Sunny Garcia On Life, Death & Taxes
– What I Know About…
Childhood… My parents divorced when I was five. That was really hard. I completely love my dad. I wanted to be with him all the time but when he left I stayed with my mum. Mum got re-married, my step dad used to beat the shit out of me and my brother while she was at work. We took a lot of beatings as kids. But we always had the ocean. The ocean became our sanctuary.
Peak moments… My initial thought is winning a World Title but then I think, well maybe I haven’t had my peak moment yet. I love my life in surfing but I love my life in other ways too. I’m a grandfather now. I have a three year old grandson and a one year old granddaughter. Maybe my peak moment is still to come.
Missed opportunities… The only thing I really dwelled on during my career was losing the World Title in ’95. All I needed was to make one heat at Pipeline and I didn’t get through. But if I won that Title would I have also had the fight in me to win the 2000 World Title? Maybe it was a good thing.
Defeat… There can only be one winner at the end of an event, so if that person isn’t you then you’ve lost. It’s how you handle the loss that matters. You can let it motivate you to be better or you can let it defeat you and drive you crazy. It’s your choice.
Women… Men are men and women are women and once you understand that everything gets a lot easier.
Marriage… I’ve been married three times and the only thing I know for sure is “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry” always works. If you argue you’re always wrong so you might as well just accept that you’re wrong and apologise.
Divorce… My advice to anyone going through a divorce where kids are involved is the sooner you can co-operate the better off your kids will be. Fighting and slandering the other parent, what good does that do for the kids?
Death and taxes… I’ve got a tattoo that says Death and Taxes but I should have got death before taxes. Ultimately I take blame for everything that happened with me going to prison. The accountant I had during the money days of my career took all my money and never filed anything. When it all went pear-shaped I hired a new CPA and a tax lawyer and they got everything together for the IRS. Then one day I get this call from my lawyer saying we need to meet. We go to lunch and he’s like, “You need to hire a criminal attorney.” Then he stands up and just leaves me sitting in the restaurant. So I call the best criminal attorney in San Diego and the guy is like, “Ah… I can’t represent you. I’m representing your CPA.” The penny dropped that my CPA was in trouble with the IRS and they were working in cahoots to pin it all on me. There was not much I could do about it. Eventually my lawyer said, “Plead guilty and go to jail for one year or we go to court and risk a possible five to ten years.” I served ten months all together, three months of federal prison and seven months of house arrest. Even the judge was like, “Yeah, you got screwed on this deal. I’m gonna give you the least that I can possibly give.”
Letting go… You can’t really move forward in life if you’re caught up in conspiracies. I have a beautiful wife and we have a blast of a life. You could always be richer and have more things but for the most part a simple life is a good life.
Self image… For most of my career I was made to look like a monster. I’ve been in five fights in my entire life and of course they’ve all been documented. In the end you can’t think too much about that. All I can do is be the best person I can be today and know that I’m not perfect. That’s my right now.
Respect... When I started surfing in the 70s, I remember going down to Makaha and watching guys get beat up in the surf. And I’m talking about local people beating each other up over waves. In hindsight it seems so stupid. Surfing’s growing, there’re a lot of people in the water so there has to be a lot more respect. Respect to me is smiling, having a good time and giving people waves.
Strength… I’ve been working with the Mauli Ola Foundation. We introduce kids with cystic fibrosis, cancer and other genetic diseases to the beach and to surfing. Some of them are really sick and probably won’t make it and to see these kids so happy, not complaining, getting in the water and having fun… it makes your own life’s troubles seem pretty insignificant. You appreciate an entirely different kind of strength and gratitude, while we’re there helping them they’re also helping us. It’s an amazing feeling.