Still flowing strong

  • Bill Buley/The Garden Island

    Smilie Punzal of Au’Rai Fitness leads a class at the new location in Lihue.

  • Bill Buley/The Garden Island

    Smilie Punzal of Au’Rai Fitness oversees a class on his first day back at a new Lihue location.

It’s a good thing Jacob “Smilie” Punzal’s mantra is about going with the flow.

It helps — especially when you’re on the move like he is.

The owner of Au’rai Fitness in Lihue recently opened, again, at a new location, this time at 3-3100 Kuhio Highway, just off Hardy Street.

It’s the ninth location for the fitness center in just four and half years. Punzal, despite all those changes of address, keeps that smile going.

“I always want to keep it flowing. That’s my main saying, keep it flowing,” he said. “God always provides. Keep the faith that everything will be just fine. Everything is a learning experience.”

The energized father of two was back leading a class on March 1, two months after leaving his last location on Kuhio Highway between McDonald’s and The Garden Island office. He spent eight months renovating the site, but the lease ended at the end of 2017.

He admits being a little nervous before that first Au’rai class.

“Seems like I’m going to my first job again. I had my butterflies in my stomach,” he said.

But once the one-hour workout began, it was back to business as usual, if you can call exercise that.

“It feels great to blow that whistle, see people smile, see people sweat. See faces again,” he said. “It’s real ohana-style over there. We’re like family. It’s like a family reunion. They were gone for a couple months, now they’re back, back in the flow.”

“My flow is, functional living, outside and within,” he added.

The new 1,200-square-foot site is filled with exercise equipment. Ropes, weights, balance balls, bar and mats fill the bright yellow room. Many in the class wear Au’rai Fitness shirts. It’s a serious but friendly workout. People are lifting and doing push ups and pull ups and running out the front door and then back under the eye of the 5-6, 185-pound Punzal.

“I really love coaching,” he said. “I love seeing people succeed. I love seeing relationships strengthened and nourished. I love seeing people achieve goals they never thought could be done.”

Which is a reason why he encourages clients to participate in local fun runs and swims, to test themselves and their fitness. And, he adds, to have fun. Enjoy a lifestyle that lets you get out and experience the beauty of this island.

It works. Many have posted personal bests. Many have found they like the camaraderie and the teamwork of Au’rai Fitness.

“Keep it flowing, keep active,” he said. “It’s all about fitness and fellowship.”

And determination.

Since starting his first Au’rai Fitness in April 2013, Punzal has moved eight times.

Stops have included sites in an industrial area, by Vidinha Stadium, in Puhi, Nawiliwili and next to Kuhio Highway. Some have been a few months. One was two years. One, a week.

“We fixed it up for a month and operated for less than a week,” he said, laughing.

They don’t work out for different reasons. Leases expire. The building just wasn’t right. Parking problems. Time to grow.

But Punzal perseveres.

On this most recent move, he lugged, with the help of friends and family, all the equipment into his garage for storage. We’re talking dumb bells that weigh from a few pounds to 60 pounds. Benches, punching bags, bars. Just moving it was a good workout.

Of course, before all that, he once again improved his new home with paint, flooring, cleaning — everything he is used to doing.

And finding this spot wasn’t easy with lots of looking and digging and calling.

“It was a very challenging experience,” he said.

Prayers, he said, and faith, get him through.

But there is more that motivates him, that prevents him from ever giving up, from ever throwing away that whistle for good and finding an 8 to 5 job.

Their names are Po‘okela and Ka‘eo. They are his sons.

“They are my biggest inspiration,” he said with pride. “Why I started this place was for them.”

His schedule of fitness classes revolves around his sons’ sports and school programs.

“This is for their benefit,” he said. “Things roll around their schedule.”

Punzal is a 1995 graduate of Kapaa High School. He played sports and did well academically, earning scholar athlete of the year honors, before heading to Seattle University, where he earned a business management degree.

He knew he loved physical fitness, working out and helping others reach their potential.

In 2013, he opened his first Au’rai Fitness on Kauai and created workouts that were efficient, effective and could be completed in less than an hour.

Classes target different areas. One might be strength. One might be cardio. One might be overall conditioning.

Different circuits for different goals. Perhaps a bigger bicep. Perhaps a faster 10k. Or maybe just feel better with all that energy in an Au’rai session.

“You’re always sweating, you’re always moving, never a dull moment,” he said.

Workouts involve 10 to 20 people running, lifting, squatting, planking, in short increments like a minute, sometimes longer.

Punzal’s whistle will let you know when it’s over.

“Sweat shop speed flow,” he said. “Go from one station to the other. Get your heart rate up.”

They are partners, teammates. At the end of each class there’s a team picture, too. Mark your progress kind of thing and check back on it later to see where you were.

“It’s all flow of motion,” Punzal said. “It’s all about fitness and fellowship, benefiting Kauai’s fitness lifestyle. It’s not just about the body, but mind and spirit, too.”

Classes are $15 drop in and $85 a month for unlimited.

Punzal can be reached at 635-3540.

And if you wondering how long Punzal will be at his new Au’rai location, he shakes his head and grins. No guarantees but hopefully, no moves, at least for awhile. This is home.

“We’re trying, we’re trying,” he said, laughing.

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