In 1986, Sunny Garcia was a young, confident seventeen-year-old kid from the West Side of O’ahu who, after dominating the amateur ranks, decided to drop out of high school and tackle the top sixteen. Back then the Gotcha Pro was an early-season WCT event held at Sandy Beach on O‘ahu’s East Side. The ’86 pro event was also Garcia’s first pro contest–and little did he know, the springboard for a career that would one day include a world championship. The young Hawai‘ian didn’t waste any time making a splash–he came charging out of the gates, taking out two-time World Champ Tom Carroll and claiming to the media he was going to kick some top-sixteen ass.
That was two years before this photo was taken, and by June of ’88 the young upstart had already become a heavy hitter on the world tour and was competing back on his home turf in Hawai‘i. Today, Sunny still gets a special feeling of pride when he’s competing back on the islands. This moment in particular holds a special place in his heart, because it was also around the time of his grandfather’s death.
Looking at that skinnier, younger version of himself brings back some special memories. “It’s always been important for me to do well in Hawai‘i,” recalls Garcia. “So any photo of me sitting on the beach getting ready for a heat in Hawai‘i is always an important one. I like winning elsewhere in the world, but I don’t get the same feeling anywhere else as I feel when I’m at home. When you win at home, you feel so proud. Your friends are there, your family, and everyone’s stoked–it’s a Hawai‘ian thing. I’ve always said the Hawai‘ian surfers are the best surfers in the world, and I’m proud to be a Hawai‘ian. I can say I am Hawai‘ian–I got it in my blood. For me, it’s always been a prideful thing, and I just enjoy being from there, and competing there’s like no other feeling in the world.”
By now he’s won numerous events around the world, four Triple Crown titles, and a world championship in 2000, but that first Gotcha Pro contest marked a turning point in a surfing career that has lasted nearly twenty years and looks as strong as ever. It’s also safe to say he’s kicked some top-sixteen ass in the process.–Checkwood