Despite sometimes looking like a world full of clones, there's still a pretty tough independent streak that runs through surfing. No one embodies that streak quite like 41-year-old former world champion Sunny Garcia.
While most people think of themselves as strong-willed, it's actually a very difficult way to go through life. Most of us seek a middle ground, letting tomorrow's ends justify the means of today. Garcia refuses to compromise on anything. Many people don't agree with his views or his actions, which over the years have occasionally been violent, but no one can argue that Garcia does what his heart tells him to do. And he's willing to face the consequences.
The path of most resistance has led Garcia from the rough West Side of Oahu to teenage surf stardom, to federal charges for tax evasion, to six Hawaiian Triple Crowns, to a world title, to prison, to a famed comeback, and now to his most recent issue.
On February 19, Garcia and World Tour surfer Jeremy Flores were involved in a physical altercation with a local named Adam Clarke at the Australian break Burleigh Heads. The incident apparently started between Clark and Garcia's teenage son, Stone Garcia, in the freesurf zone during a break from the Burleigh Breaka Pro, in which Garcia and Flores were competing. Garcia's pummeling of Clark was caught on video, and has Garcia facing not only a six-month suspension and $10,000 fine from the ASP, but also assault charges in Australia. ESPN caught up with Garcia after a recent trip to Mexico.
What did you think when you heard about the ASP decision?
To say that I wasn't happy would be an understatement. I'm pretty p----d off, because some of [the ASP officials] were with me when the altercation happened in Australia. I won't go into names, but their exact words were, "If that was my son, I would have done the exact same thing." Knowing that they understand that whole concept, I don't understand why I'm getting fined $10,000 and I'm on a six month suspension. Having said that, you can laugh or you can cry. I take it all with a grain of salt. I get to ride my dirt bike a little more, spend some time with my family, hang out, and go on some surf trips. I'm 41 years old. I'm not in dire need of making a name for myself in surfing or anything. It is what it is.
Apparently, if you return to Australia, there is a warrant out for your arrest. Are you going to go back to face what ever is waiting for you there?
Yeah. I'm not afraid of the consequences. I'm not a little p----y like this guy, Adam Clarke, who started a fight with my son, then got his ass kicked and now wants to press charges, three months later. I read that he had injuries. That's all a crock of s--t. I hit him twice. He got choked a little bit. He got exactly what he deserved. He physically assaulted my son. If he thought that I was going to stand there and watch, boy was he wrong.
The reports following the incident included comments from a videographer who claimed you attacked him as well.
I never touched him. That's all I can say. He ran from me. It wasn't even his fight in the first place. All I remember is him yelling and screaming at me saying, "I got you on video, you're going to jail." The scrapes on his back were from falling on the sidewalk, running away. From what I heard, and this is all hearsay, he made from $8,000 to $10,000 from selling that video. Good for him. If he can make some money off my misfortune, I have no hard feelings.
The six-month suspension puts you back in competition in October, in time for the HIC Pro at Sunset and then the Triple Crown. Will we see you back in a jersey?
Right now, I don't know what I'm going to be doing. I'm not going to let it dampen my lifestyle. I took my son to Australia to show him what a great country it was. He had just got into surfing. I keep telling him that even though that happened, it's still a great place. Hopefully, I can take him back there one day and show him.
That trip was cut short. The ASP told me to just go home because they weren't sure what they were going to do and it was better for me to go home than to stay there and stir the pot. I had my lawyer contact the police to see what was going on, because I obviously didn't want to flee the scene. We wanted to give them the opportunity to bring me in for questioning and stuff, so we stayed for two weeks. There was no word, no nothing. They told us the investigation was over and that I was free to leave. I don't know why it took [Clarke] three months to bring up charges. Kind of a weird one. I'm going to go back and go to court and see what happens.
If you could go back, would you change your actions, maybe make your point without it looking so dramatic?
Absolutely not. The thing that people seem to forget is that I didn't go looking for this fight. I didn't ask Adam Clarke to go run my son over and then slap his head. I just reacted to what he did to my son. Is it wrong? Yeah, it might be wrong in a lot of people's eyes. But when it's happening to your son, then it might be completely different. A lot of people didn't agree with what I did and I really don't care. It was my son and I reacted in the way I think most fathers would react. Australia is like my second home. The whole situation was a misfortune. Life can't be perfect. Do I wish I could take it back? No, not at all. I know I can't take back things. I have to live with the consequences. If that means I have to go to jail or I can never go back to Australia again, I won't be happy with that decision, but I totally understand.