The 6 hardest men of surfing

Surfing is a sport fuelled by passionate individuals, but sometimes the passion can spill over…onto the streets, onto the beach, into competition heats…and even into parties.

In the world of surfing there are some that can blow your mind with their speed, power and flow…then chill your blood with their tough-guy reputation.

These are the guys you do not want to cross. They can carve a perfect line, but they aren’t scared to deliver a swift blow when required either.

Drop in on them? You’d have to have to be insane – or have a death wish…

Either way, it won’t end well…

So in no particular order here are Newquay Surfer’s top 6 tough guys of surfing.

1. Sunny Garcia

He’s laughing now, but just don’t upset him. Pic by Mike Manoa

Legendary Sunny Garcia embodies the fierce, competitive power surfer…he’s also hard as nails.

His passion is so intense it sometimes bubbles over and he’s not scared of a scrap either.

Coming from a broken home, Garcia found surfing as a refuge from fighting and poverty.

Standing at 5’10 and weighing in at 200lbs the Hawaiian legend is both a surfing champ and a seasoned tough guy who has done time.

Garcia once rugby tackled Brazilian surfer Neco Padaratz off a wave during a competition heat at the 2007 Pipeline masters, and then chased him to the beach.

Garcia is an obvious hard man of surfing and he is no stranger to controversy, so you can be sure he won’t walk away from a fight.

You have been warned!


2. Vince Collier

Vince Collier – hard as nails

It might be the culture or it might be the drugs, but there are certainly some tough guys in Santa Cruz. Perhaps one of the hardest is the godfather of the Santa Cruz gang Vince ‘Godfather’ Collier.

When Rat-boy, Flea and Barney were trouble-making teenagers, it was Vince Collier who kept them in line.

To take on that task, you’d have to be a badass!

Vince Collier recently asked: “Would you rather be loved, or feared?…FEAR ME!”

Check out Vince in the trailer for the Westsiders movie.

A mentor of troubled children, he was among the first chargers to tackle the giant surf at Maverick’s.

Legend has it that Collier was like a psycho baby-sitter pushing groms such as Pete Mel, Flea and Skindog into surfing Mavericks…to prove how mentally strong they were.

Clearly a hard man with a slightly sadistic edge, he’s not one to be messed with…



3. Ian “Kanga” Cairns

Ian Cairns – surfing, by any means necessary

At his peak, 6’2″ Aussie surfer Ian Cairns clocked in at 190 pounds and during the mid-seventies, his surfing on the North Shore of Hawaii was unrivalled for its power.

In the classic surf movie “Bustin Down the Door” Cairns talks about being chased and assaulted by a Hawaiian shortly after Rabbit’s vicious bashing.

Cairns said that he decided that the only way to stop the bashing was to “kill the guy”.

As far as anyone is aware “Kanga” never killed anyone, but let it be known…when this man is pushed, he’d defend himself.

By any means necessary!


4. Richie Vaculik Vas

Richie Vas pic by Jetpilot

A member of the Braa boys gang brought up in Maroubra Beach, Richie Vas is a mixed martial arts fighter, and a big wave rider.

If that isn’t enough to send you running to the hills, then just make sure you don’t upset Richie – someone did once at Mick Fanning’s party and they ended up with their jaw broken in three places.

Standing at 5’6 and weighing 62kg Richie may not be a heavyweight, but he’s taken big wave beatings that could kill most mortals and he’s proven on more than one occasion that he can take a guy out with a single punch.

From laughing off a slashed throat injury surfing Ours, to professional cage fighting and big wave beatings…Richie is someone to watch out for.


5. Laird Hamilton

Thumbs up to super-heroes

Laird Hamilton is a big wave legend and co-inventor of tow-in surfing.

At 47 he is an icon of bravery, fitness and endurance.With balls of steel and an amazing strength of mind and body, he’s a powerhouse of a man…and surfer.

Growing up as the only blonde kid in his town on Oahu, Laird fought his way through school just to survive the bullying.

As he grew up, he found more and more extreme ways to test himself. From surfing 60ft Jaws, to stand up paddle boarding across the English channel…its no wonder Laird Hamilton is often referred to as a modern day superhero.

He’s no stranger to pain either. Allegedly over the years Laird has broken over 1000 bones in his body!

You may think to yourself ‘that’s his weakness!’…but you’d be naive.

Standing at 6’3 and 215lbs, he’d have a huge reach if it came to a fight.

Chances are you’d never get close enough to hit him, and even if you did…how do you think your force will compare to a 60ft big wave hold down?

There’s a simple rule to live by – don’t get into fights with superheroes!


6. Koby Abberton

Koby Abberton pic by AustralianSuperbikes

Like Richie Vas, Koby Abberton grew up in Maroubra, New South Wales and is a member of the Braa Boys surf gang.

A former Australian professional surfer, Koby Abberton rose to prominence in the surf documentary Braa Boys

A fan of big wave surfing, slab-hunting and certainly never one to run away from a fight, Abberton has had his fair share of run-ins with the authorities.

Koby’s tough upbringing lead him to live a life loyal to his mates…and he’s not scared of the law either. Arrested numerous times, Koby was incarcerated during the trial of his brother Jai Abberton and also more recently for assaulting an off-duty Harbor police officer in Hawaii.

If big-wave slabs, jail and Hawaiian cops don’t scare him…you probably won’t either!

So who do you think is the hardest pro-surfer?


Are there other names that should be on this list?

Let us know in the comments below!


  1. I moved to Santa Cruz in ’75 right before “The Monster from New Zealand” hit having grown up in West LA and surfing Malibu since ’64 and watching the likes of Miki Dora, Lance Carson and Ray Kunze “The Malibu Enforcer” dominate the horrific crowds. I had hoped that moving to “Northern Cal” would put an end to the primate politics (at its worst) I witnessed at “The Bu”. The only problem was a young lad named Vince Collier who I “met” as he dropped in out of the sky in front of me at “The Lane”. I soon realized that localism in Santa Cruz was far worse than Malibu and the waves were much more powerful. Over the years, I watched him grow up into a great surfer who really pioneered high performance big wave riding along with his buddy Richard Schmidt – the two of them were utterly fearless. Later around 1990, I moved to Half Moon Bay and they were the first Santa Cruz surfers to join Jeff Clark at Mavericks. They led the way for all the “West Siders”. The funny thing about Vince was that you couldn’t really hate the guy because he was just being his fun loving self – just don’t get in his way. An amazing cat and a good choice for your crew of hard arses.

  2. Well you missed a couple of guys! Sunny Abberton & Mark Mathews.
    These are guys not to miss ..

  3. You missed an obvious one, Jeff Clark. Charged hard as a from, surfed Mavericks at 17 while in high school, and then surfed it alone for the next 15 years before he convinced the Santa Cruz guys to try it. The spot was a navigational hazard, claiming lives of fishermen sadly. But he surfed that and every spot up and down the coast. He’s 60 years in and still surfing that power almost every day, on any type of board he shapes, and now hooked on foiling. Tough as nails and a fierce ocean warrior.

  4. Johnny Boy Gomes – Hawaiian enforcer — and legend has it that Johnny Boy and Koby Abberton duked it out in a public toilet on the North Shore.

  5. You left out Dan McGuire, who dominated the lineup at Venice Breakwater in the 1990s and 2000s.

  6. Yeah I’d put Vince Collier at the top, though he’s the only guy on this list I saw in person on land and in the water. His surfing was powerful and fearless and he could be intimidating on dry land. I lived on the westside in the 80s , and the surf community was tight knit, and he was king. The stories are true. He’s greatly missed.

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