Sunny Garcia – The Tracks Interview
By Luke Kennedy & David Sparkes | 15 October 2012
Sunny Garcia. PIcs: sparkesphoto.com
Vincent Sennen Garcia – aka Sunny Garcia – remains one of surfing’s most intriguing characters. Brought up on Ohau’s West side, in an era when capable fists and rat cunning were prerequisites for survival, Sunny rose to become a surfing world champion. However, a stint in gaol for tax evasion and a recent, violent episode on the Gold Coast have arguably tarnished Sunny’s rags to riches story. Sunny has come under scrutiny from this magazine in the past, so we felt it was fitting that we gave him a right of reply. The interview with Sunny [by Dave Sparkes] in this month’s issue is unquestionably the most candid and insightful piece of editorial, ever compiled on one of surfing’s most contradictory figures. In the compelling read Sunny reflects on his past triumphs and disappointments, and gives a frank assessment of what transpired two years ago at Burleigh Heads when his son, Stone, became embroiled in a scuffle in the water. The interview goes a long way towards explaining how Sunny’s character was molded but perhaps Sunny best sums up how you will likely react. “ No matter what I try to do people are either gonna love you or they’re gonna hate you.”
– Luke Kennedy, Tracks editor
[Below is an out-take from the complete interview]Tracks: Your given name is Vincent, but you’re known far and wide as Sunny. How did that come to be?
Sunny: My grandfather was Vincent Sennen Garcia, my dad was Vincent Sennen Garcia and then, obviously I became Vincent Sennen Garcia, but my mum didn’t like that name so she called me Sunny. She said I was born on one of the stormiest days ever on Hawaii. I started off as “Sunshine.” She said I was her sunshine, but I got a little too big to be a Sunshine so she started calling me Sunny.
What are your earliest memories of surfing?
Sunny: I can still remember catching my first wave, having my two friends Elden and Elroy paddle me out. I remember being freaked because I didn’t know how to swim, I was scared of sharks you know, it was right around the same time that Jaws had come out. Maili Point was notorious for being one of the sharkiest places on the Westside, so ... I remember them pushing me in, standing up, riding a wave all the way in but not quite getting to the beach. I was so freaked out about sharks I just turned around and paddled back out, ‘cos it was closer to paddle back to my friends than it was to paddle to the beach! (Sunny is laughing now). So I just kept going back out.
How old were you then?
I was only seven years old.
So you pretty much stood up first wave?
Yeah. I had this one red board, I think it was like 8ft, it must have had about 15 inches of rocker, it looked like a canoe, with the nose really rockered out. You couldn’t pearl that thing if you tried.
How soon did you feel like you had natural surfing ability?
Day one. I don’t know, I can’t say exactly day one but right off the bat, you know? I remember going to surf and always trying to be better than my friends that were around me. And seeing some surfing on TV and in the movies and always thinking: ‘I can surf better than him!’, kinda thing. I always just had that drive to be better than, you know, just about anybody.
Which surfers inspired you?
My first hero was Gerry Lopez, you know, watching Big Wednesday, and then obviously - we were talking earlier about Free Ride - MR and Shaun, Rabbit. Dane Kealoha was always my favourite surfer. I don’t know, being from Hawaii I’m pretty fortunate because the guys back then, we had Michael and Derek Ho, Hans Hedemann, Mark Liddell, Buttons, Marvin and Kalani Foster, you name ‘em. You’d see ‘em every day, you’d see ‘em at events, you know as much as being my heroes, they were my friends and mentors. So I was pretty fortunate to be brought up at the time I was, because I think my first trip out to the North Shore I must have been like 10 or 11 years old. I went and stayed at what is now the Billabong house, it used to be a friend of a friend’s house. I got to stay there with Buttons and a bunch of the other guys for like a week, and surfed Backdoor, Off The Wall, Pipe and Ehukai and so for me that was a huge deal.
How about Westside surfers?
