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Monday, February 21, 2011
Crime and punishment

Rule No. 1: Sunny always gets right of way ... even if you're Tom Curren and you're behind him.

A riff on what happened in Australia this weekend: On Feb. 19, Sunny Garcia and Jeremy Flores got into an altercation with a Burleigh Heads local during the Breaka Burleigh Pro. Flores was promptly tossed from the event, and Garcia suspended from the next event.

On Nov. 19, 2004, the Indiana Pacers' Ron Artest charged into the stands, attacking a boisterous fan. He was subsequently suspended for the remainder of the season (73 games, the longest suspension in NBA history) and his stock in the NBA plummeted. I draw this comparison because the two seem similar enough -- a professional athlete violently attacking a "fan" who may or may not have crossed the line.

I wasn't at the Pacers game in '04, and I wasn't in Oz this weekend, so it's not for me to say if the fan in Indy had gone too far or if the local in Burleigh was simply a prick needing a lesson. But what I can say is that it's time for the ASP to step up, grow a pair, and start treating issues like violence and drug use with the severity with which they deserve.

"It is noted that ASP International implements a zero tolerance policy in relation to violence," reads a lawyerly post on today. It then goes on to say, "The ASP Rules and Disciplinary Committee will reconvene following the closure of the active police investigation to determine whether further disciplinary action is required for both athletes."

In other words, unless these two have charges filed against them and are thrown in the clink, the case is closed. Maybe a fine or something will be leveraged in addition, but considering Garcia bloodied up a couple people pretty good, his punishment, and to a lesser extent Flores's too, seem relatively inconsequential.

So what, Garcia's suspended for the next event? He's 41 years old and is admittedly not "on tour." He was in Australia for a two-month holiday with his family, not digging his heals into the competitive season. And for Flores, he didn't even need to be surfing the measly 4-star event to begin with, so getting kicked out has little to no impact on him -- beyond maybe minor damage to his "marketability." Snapper starts in a week and he'll be good to go.

What's so indicative about this incident is that it all happened right there, a savage beating right in front of the VIP tent on the point at Burleigh, plain as the melanoma-pocked nose on every Aussie's face, and yet the reaction I'm hearing from Australia is that most people hardly paid it any notice.

It's hardly the first time something like this has happened. During the 2007 Pipe Masters Brazilian journeyman Neco Padaratz dropped in on Garcia and was promptly chased out of the water, up the beach, and through the contest scaffolding before eventually finding the protection of local police. (Crying and distraught, Padaratz would return to where he was staying under police escort, pack his things, and leave the island the following morning.) And then there was the whole interference entanglement with Tom Curren during an exhibition heat at Haleiwa this winter. Poor Curren looked like an abused child while Garcia huffed and puffed around the competitor's area. So much for the ASP's "zero tolerance policy."

Garcia is who he is, and that's what has endeared him to thousands of fans (mostly in Hawaii). As a skinny 17-year-old he debuted on the ASP circuit in 1986 via Oahu's rough and rabble Westside. Toughness wasn't an option as a kid, and he's since never lost that edge. He's a world surfing champion and a convicted felon (tax evasion), an odd juxtaposition if ever there was one (or maybe not). This rant isn't meant to be an indictment of his character, after all "Sunny's Sunny" and I'm cool with that, rather if the ASP is to see itself as a legit governing body, it's time for them to step up and start dealing with these kinds of issues in a more serious manor. After all, Artest had to give up 73 games of his career, while at worst Flores and Garcia are only missing a few heats. Somehow that just doesn't sound right.