Where Water Meets Dirt
Pro surfer and avid motorcycle rider Sunny Garcia tears up the motocross track out at Castillo Ranch.
Sunny Garcia isn’t the kind of guy you would want to pick a fight with. Standing 5-feet, 10-inches tall and weighing a rock-solid 200-lbs, the 40-year-old professional surfer not only has a daunting persona but also the reputation to back it up. Never one to shy away from speaking his mind, many consider Garcia the true “bad boy” of professional surfing; he even spent a year in federal prison recently for tax evasion. But get a few minutes alone with the Hawaiian and impressions quickly change. While Garcia is a man of his word and not one to back away from confrontation, he’s also a family man, diehard motocross rider, and a truly nice guy. We had a chance to spend the day riding and hanging out with him at Castillo Ranch and came away quite surprised by his passion for motocross and life in general.
So how did the so-called bad boy of surfing get into motorcycles? Much of that comes down to his father and younger brother. “My baby brother and my Dad used to ride when I was a kid and I would surf. My parents really couldn’t afford any bikes so I never really rode that much and my brother just rode what he could,” says Garcia.
Sunny focused nearly all of his early life on surfing. Starting at age seven, he was competing by nine and even won a Pro/Am while only 11-years-old. On the fast track to success, the life-long Hawaiian native turned pro at age 16 and was soon shredding waves on the WCT, surfing’s premiere worldwide championship. While it took him some time, Garcia went on to win the world title at age 30 and is still at it 10 years later. But the fame and fortune that accompanied his early days of professional surfing success once again led back to motorcycles.
“In ‘91 I told my brother if he got good grades I would buy him a bike. Well, he didn’t get good grades, but I ended up buying him a bike anyway,” laughs Garcia. “I thought I would get something for me to ride with him but I didn’t really know how to ride a bike so I bought a quad first.”
Turning to pro surfing at age 16 and winning the world title at age 30, Garcia rarely had time to enjoy the fruits of his career, buying motorcycles for family and friends to enjoy.
The passion for motorsports progressed quickly for Garcia, as the professional surfer had plenty of disposable income to spend on quads and dirt bikes. “First I bought a Suzuki quad, and then a week later I bought a Yamaha Banshee. Then a week after that I bought a Suzuki RM125. Then I swear two days after that I bought a RMX 250. I bought so many bikes,” Sunny adds. “I was making so much money then that I had all kinds of bikes. I even bought a (Honda) CR500. Later I bought a ‘92 RM250, then I had a ‘93 CR250 – it was like two or three new bikes every year. At one point I had over 10 bikes in my shed and they were all pretty much brand new!”
Only problem was that Garcia was traveling the world as a pro surfer with no time to enjoy the fruits of his labor. That’s where his friends and family came in. “I was on tour so much I only rode when I was at home. I just kind of bought bikes for my friends or family or whoever was around. I had bought a bunch of gear and just told everyone to not get hurt but to go have fun.”
The moto passion got more serious for Garcia in ‘93 though, as through his connections with Todd Hicks and Pete and Greg Fox he was introduced to Doug Henry, Jeremy McGrath and Steve Lamson. He quickly became close friends with all three, especially Henry, and his love of Supercross grew immediately.
“We (the surf industry) would have the tradeshow in Orlando, so every year that was my excuse. I hated going to the tradeshow but my sponsors paid me to go out there. However, Saturday would come around and I’d be gone to the Supercross races,” he chuckles. “I just kind of got into that whole Supercross scene and knowing some of those guys made it all that much more interesting. I got to be really good friends with Doug Henry so I went to all the races that I could. Ever since then I’ve just been a really big fan of the sport.”
