Is surfer Sunny Garcia a North Shore reality?
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer The Honolulu Advertiser
"Boarding House: North Shore," the new reality TV show that packs surfers into a house at Rocky Point, is churning up reaction from Hawai'i onlookers for its focus on volatile champion surfer Sunny Garcia.
The WB network show, produced by Mark Burnett ("Survivor"), cashes in on both the reality TV and surfing crazes and has been hyped as sort of a "Real World" meets "Blue Crush."
In the first episode, which aired last week, Garcia, the former world champion and five-time Vans Triple Crown of Surfing top dog, was the center of attention. In the episode, and in TV ads for the show that repeatedly aired, Garcia establishes himself as the alpha male of the house and punches a guy who tries to pick up his wife, Raina. The second episode, which aired yesterday, showed Garcia in a similarly combative groove.
Amateur surfer Chris Owens, who has surfed the North Shore for more than 30 years, has seen Garcia's edginess up close and personal. He said Garcia splashed water in his face and challenged him to fight when Owens scolded him for "dropping in" on him at Pipeline.
"He gives people a kind of negative impression about what locals and local surfers are like," he said. "A world champion doesn't act like that. What he does is more like Mike Tyson than Michael Jordan."
But Garcia has plenty of support on the North Shore.
Somer Kolden, who works at Sunset Pizza in Sunset Beach — the spot where Garcia has his confrontation — said she has seen a few of the cast members at parties and in the community.
"Sunny is intimidating, but he's cool," she said. "Fights happen here, but I think they kind of blew it up out of proportion. It's not like he goes around just kicking people's butts everywhere."
Garcia is one of seven pro surfers featured in the show, along with Holly Beck, Danny Fuller, Chelsea Georgeson, Damien Hobgood, Veronica Kay and Myles Padaca. The show, filmed during winter's big-wave season, follows them as they live with and compete against each other on O'ahu's North Shore.
On the show's Web site, Garcia's bio recalls the surfer's history of fighting in school, including a beating that led Garcia to drop out of school. Elsewhere on the site, Garcia is described as: "Intimidating. Dangerous. Aggressive. Legendary."
Garcia, reached by phone in California, said, "They have to do what they have to do," about the network's portrayal of his behavior.
Garcia said he understands why the network might market him as the heavy. Overall, he's happy with what he's seen of the show.
"I think it's great," he said. "Despite what the papers say about me being into myself and having a short fuse, I think it came out really good. I think it'll be a real positive thing for Hawai'i and tourism."
Les Enderton, executive director of the O'ahu Visitors Bureau, sides with Garcia on this one. Though he hadn't yet seen the show, Enderton said shows like "Boarding House" help to promote O'ahu as more than just Waikiki, luring tourists to the North Shore and its Neighbor Island-like charms.
As for Garcia, Enderton said: "He's been a fabulous surf champion and an ambassador of aloha for Hawai'i.
Still, some Hawai'i surfers and residents are concerned about Garcia being portrayed as a poster-boy for locals-only thuggery.
"The bad thing about it is that not all locals are like that," said Merv Kuahiwinui of Makakilo. "I hope people don't get the impression that all local people are punks, or that we're not receptive (to outsiders)."
Johnnie Moore, owner of the Strong Current surf shop, said perceptions of North Shore surfers as violent and territorial are overblown.
"The North Shore has a reputation from the '70s, when things did get a bit tough out here," Moore said. "But it's like that anywhere in the world. For big guys, it's that period in life when you're starting to grow muscles and you're feeling strong and the testosterone is at it's height. Some guys will start trouble, but you get that anywhere. You'd get that in Iowa."
With only two episodes aired so far (the series is broadcast Wednesdays at 7 p.m. and repeats Sundays at 9 p.m. on KFVE), it's difficult to tell just how large Garcia's long, intimidating shadow will loom in the show. Kaua'i's Danny Fuller, a rising star, is a favorite on the show's chat boards, and tension between Beck and Kay is an emerging subplot.
Garcia, who spends his summers at his home in San Diego, said he is unconcerned with how he is perceived by people outside of his circle of family and friends.
"People who know me know what I'm like," he said. "I don't think this show will hurt my image. I'm just myself. I may have a short fuse, like they say, but unless you spend the time to get to know me, you aren't going to see my other sides."
Several North Shore residents said they were less concerned with Garcia than with what they see as Hollywood's false image of the North Shore.
Lyn Nanni, who lives down the street from the house where the surfers lived, said the show misrepresents the North Shore as she has come to know it.
"It seemed like these producers are taking (Garcia) as an example of a person who lives here, and he's not. He's not representative. Quite the opposite, in fact.
"(The show) was offensive to me," she said. "First of all, the people seemed to be concerned with things that people out here aren't concerned with: money and their egos, and showing off and talking about beating people up. What's up with that? Country people aren't stupid people. We're not uneducated."
Nanni said "Boarding House," like other productions that have come to the North Shore, delivered less to the community than it took away.
"If people want to come here and contribute to the community and help our schools and parks, then fine," she said. "But it's very limited what they've been doing. They make a big show, but what we get in return for what they use and take over is not an even exchange."