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What's next for a tardy Sunny Garcia, who is replaced in the Pipeline Masters?

December 11, 2009 | 10:18 am

Sunny Garcia

Sunny Garcia, who has experienced a lifetime of ups and downs, was on top of the world.

He had just finished third in the Eddie Aikau memorial surfing contest, in epic conditions at Waimea Bay, Hawaii. Before that, the former ASP World Tour champion finished second in the O'Neill World Cup to earn a wild-card entry into the Billabong Pipeline Masters, in progress at the renowned Banzai Pipeline on Oahu's North Shore.

That placed Garcia, 39, in the running to claim an unprecedented seventh Vans Triple Crown of Surfing series title and a very lucrative paycheck.

But then Garcia, who appears to be his own worst enemy, arrived five minutes late Thursday for his first-round heat and watched dumbstruck as alternate Torrey Meister, his replacement, sat in the lineup wearing Garcia's contest jersey.

"I don't know what happened," said Meister, a North Shore local who won his heat and will face Australia's Kai Otton today during the second round. "I expected Sunny to turn up and I was sitting on the beach getting tired watching the waves. It was firing and I couldn't get too antsy because I didn't know if I was going to get into the event, but I'm happy that I did."

It's hard not to feel for Garcia, who rose from a rough upbringing on Oahu's west shore to become a force and a beloved character -- albeit it a volatile character -- on the World Tour (he won the title in 2000).

Since then Garcia spent time in prison for tax evasion (he failed to pay taxes on contest winnings and blamed his accountant and himself for not paying attention to his finances). He subsequently went through a divorce and fell off the tour, and dropped out of the limelight.

Garcia, however, reclaimed the spotlight as the Triple Crown got underway. A film crew documenting his life story has been shadowing the surfer and Garcia had been authoring a wonderful chapter until his latest blunder.

There remains a slim chance Garcia can sneak back into the Pipeline Masters -- he's first alternate and can get in if somebody withdraws -- but a more likely scenario is that the Triple Crown will continue without him, and that he will simply fade back into the sunset.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: Sunny Garcia cuts back during the O'Neill World Cup at Sunset Beach. Credit: ASP/Scholtz/Getty Images