“Unfortunately these last couple years have been hard; I went to prison for a little bit and then injured my knee. It seemed like just when I got everything healed up, then I went and busted my fingers up here the other day, so it’s been tough. I really want to ride.” - Garica
Garcia has made it a point to build a motocross track of some kind on his property so he can easily ride when back home in Hawaii, a country with very few MX parks. “Every house I’ve had since I started getting all the bikes in the early ‘90s has had a couple acres and we’ve always built moto tracks on them. To say that I love motocross would be an understatement. Whenever I get a chance I ride.”
Riding has been more difficult than usual during the last couple years, as a stint behind bars for tax issues and several injuries have kept him away from the sport more than he would have liked.
“Unfortunately these last couple years have been hard; I went to prison for a little bit and then injured my knee,” Garcia says. “It seemed like just when I got everything healed up, then I went and busted my fingers up here the other day, so it’s been tough. I really want to ride.”
It turns out the busted fingers have a motocross tie as well, though not one that involves riding. While the full details aren’t publicly known, the gist of the story is that Garcia was out to dinner with close friends and motocross racers Josh Hill and Josh Hansen, after which the two were attacked by a group of drunken Marines. Not one to let his friends get beaten up for no reason, Garcia took control of the situation and, as they say, set those boys straight. He ended up with a pair of busted fingers as a result.
“Here I am at 40-years-old still competing and having fun,” says Garcia of surfing.
“Yeah, ya know, it was just a bad deal,” he adds. “We just walked out of dinner and three military guys were drunk and looking for some trouble. If you saw Hill and Hanny – Hill is so small and Hanny looks like one of those guys you kind of want to wring his neck, so I kind of understand (laughs), but it was a bad deal and, of course, I’m not going to let anybody start beating on my friends for no reason. If they were asking for it that would be one thing, but we were just coming out of dinner, minding our own business.”
The same holds true when it comes to professional surfing. Sunny has been off the WCT for a bit and has been competing on the qualifying tour, one which is very time-intensive as there’s a competition of some sort nearly every weekend. And Garcia is one of the more outspoken riders on the tour, never one to let the judges get away with any shady scoring.
Garcia and dirt bikes have a long history together.
“Here I am at 40-years-old still competing and having fun,” says Garcia. “Though this year I’ve been having a hard time with the judges as it’s getting more and more weighted toward being progressive with airs and different tricks; not enough about true surfing technique. But for me, good surfing is good surfing. If there are kids that aren’t surfing worth crap but are getting big scores just for doing airs, that doesn’t work for me. I surf because I love to surf and I love the sport. I’m not here to make money and I’m fine with telling the judges what’s up. Otherwise we’re all just here to eat crap.”
But he’s finding a new way to enjoy the sport: “I just went on a big surfing trip with the boys in Mexico and it was so much fun that I’m seriously reconsidering my approach. I may just do the photo trips and skip all the headaches of contests and getting mad at the judges.”
How does riding moto compare to surfing for Garcia? “For me you get that same adrenaline rush riding as you do surfing, but I’ve been surfing my whole life,” Garcia comments. “Riding is something different, but it keeps me interested in surfing because I’m doing something else and
Garcia is a diehard motocross fan and cherishes every minute on a motocross bike. And he's pretty good at it.
enjoying it, so when I do come back to surfing I really continue to enjoy it as well. The same goes for riding; when I finally get to do it after surfing a lot, I really cherish my time on the bike.”
When Sunny gets his mind set on the moto track not even the best waves on the planet can keep the diehard enthusiast away. “When I make my mind up to go riding I don’t care how good the waves are, I’m going riding. I’ve driven past Backdoor and Pipeline several times looking at them and thinking, ‘Look how good the waves are but I’m going riding’,” Sunny laughs. And that’s how dedicated a moto rider Garcia is.
He may look a bit intimidating, but if you ever see Sunny at a local moto track – and there’s a good chance you might – feel free to go up and say hi. You’ll be surprised. A nice guy and very easy going, the image is merely that – an image. Garcia is a diehard, true motocross fan and cherishes every minute on a motocross bike. Oh, did we mention, he’s pretty darn fast? Guess being close friends to motocross elites has its benefits.