The World Surf League confirmed Monday night that Hawaii surf icon Sunny Garcia is fighting for his life in an intensive care unit at a Portland, Ore., hospital, amid internet reports that he attempted suicide.
“With heavy hearts we confirm that Sunny Garcia is in the ICU in the hospital,” the WSL posted on Twitter. “Sunny has always been a great champion of surfing, both in and out of the water. Our prayers are with him and his loved ones at this deeply challenging time.”
The WSL did not comment on why Garcia was hospitalized.
According to SurferToday.com, the 49-year-old Garcia — who has publicly spoken on numerous occasions about his mental illness problems — was found unconscious in his home and taken to the hospital and is apparently breathing without medical assistance. The web site referred to the incident as an attempted suicide.
Hundreds of Garcia’s fans and friends have gone on social media praying for his survival.
“I’m in shock,” Chris Latronic, a Hawaii TV news personality and host of the local surfing TV show “Board Stories,” told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser via cellphone this morning. “I wish he was home. I wish he was here in Hawaii. It’s ironic that he went away from Hawaii to deal with his mental illness.”
Garcia, who was born Vincent Sennen Garcia III in 1970, talked freely about the depression he battled in an October 2015 Honolulu Star-Advertiser column and accompanying video interview by Dave Reardon.
In an interview for TetonGravity.com, Garcia talked about his great friend Andy Irons, the three-time world champion who died of cardiac arrest and acute mixed drug ingestion in 2010. Irons also struggled with mental health issues.
“Had Andy really reached out and asked for help, we’d still have him,” Garcia said in that story.
Waianae’s Garcia has lived a tumultuous life. His parents divorced at a young age. He spent three months in jail in a tax evasion case, suffered from cocaine addiction during his spectacular career, and was always known as one of the fiercest competitors in his sport who did not shy away from physical or verbal confrontation.
On his Facebook page from Sunday at 5:19 p.m., Garcia posted a photograph of himself as a teenager with the following words: “If I told this kid the things he would go through and things he would achieve he would tell me I’m crazy lol. Wow it’s been a crazy ride since this photo was taken.”
A day earlier on another post, he congratulated Haleiwa’s John John Florence for his victory in the Rip Curl Bells Beach Pro in Australia.
Garcia’s deep-seated feelings of rivalry with Kelly Slater, who went on to win 11 world championships, have never abated. Five days ago, Garcia posted a picture of himself in the middle of a gigantic tube ride with these words “#TBT Winter of 95 was a hard one swallow but losing the World title to @kellyslater just gave me more motivation to try harder to get one:) #nevergiveup … ”
Garcia also posted about his depression recently: “Doesn’t matter what kind of mental illness you suffer from, we all suffer in silence and deal with it the best we can and most people that don’t suffer can’t understand the pain and frustration that we go through … ”
Garcia has been active in MotoCross and has also posted recent pictures of himself riding his motorcycle in competition.
But surfing has always been his passion and where he hit his heights.
In the water during his pro career, Garcia was known for his power surfing and he carried the native Hawaiian torch throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s in the succession that started with Duke Kahanamoku and eventually trickled down to Eddie Aikau and Derek and Michael Ho and others and is now in the hands of youngsters like Ezekiel Lau.
Garcia has left an indelible mark on the surfing world. His biggest highlight came while winning five events en route to the 2000 world championship. But he also holds the record for most Triple Crown of Surfing trophies with six, and his 22 WSL World Qualifying Series victories are also the most of all-time.