Sunny Garcia speaks his story
By Stuart Cornuelle
Vincent Sennen "Sunny" Garcia has, over the course of a career that predates the birth of Jordy Smith and Lady Gaga, earned both loyal fans and vociferous critics. He has a name that's delightfully easy to pun off of, and the meanest hack of any 40-year-old ever. This is all well known and documented. What isn't so well known is just what transpired on the eleventh day of last December, when Sunny arrived late for his Billabong Pipeline Masters heat and was consequently disallowed from paddling out to surf against Australian Nic Muscroft. The upshot, of course, was a Vans Triple Crown showdown snuffed in its cradle, as Joel Parkinson walked away with that title -- aided in no small part by the sudden absence of the six-time Triple Crown champion and Backdoor specialist Garcia. We asked Sunny for his side of the whole unfortunate story, from the top.
SUNNY GARCIA: How do I start this off? Well, the day before the [Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational], Waimea was huge -- bigger than the next day, when they actually ran the Eddie. I got caught inside and got my lungs full of water, so the day of the Eddie I was having fevers and kind of feeling sick. I did well, don't get me wrong; I was stoked. But I wasn't feeling too good, so Makua Rothman took all my boards back to his house after the contest.
The day they ran [the Billabong Pipeline Masters]...I didn't really understand the whole Kelly format, and I misjudged the timing of the heats. I still thought I had some time, so I got up in the morning and wasn't really rushing to get down to the contest -- because it's not as though I don't know how to surf Backdoor. Then just before I left my house I remembered that all my fins were in my boards at Makua's house, because I use the same fins in my small boards as my big ones, so I drove past the contest to go and get my fins, and it was when I was at Makua's house that I got the call. One of my friends who's done tattoos on me said that they were calling me for my heat, so I was telling him to run down and make sure to tell the organizers that I was on my way. So I drove back, and obviously the traffic was a little bad, so I got there two minutes into my heat and, ahh...who replaced me?
Voice in background says, "The Billabong kid."
Torrey [Meister]. So Torrey was still on the beach, just about to jump in, and Randy [Rarick] was telling me, "You're supposed to be here five minutes before your heat. We gave your spot away." I don't know if you saw the whole thing?
SURFING Magazine: I did.
Randy was telling me that in the rulebook, it says that you have to be there five minutes before your heat, which is true -- if it was a WQS. But in a WCT, they're not allowed -- I mean, in the rulebook it's plain as day*. In a WCT, they're not allowed to replace anybody, anytime during a heat, unless somebody calls and says that they're injured and they're not coming. Other than that, they're supposed to run the heat as is, just in case the person shows up to surf. If you don't show in that 25 or 30 minutes, however long the heat is, you get fined.
So there lies the discrepancy in my heat. Then when I went up and talked to [ASP Tour Manager] Renato Hickel, his initial story to me was that someone from Billabong had reported that I was injured at the Eddie, and that I wasn't coming to surf my heat.
Now there's a lot of different stories being told. After that, Renato essentially pulled his story and said that he didn't say that to me, and that he didn't know who the Billabong person was -- that he was being told all this over the radio, because he wasn't actually on the beach, he was in the officials' trailer.
Does the surfer himself have to call to report an injury, or can someone else call on his behalf?
The surfer, or someone who represents him -- and I don't ride for Billabong. It's kind of funny how Randy replaces me with Torrey Meister, who's not even the first alternate. They kind of skipped over Evan Valiere, who was the first alternate.
And then afterwards, Evan gave you his spot --
No, Evan didn't give me his spot, Randy just took it from him and gave it to me. But I wasn't getting in anyway. Then the next day Kelly [Slater] was late for his heat, and I think Adriano de Souza was 12 minutes late to his heat as well, and they gave those guys their jerseys.
Were you able to file any complaint, or was there any recourse?
I filed a complaint with the ASP, but...I'm looking into other options.
I don't get the sense you think it was a fair outcome.
No, no. This is all hearsay, but really, it's because Billabong said I was injured, and then Joel Parkinson wins the Triple Crown by default? Everything's kind of shady. They replaced me with a guy from Billabong, the guy who wins the Triple Crown is a guy from Billabong...by me not being there, they essentially gave him the Triple Crown.
