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Will this be the last time we see Sunny Garcia in a competition jersey? Photo: WSL/Sloane
Sunny Garcia: Vans Triple Crown’s Greatest
Vans Triple Crown of Surfing

Sunny Garcia: Vans Triple Crown’s Greatest

Dec 07, 2016

By Brad Bricknell

Sunny Garcia has an imposing presence.  I first met him in Australia when I was a travelling grom from South Africa.  The thickset Hawaiian came with a reputation, yet he had this smile that revealed a softer side.  He left a positive impression on me back then despite the stories I’d heard of rocks been hurled at judging towers and the like.  I always thought of Mike Tyson when I saw him in the flesh and he was one of my favorite surfers to watch, still is.  Power always won back then, and there is still nothing better than seeing a chunk of rail buried in a wall of water.  And Sunny still does it better than most.

Sunny Garcia has never compromised his style of surfing. Photo: WSL / Keoki

Fast forward 15-odd years and I’m sitting on Sunset Beach watching the 46 year old Sunny surfing in the Vans World Cup, maybe for the last time.  It’s a marginal day on the point for Day 1, but the forecast hasn’t given the contest directors much to work with.  Sunny loses in his first heat and isn’t happy.  He walks up to the van where Schmoo and Keanu Asing are watching with his family.  Before he’s even had a moment to cool off, an event staffer is in his grill asking for an interview – to say a few words about his Vans Triple Crown experience.  Bad move.  The 2000 World Champ unleashes into a small tirade and the staffer retreats with his tail between his legs.  Rookie error really.  It’s reminiscent of some vintage Sunny reactions, but it’s all done with a wry smile, almost like it’s part of the game.  Straight after he bends down and picks up his granddaughter for a hug, and the softer Sunny is revealed once more.  

Burying rail at Sunset Beach Photo: WSL / Kirstin

Sunny brought an edge to pro surfing; one that has left a small vacuum. Andy had it.  The wear your heart on your sleeve approach to his surfing and his life. It’s confronting and endearing at the same time, depending on which side of the court you were sitting.  Sunny will tell you he is no angel, and he makes no excuses for his passion; its part of the reason he is the most successful surfer in Vans Triple Crown history.  He is respected the world over, and especially by his peers and those closest to him.  To win 6 Vans Triple Crowns, doing it his way, is a remarkable feat. 

“He’s lead the way in terms of power surfing in Hawaii for the last 2 decades really” say’s Adrian Buchan.  “On tour too, he never compromised his brand of surfing whether at Sunset or Huntington Beach, and I think a lot of guys learnt from that.” Adding “He will go down as one of the all time greats in the Vans Triple Crown.”

Seeing someone (Sunny) man-handle Hawaii like he did, especially at Haleiwa and Sunset, was pretty special to watch - Joel Parkinson

Three times Vans Triple Crown winner Joel Parkinson said “Seeing someone man-handle Hawaii like he did, especially at Haleiwa and Sunset, was pretty special to watch.  He definitely left a mark on the Vans Triple Crown, he’s left a record there that’s a hard one to break – 6 Vans Triple Crowns, that’s worth a couple of world titles!”

Many have said that after winning a world title, winning the Vans Triple Crown would have to be right up there.  It’s something about being able to perform at the three premiere North Shore events that not only holds a certain amount of prestige, but gives the winner a lot of street cred too, not that Sunny needed it.

What he’s done for Hawaiian surfing is amazing. He’s paved the way for a lot of young guys coming through... - Bede Durbidge

Bede Durbidge also has a notch on his Vans Triple Crown belt, courtesy of a solid run in 2007, and talks pertinently about Sunny’s legacy.  “What he’s done for Hawaiian surfing is amazing.  He’s paved the way for a lot of young guys coming through, inspired them to get up and get after it and travel and chase their dreams.”

And there’s a growing list of those Hawaiians that have no doubt looked up to Sunny and that path he bulldozed for others to follow.  Zeke Lau, Keanu Asing, John Florence to name just a few recent rising stars, have benefitted from the legacy that Sunny leaves, it’s a bloodline of Hawaiian surfing royalty that runs thick through the Aloha state.

Sunny paved the way for future generations of Hawaiian surfers such as 2016 World Champion John John Florence. Photo: WSL / Cestari

The impact is not lost on Ross Williams, former pro turned WSL commentator. “His legacy for all the local surfers in Hawaii, in terms of inspiration is more than the Vans Triple Crown, which is a testimony to how dedicated Sunny has been to professional surfing.” Being a few years younger, the inspiration came for Ross to leave the island and make a career out of surfing.  Not many people leave the island, and Sunny lead the way. “ In terms of what legacy he’ll leave. “His confidence and his passion to not just win heats, but to smash guys, it’s been really inspirational and fun to watch.”

Sunny made a final at big sunset when he was 17. I was only 14 at the time and was thinking am I going to be doing that when I’m 17? It kinda freaked me out. - Kelly Slater

Kelly Slater has been a close friend of Sunny’s for years and has nothing but admiration for what he’s achieved. “What Sunny has done is incredible, to have that much fortitude through so many contests over the years is incredible, and also starting at a young age you know, I think he was surfing in the triple crown at the age of 16 or 17.”  Kelly’s love for Sunny runs deep and the friendship started when they were just kids. “Sunny made a final at big sunset when he was 17.  I was only 14 at the time and was thinking am I going to be doing that when I’m 17? It kinda freaked me out.”

When you think of power surfing, you think of Sunny Garcia Photo: WSL

What ever your experience with Sunny Garcia, no one can deny the impact he has had on surfing, not only in Hawaii through the Vans Triple Crown events, but indeed the world over.  I know he would have preferred to surf in better waves for his last event at Sunset, heck, who wouldn’t have wanted to see him ‘man-handle’ the open faces we all know the break to be famous for.  Fortunately for us there are so many highlights we can throw back to, and his Vans Triple Crown legacy is set to stand for many more years.  

Thanks for the memories Sunny, you’re a champion. Maybe we’ll see you next year?

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