Six-time Vans Triple Crown winner and Oahu native Sunny Garcia is a legend of the annual Hawaiian trifecta. At 44, he's fitter than ever (he's a fan of triathlons) and competing in Triple Crown events as a Qualification Series (QS) competitor.
While Garcia left full-time competition in 2005, don't count him out as a competitor: In 2009, he finished in third at the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau and in 2012 he won the HIC Pro Sunset at age 42. During the 2014 Reef Hawaiian Pro, in which he finished 33rd, he chatted about what a win at the Triple Crown means and the secret to success at the Vans World Cup, the next jewel of the crown. Plus, Garcia reveals whether he's as pugnacious as everyone thinks.
ASP: What's different about competing in the Triple Crown for you now?
Sunny Garcia: For me it's all the same, I always want to win. But the biggest difference is that when I was younger I felt like I needed to win. Whereas now, after six Triple Crown titles, I don't feel like I need to win. I want to win. There's a difference. In my position, not needing to win is a lot better. It's less stressful. I'm out having fun.
Hawaii is where every boy wants to come to become a man.
ASP: What is significant about winning the Triple Crown, as opposed to other titles?
SG: You have the World Title, which is huge. Everybody wants to win the World Title. But I always said the next biggest thing is the Triple Crown. To be able to come here to Hawaii and do good in any of these events is huge for any professional surfer. To win here is incredible. And to win the Triple Crown sets you in stone.
Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing. When you think of Hawaii you always think of the Triple Crown and big waves. It's where every boy wants to come to become a man. And this is where men are made.
ASP: Is that because of the complexity of the waves?
SG: You have Sunset with big waves, a manly kind of wave. Then you have Haleiwa (site of the Reef Pro), it doesn't get as big but it is a dangerous wave and really steep, really powerful, really close to the beach. And then you have Pipeline, one of the world's hollowest waves. Three very gnarly, different kinds of waves. To come here and be able to tame those waves is huge. Every Hawaiian wants to do good in their backyard. And every traveling surfer wants to come here and make a name for himself.
ASP: What's the secret to surfing each of the Triple Crown breaks well?
SG: You need to spend time here. You really have to learn the lineup. Getting here early and getting to know Haleiwa is crucial to doing well in the Triple Crown. [Editor's note: Hawaiian Dusty Payne won this year's Reef Pro at Haleiwa.]
Sunset is a big gnarly wave where you can get away without practicing as much. You can go out there and pretty much follow the whitewash line and get good waves.
ASP: How did you work up to surfing these waves?
SG: Fortunately for me, I grew up here, so I didn't have much of a choice. I came out here at a young age with Brian Keaulana, the premier waterman. I'd show up with him and he'd say, 'Either you're going to go out or you're going to walk home.' When you have friends like that, you end up having to surf big waves.
That was the scariest moment of my life... having to swim in the channel by myself with a shark.
ASP: What's the heaviest wipeout you've had in your Triple Crown career?
SG: I wouldn't consider it a heavy wipeout. I forget what year it was, the waves were bigger than [12-14 feet] and I got cleaned up [at Haleiwa]. Broke my board, broke the leash and had to swim. I was swimming in the channel, trying to get to the first buoy to hang on. I didn't quite make it there. I saw a pretty big shark swimming in the channel. The ski came out to get me but couldn't see me so they turned around and went back in and by the time they came back to get me I was at the second buoy on the outside.
That was the scariest moment of my life. Not thinking that I was going to drown -- I knew that eventually they'd come to get me -- but having to swim in the channel by myself with a shark was not a very good situation.
In the 1986 Vans World Cup, Buzzy Kerbox pulled my leash and let me go. I went over the falls on a pretty big wave at Sunset and almost drowned. So that wasn't a fun situation for me, especially at 16 years old. I still remember that like it was yesterday.
ASP: What's the biggest misconception about you?
SG: You can't always believe what you read. I've been a lot less hostile than people think. It's funny that you ask that because I go on the internet every now and then and read what people post and the comments are ridiculous. Guys say things like, 'I surfed with that guy, he was so rude in the water.'
ASP: So you're saying you're a softie?
SG: I'm not even going to ask you how you made that decision.
Catch Sunny Garcia in action at the next Triple Crown event, the Vans World Cup of Surfing, streaming LIVE daily at this site November 24-December 6.