Endearingly belligerent Hawaiian, roughly 50% of whose heats seemed to end in some sort of altercation.
It’s said that growing up on the Westside of Oahu, you have three options: surf, get in trouble, or both. In his formative years Garcia was expelled from Catholic school and kicked off his junior high basketball team, then thrown out of the World Junior Champs just before turning pro — all for fighting. A short-lived coke habit in his late teens nearly derailed his surfing career entirely — it was around this time that he crashed his brand new Firebird Trans Am — but he remained on tour and went on to finish in the top-10 for eleven successive years, winning one world title and a record six Triple Crowns.
Notable scuffles along the way included a brawl with Derek Ho in ’93, after his fellow Hawaiian beat him in a close heat; the throwing of a muffin at a panel of judges in ’95; and the chasing of a terrified Neco Padaratz up the beach at the ’07 Pipe Masters. The Brazilian sought refuge in the judges’ tower, whose occupants were well-practised in the avoidance of an angry Sunny.
Sunny himself never avoided confrontation, but taxes were a different matter. In 2007 he spent three months in a Californian federal prison for tax fraud, after failing to declare $470,000 worth of contest winnings earned between 1996 and 2001. His release from prison was followed by a further seven months of house arrest, along with 80 hours of community service.
Garcia had pleaded guilty to the charges against him. He maintained it was never his intention to evade tax, but accepted he was at fault for not properly overseeing his affairs, and knew he would face a far lengthier sentence if convicted after entering a plea of not guilty. Following his release he added a new tattoo to his extensive collection, the words “Death and Taxes” now adorning his chest.
He might have added “Confrontation” as a third certainty. A few years after his release he got into a fight on the Gold Coast with a Burleigh Heads local, whom Sunny was seen holding in a head-lock and punching as the two men tussled in the shallows. Sunny then reportedly chased the amateur photographer who’d captured the incident on film, tackling the man to the ground and leaving him covered in cuts and bruises. A warrant was issued for Garcia’s arrest, but the charges — brought against him by the cameraman — were subsequently dropped.