The epiphany happened when Jerome Hromiak was kite surfing.
The former college basketball player turned businessman was celebrating his 40th birthday on the island, and he knew he didn’t want to go back to San Francisco.
“I had a premonition,” Hromiak said, remembering back three years ago when he was out on the water and he didn’t want the three-week vacation to end. “Sort of this feeling I should move.”
The other part of the epiphany was how Hromiak, the H in his last name is silent, felt whenever he was on vacation and didn’t work out like he did back home.
It could make him, well, moody.
“I can feel it in my personality,” he said.
The former Virginia Tech hoopster had been CrossFitting in California for 18 months at the time, introduced to the underground-turned mainstream, high-intensity workout as he rehabilitated from a torn ACL and arthritis.
But on the island, he couldn’t find a box — what CrossFitters call a gym.
Or a kettle bell.
Or a pull-up bar.
“I couldn’t do pull-ups!” he said, of one of the staple CrossFit movements.
It took about six more months, but Hromiak followed through on his epiphany — both sides of it. He packed up his Northern Californian home and moved to Kauai to open the island’s inaugural CrossFit box on Kou Street in Kapaa. Earlier this month, the outdoor box celebrated its three-year anniversary, Oct. 10. In June, it had expanded by opening a gym in Lihue, 4031 Halau St.
Quite a journey, considering when Hromiak first opened the Kapaa location, which sits right on the beach, he didn’t have any members. His game plan included word of mouth, social media and working out at the outdoor box in hopes that passersby on the pedestrian trail, Ke Ala Hele Makalae, stopped to ask questions.
“It’s been an adventure,” Hromiak said. “It’s been hard, but it’s been fun at times — a fantastic journey.”
Fast forward and even more gyms have sprouted on the island, including another one in Lihue. The growth locally matches the growth in popularity across the world. CrossFit, Inc. was founded by Greg Glassman in 2000. According to its Wikipedia biography, 7,000 affiliated boxes are now in swing across the world. ESPN recently inked a deal to broadcast the CrossFit Games, and has been showing the annual competitions for the last few years.
So what is CrossFit?
Well, it’s a lot of movements, and done quickly.
Classes last one hour — from warm-up to cool-down, and blend a variety of aerobic movements with weight lifting and old-fashion exercises like push-ups or jumping rope. The constant variety of workouts keeps athletes on their toes, not to mention sculpts them from shoulders to shins.
CrossFitters love the workout so much, a criticism they sometimes hear is that they love it too much. It can be hard for them not to talk about, which can seem obsessive for those who don’t know the jargon — like kettle bell, thruster, AMRAP or WOD.
“Eventually it became a way of life,” said Jason Yoshida, Kekaha Elementary School principal who joined the gym when it first opened, and who lost 20 pounds in the process.
He said he doesn’t steer conversations toward CrossFit, but said the friendships and community-feel of the box is his favorite part.
“It’s the people,” he said. “It’s really about the community of people.”
WOD, by the way, means work out of the day. And while work outs are described as intense, it’s not meant for just the hardcore. In fact, all ages make up of around 100 members between the two gyms. Coaches scale workouts to an athlete’s level, too, and personal-trainer attention is another staple.
Can’t do push-ups? Try it with a giant rubber band that springs you back to the bar. It’s the same movement, focusing on the same muscles, but the resistant levels are different. Eventually, the rubber band won’t be needed. Can’t lift the weights overhead? Try it with just a barbell, or better yet, a plastic stick until the movement feels natural.
“It took me a year to do a pull-up,” said Jill Miley, another original member, who now swing sets of 10 off the bar, no problem. “I love going there. And not necessarily because of the workouts — because they’re hard — but because of the friendships I’ve made there.
“It’s one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, but also most rewarding,” she added. “It’s almost priceless … I’d never be able to do this in a gym or on my own.”
And that, according to Kapaa box coach Charlotte Psaila, is the best part of the job.
Sure, it’s a treat to work outside everyday, with people you like, but the icing on the cake is seeing people improve — pounds melt away and muscle build.
“My favorite part is seeing people progress,” she said. “I feel like a little mom and they’re my little children and I’m super proud of them.”
The community feel was on display during the anniversary party recently, where members hung out at the Kappa box holding brews rather than barbells. While the Lihue box has the traditional warehouse-type of box feel more familiar on the Mainland, the Kapaa location is the model of unique. You can’t do squats on the beach in Lincoln, Neb.
Those beachgoers that Hromiak waited to stop by to start up his membership three years ago?
They still stop. And watch. And ask questions. And, often, join a class. Tourists, especially.
“I love it,” said Rene Barajas, visiting from Sonoma, Calif., who worked out in Kapaa while on vacation. “Don’t get me wrong, I love my box back home, but …”
So what’s the next three years going to bring with CrossFit on Kauai?
The coaches can’t say. Only that they’re excited.
“I’m still hooked on it,” Hromiak said. “There is no stopping me. I’ll be doing this the rest of my life.”