Of all our world champs, Sunny might be the most misunderstood. The big Hawaiian, who can freeze a Backdoor lineup with a single glare, is in fact an intelligent and sensitive bloke who’s done a tremendous amount behind the scenes for the sport of pro surfing. He did 20 years on tour and saw the generations unfold from Curren to AI, which gives him a breadth of vision denied to most other professionals. He was an architect of the World Professional Surfers organization, which drove the revaluing of pro surfing in 2000. His success has laid the groundwork for future generations of Hawaiian pros, whose numbers on tour are climbing every season. Yet above all, his success is a story of triumph against odds that would’ve defeated a lesser man. On our trip, Sunny was in a reflective mood, thinking about the past two decades and what they’ve meant both to him and to the sport. As a result, our conversation covered a hell of a lot of ground.
NC: Let’s talk about becoming a world champion. Even the fact that surfing has a world champion is interesting. Skating, snowboarding, those sports don’t have that.
SG: I think of all the sports in the world we have the most unique thing. We actually travel the world. We don’t go to one or maybe two continents. Motocross has a world championship but it’s only held in Europe. The superbike championship is basically held in Europe, with one in Malaysia and one in Australia at Phillip Island. That’s the only sports that I know that could generally call themselves a world championship. But we go to Brazil, we go to Japan, Australia, Europe, we travel the world.
I want to try to find similarities between world champs and also differences. Can you then explain to me your family background, grandparents, where they came from?
On my Dad’s side, I’m pretty sure my grandparents came from Puerto Rico, their family came from Spain, so it went kinda Spain, Puerto Rico, then Hawaii. My mother’s side, my grandma’s Hawaiian/Chinese, so that was probably from the Chinese coming over. My mom’s mom is Spanish Filipino and her dad is Irish American Indian, so I’m mixed race. But both my parents were born and raised in Hawaii.My Dad was raised in Makakila, which is the southwest side of the island. My Mom was a military brat so they kinda moved around, I think most of the time they were in Waipahu, which is pretty close to the high school there. Both my parents went to Waipahu High School and that’s where they met. That’s pretty much all I know about my parents. I never really dug. Typical kid, you just wanna know what’s going on in your life, you’re not really concerned about your parents too much.
And you have a brother?
From my parents being together I have two older sisters and a younger brother. Then they were divorced, in between the divorce my father had another son with a woman who ended up moving away, so I have a brother in Indianapolis. And then my Dad got remarried and had two more girls so I have two younger sisters, and my Mom had a young boy so I have another young half-brother there. And numerous step-brothers and step-sisters. Pretty much close, the whole family. Both my parents got remarried pretty quickly, that was when I was about six. I lived with my Mom, fortunately, because she lived near Maile Point, right on the beach, and my Dad moved to Kaneohe which is on the east side, and there isn’t no surf and my Dad was against surfing, so I was pretty fortunate to stay with my Mom.