The Keaulana family were always good to me, Brian Keaulana always picked me up and took me surfing, Rusty and Jimmy, Uncle Buff, guys like Guy Pelago, Willy van Winkle. There was one older guy, John Lopez, he was a really good friend of mine, surfed really good, he used to take me everywhere when I was a kid. But probably the most influence was from a white guy, his name was Kelly Rhode. He was a marine, a military guy, a long boarder who just kinda cruised, liked hanging out with the boys. He used to come and pick me up all the time when I was a kid and take me surfing, mainly at this one place called Barber’s Point, probably THE worst wave in the world. But you had to be in the military to get in and there was always waves, it’s on the southwest corner of the island. We used to go there all the time and just surf this shitty wave, and it taught me how to surf in mushy, flat waves, how to connect the dots.
I think that was the biggest help of anything, knowing how to surf those kinds of waves, because obviously back in the early ‘80s to ‘90s the tour wasn’t held in good surf. I mean we went to Japan, we went to Brazil, we went to cool places but we were surfing the worst waves in the world. Anywhere someone put up money we would have an event. And back in the day we were going to good locations at the wrong time of the year, basically because there’s a holiday or whatever it was, you know they were just looking for an audience. And somehow it worked. They made it work. I can’t believe that ... I think there was only like one event that never got run, in France, because it was during the middle of summer. Now that I look back, as much as I was complaining, I had a really good time in France. The waves might not have been the best, in the early part of summer, but we got to hang out, and being young and seeing all the naked women and all that kind of stuff (laughs) it was a great experience!
I’ll bet! How was life growing up in Waianae?
Ah, you know, it was a rough place, I got to see a lot of fights, I got into a lot of fights, won a lot of fights, lost a lot of fights. It’s a dog eat dog world, your friends help you, and it just depends on who your friends were. I had great friends, all my friends were great ... but I had the real conservative friends and I had you know, the friends that were just on the complete opposite side of the law, and they all took care of me.
You know I had a group of friends that straight up didn’t want me to fight, they didn’t want me to get hurt, they just wanted me to surf. They knew I surfed good, I was already doing good at a young age and they used to get pissed when I got into fights, they were like: ‘We don’t want you fighting! We want you to surf, not get hurt.’ But you know I was one of the boys, I didn’t mind fighting and getting my hands dirty.
Did you ever feel at a disadvantage growing up on the Westside?
Not necessarily being from the Westside, I felt like it was a disadvantage being from Hawaii, period. You always had that side that when you travel it was like: ‘Oh you’re from Hawaii, I heard they just fight, that’s how you guys solve your problems, you guys are the bad guys in surfing.’ You know, that stigma. And I noticed that at an early age. When I was, I think 13, I went undefeated. I won all my Menehune events, all my Boys events, I think I even surfed in a couple of Pro-Ams and stuff, and pretty much won everything. I was sponsored by Quiksilver back then, and I think I got, all up, three pairs of shorts that year. I remember going over to California that year for the NSSA Nationals, and ... I think O’Neill gave me a used suit that had big holes in it and stuff. I was freezing! And then I had friends like Jeff Booth and Doug Silva and all those guys and they were like the top guys at Quiksilver, and they got shorts and nice wetsuits and great boards and all that stuff. You know I just noticed that if you were from California you were getting photos in the magazines and the best sponsors, and the sponsors were paying for everything, you’re well taken care of. And then, here I was, the top Hawaiian kid coming up, winning everything and smoking all those guys from California but yet I was still not getting taken care of.
Did that make you more determined?
That drove me. You know I didn’t let it beat me up, it led me on; fuck those guys I’ll go out and kick their arses even harder. I noticed the same thing at a young age when I went to Australia. I was blown away when I went to Australia: ‘Fuck these guys fucken’ absolutely rip, and they’re not even on tour!’ You know like Ralph Pullinger was one of my best friends. I met him when I was 14 in Japan. I met him and Luke Egan, Billabong had sent us all over there to surf in the event and we became really good friends.
So I think when I was 15 I went over to Australia to hang out with Ralph and Luke, and I was just blown away at the amount of talent that Australia had that never got on tour. They weren’t getting paid or anything, so it’s a similar thing. If you’re from the US, you’re set...
Check out the complete interview (including Sunny's thoughts on the Burleigh Heads incident, riding for Billabong and No Fear and aerial surfing and much more) in the latest Tracks, instore now.
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To download this week's 'Mondayitis' wallpaper of Sunny, click HERE