Of the three Triple Crown venues, are you normally most comfortable at Pipe/Backdoor?
I wouldn't take any one over the others; I like all three waves. I surf Backdoor every time it breaks when I'm in Hawaii -- I'm on it every day. Haleiwa is one of my favorite waves. Sunset isn't one of my favorites, but I always seem to do well there, and I definitely enjoy surfing it. I was riding Wades [Tokoro Surfboards] this year and had some really, really good boards.
And you were training a lot to prepare for this winter season, right?
I was biking a lot -- I started on a road bike, but in Hawaii there's so much glass on the side of the roads...
Yeah, people like to throw Heineken bottles out the window.
I was spending a lot of time on the side of the road with flat tires, so I switched to a mountain bike and was able to finish my 30-mile loop every day. After that I would run about six miles, and then go for a surf. I felt good.
Regardless of the Triple Crown outcome, you showed that you're still relevant and can compete. Are you now trying to get back on tour, or --
Having fun. That's what I'm doing. Unfortunately every now and then I get on the computer, and I read some of these blogs, and somebody -- these know-it-all tough guys that like to write shit about me, how I'm old and washed up and all that kind of stuff. Yeah, I'm old. Maybe a little washed up. But I'm having a good time, and they're miserable, writing a bunch of shit on their computers. Whatever, I can't make everybody happy. I do the best that I can, and hopefully people understand.
For the most part, I'm not out here trying to act like a young guy; I mean, by surfing standards, I'm old. But I'm having a blast getting to surf against a new generation of kids. If I beat 'em, good for me, but if I don't, good for them. These kids are pretty incredible. I've never been one to blow smoke up any generation's ass -- I tell it like it is -- but this younger crew, like Dane Reynolds, Jordy Smith, even kids like John John Florence who are coming up -- I'm just enjoying watching them surf and having the privilege to surf along with them.
Did you watch Modern Collective?
No, I'm not a big surf video guy. The last video I actually saw was that Taylor Steele one last year -- the one where everyone was in Indo, and it looked like they were all surfing the same spot.
That was Stranger than Fiction.
It was a great video. Guys were doing incredible shit.
So you live in California now?
I can say I used to live in California; I actually spent most of today packing my stuff. I'm moving back to Hawaii. Back to the North Shore.
And do you plan to contest the Triple Crown again this year, in 2010?
Yeah, of course, unless Randy Rarick pulls politics somehow and doesn't let me in. [Laughs.] We'll see how that all plays out.
For me, I'm enjoying surfing and traveling, and I don't really know where it goes from here. I'm having such a good time, and I don't know when the ride's going to end, so I'm just enjoying it.
You're about to leave to go to Australia -- what's the purpose of the trip?
I'm going to do the 4-star at Burleigh, the Mark Richards Pro at Newcastle, and then Margaret's River and Tasmania. And for the first time, I'm actually going to go shoot some video and stuff in between events. Just trying to do all the things I never really got to do when I was on the 'CT. Back then, it was all about competing and doing well, then getting straight back home when the contest was done to start training again or to relax and hang out. Now, pretty much every event that I can do -- if I have enough time to get from one place to the other -- I'm going to do them, and see what happens.
Is there anything else you'd like to say and get out there?
I just want to thank everyone who's supported me through my whole career. I've had a lot of fans send me emails, and a lot of people send me letters when I was in prison, trying to cheer me up and let me know that I had their support, and it's been great. You never know when you're going to do your last interview, so I just want to thank all those people for being there for me.
*From the ASP Rulebook, Article 19.02:
"In the case of no shows in Main Event seeded heats, reseeding will not occur after the actual Event has started (not the Event Window) except as in Article 11.05, and the heat will still take place for the remaining Surfers. If none of the Surfers show up then the highest seed advances to Round Three. In a one-on-one heat the Surfer must surf the time period alone in case the opponent turns up late. Even if the Tour Manager and Contest Director are fully satisfied that a Surfer will not be competing in their heat, the daily schedule will continue."