"Doesn’t matter what kind of mental illness you suffer from, we all suffer in silence and deal with it best we can," Garcia wrote in March

By Jason Duaine Hahn
April 30, 2019 09:08 PM
Sunny Garcia (HAW) has lost his heat on Round One Group One on Masters (Photo by Laurent Masurel/WSL via Getty Images)
Credit: Laurent Masurel/WSL via Getty

Professional surfer Sunny Garcia has been placed in the intensive care unit at a hospital in Oregon.

Early reports suggested the former world champion, who has been candid about his mental health struggles in the past, had died, but the World Surf League confirmed his hospitalization Tuesday.

“With heavy hearts we confirm that Sunny Garcia is in the ICU in the hospital,” the organization wrote. “Sunny has always been a great champion of surfing, both in and out of the water. Our prayers are with him and his loved ones at this deeply challenging time.”

The 49-year-old, whose real name is Vincent Sennen Garcia, was hospitalized just hours after sharing an emotional Instagram post.

“If I told this kid the things he would go through and things he would achieve he would tell me I’m crazy,” he captioned a photo of himself as a teenager, smiling and holding a snow cone. “Wow it’s been a crazy ride since this photo was taken.”

A representative for the power surfer did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

In December 2014, Garcia opened up about his struggles with depression in another Instagram post that included the hashtags “#needhelp” and “#whatswrongwithme.”

“Depression is no joke waking up feeling like you’re ready to take on the world then a couple hours later feeling down on life and wondering what’s wrong with you,” Garcia wrote.

“Well I know I’m not alone and I’m not sure what’s wrong with me because I have no reason to feel the way I do,” he continued. “It’s been happening for about two years and would love to hear from any of you who suffer these feelings so I can figure out what I should do.”

23 Apr 2000: Surfing legend, Sunny Garcia from Hawaii competes in the "Mitchell Surfing Foundation Expression Session" at the Rip Curl Pro 2000 held at Bells Beach, Victoria Australia. DIGITAL IMAGE Mandatory Credit: Darren McNamara/ALLSPORT
Sunny Garcia in 2000
| Credit: Darren McNamara/ALLSPORT/Getty

Just last month, Garcia again opened up about his struggle with mental health and called out on others to talk about their feelings.

“Doesn’t matter what kind of mental illness you suffer from, we all suffer in silence and deal with it best we can and most people that don’t suffer can’t understand the pain and frustration that we go through,” he wrote on Instagram, before adding that he had spent the morning curled up in his closet.

“I have a incredible life surrounded by people that love and care for me, and I get to travel to beautiful places to surf and meet different people from all over the world but I can tell you when I get down that none of that matters,” Garcia continued.

“I just keep sharing my feelings hoping that it helps any of you out there that suffers from anything and encourage you to reach out and talk to others like yourself because this life can really be beautiful.”

After the news of his hospitalization, many in the surfing community posted memories and well-wishes to Garcia.

“Sunny…I love you, brother,” Kelly Slater wrote on Instagram. “I just can’t even fathom you not here. We’ve got so much more living to do before we are done. There’s been hard times but there have been so many good ones, too. Just praying you wake up and we get more of you.”

“Come on brother we need you here!” added surfer Jeremy Flores. “It’s not your time yet, you’re a warrior! Love you Sunny.”

Garcia, a native of Oahu and a legend in the surfing community, picked up the sport when he was just five years old. After dropping out of high school to focus on surfing, he would earn the Association of Surfing Professionals world championship in 2000 and win the Triple Crown of Surfing — made up of three events off the Hawaiian coast — six different times in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1999, 2000 and 2004, more than any other surfer in history.

He is the second surfer in history to acquire more than a million dollars in prize money throughout his career, according to the New York Times. For his many accolades, Garcia was inducted into the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.

“He is the most victorious surfer in Hawaii,” the Hall of Fame says of Garcia on its website.

His talents in the water have also lead to him becoming one of the most photographed and filmed surfers ever, having appeared in more than 75 surf movies and video, the Hall of Fame noted.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “home” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.