of those things… I think all surfers have that. Wanting to surf better than the next guy, wanting to do better off the lip, wanting to get a better barrel. I think that keeps us young. It really does. Surfers in general I think we're just kids. We love doing what we do and there's something about just getting in the ocean and cleansing ourselves of everything else that's going on.
Developing style: I just wanted to do turns like Dane Kealoha. Powerful. Dane was always the first guy that I wanted to be like. Then you had guys like Curren and Occy and Martin Potter ... I liked the way they surfed and I tried to emulate what they were doing in my own style. I didn't want to surf like Curren, I didn't want to surf like Potts, I didn't want to surf like Occy. I wanted to surf like me, but doing what they were doing. So, I know a lot of the kids growing up in my era got caught up in that. Some surf like Occy some surf like Curren. I try to be me.
The fame: I still don't care about fame. I surf because I like to surf. I know, that my name is big in surf. I'd be lying if I told you it didn't. But to me it doesn't matter. I don't really consider myself, my surfing anything. I like to go out and surf. I like to go out and compete and, win or lose I'm always striving to be better. Whether I'm getting better or not, probably not (laughs).
The fortune: I have no idea how much I went through. A lot of money. I came from a poor family with no money. So for me, I had no respect for money. What is money? But I had all this money, bought houses, bought cars, bought my friends whatever they wanted, took them on trips. For me, all that fame and money, all that added up for me. I was like, I want my friends and family to have all the stuff that we never had. I was like whatever, buy you guys cars, buy you guys trips to Australia, to Europe, whatever. To me it doesn't matter.
Kelly Slater: Slater doesn't affect anything with me. Nothing. Not a damn thing. I watch him; I think he's a great surfer. But as far as him or anybody else motivating me to do anything ... I always hear Occy motivated me to go out and win a world title. But if anybody knows me, I don't need anybody to motivate me. I hate losing. I hate losing period. I went on a diet, I went on a training regiment and I ended up winning a world title after all those years of trying. Just did something differently and it worked. I think Kelly is the greatest surfer hands down, ever. But, I don't watch his heats on the web. He's my friend, we go surfing every now and then, I would love to go on a surf trip with him, which I've never done. But as far as him motivating me to do better, no. Not one iota.
Respect and fighting: They say, if you're gonna be dumb you better be tough. I'm a firm believer in that. I'm also a firm believe in that the world would be such a better place if everybody would just give each other respect. It would be. But unfortunately in this time and age, parents don't teach their kids respect. People just do the most stupidest sh-t to each other. And whatevers, I don't really care if you're doing it to somebody else but if you're gonna do it to me you're gonna hear about it or you might get a slap. I don't condone violence. At all. I don't like fighting. I hate fighting. I hate that feeling. But I also hate people going blatantly out of the way to be just dumb. So if you're going to be that way to me then, it is what it is.