Champion surfers Mick Fanning and Kelly Slater have led an outpouring of support for former world surf champion Sunny Garcia, who is in an intensive care unit of a US hospital after various reports he was found unconscious at his home.
Garcia, 49, presented as an outspoken and rebellious figure throughout his professional surfing career, but later emerged as a mental health advocate following a public admission of his own battle with depression.
A flurry of posts on social media on Tuesday initially reported Garcia had died, but the World Surf League confirmed he is in hospital.
The World Surf League described Garcia as “a consistent fixture in the global Top 10 throughout the 1990s” and “the standard-bearer for power surfing and raw Hawaiian style”.
Fanning posted the following message of support for Garcia: “Praying for you my brother. Was such a special surprise to hang with you a little while ago. A hero, a shining light and such a loveable human. Love you mate.”
View this post on Instagram
Sunny…I love you, brother. I just can’t even fathom you not here. We’ve got so much more living to do before we are done. There’s been hard times but there have been so many good ones, too. Just praying you wake up and we get more of you. 🙏🏽 #MyOtherBrother
A post shared by Kelly Slater (@kellyslater) on
Mark Occhilupo, who competed against Garcia throughout his own professional career, posted: “Been through a lot with you Sunny, you’re one of the strongest persons I know and you can get through this. Praying for you.”
Garcia fell foul of the law in Australia after his involvement in a scuffle with a recreational surfer on the Gold Coast in 2011.
Footage of the incident showed Garcia entering the water after arguing with a local surfer who had been involved in a physical altercation with Garcia’s son.
He was banned from competing for a short spell.
Garcia also served a three-month sentence in a US prison for tax evasion in 2007.
Role model to many
Surf writer Nick Carroll said Garcia had acted as a “pillar of support” for many other surfers struggling with mental health and that his early aggressive characteristics had not “sat comfortably” with Garcia.
“In many ways, he was sort of forced to play that aggressive role by forces beyond his control,” Carroll said.
“He grew up in an environment where that was regular, but underneath he was a gentle, good person and I think that persona always sat comfortably with him.”
Mr Carroll said Garcia possibly had been inspired to assume the role of mental health advocate following the deaths of Hawaiian surfers Marvin Foster and Andy Irons.
“He [Garcia] saw quite a few of his own Hawaiian heroes go down badly and Andy’s death, in particular, infuriated Sunny because he had a younger cousin-type relationship with him,” Mr Carroll said.
“It made it clear that it was important not to go down that road and he had to prepare himself to face his own demons.”
His work, often unheralded, had positively affected the surfing community.
“Sunny has been in touch with a heap of other surfers over the past decade and had been quite a helping hand for them,” Mr Carroll said.
“That’s what makes him such a pillar of support, which you can see by the amount of messages of support out there for him.”