LIHUE — When Jacob “Smilie” Punzal and Candee Riopta leased the vacant building at 3131 Kuhio Highway between McDonald’s and The Garden Island, they figured it would take two weeks to get it in shape for the next home of Au’rai Fitness.
Turned out, a little bit longer. Well, a lot longer. Try eight months.
The wait, not to mentioned all the blood, sweat and tears they poured into the renovation project, was worth it.
“Everything has been really great. We’re very blessed to be open again,” Punzal said. “It’s good to see our family members back in training.”
It’s a team approach for Punzal and Riopta, co-owners and a couple, too. (They met when Smilie was coaching Candee.) She’s the operations manager; he’s the head coach. She takes care of the books and finances and is the one who does a lot of the behind-the-scenes duties. He guides more than 100 people through circuit training classes each week. Some show up daily, others, a few times a week or weekly. But they all have something in common: FLOW, which means “functional living on the outside and within.”
Stop by, mornings or evening, and you’ll find a whole lot of enthusiastic men and women, teens, kupuna and even keiki some days, working out.
There are ropes to climb and tires to flip, resistance bands to pull, kettle bells to lift, rings to hang from and punching bags to pound. They run, they jump, they stretch, they twist and turn, they sweat and they smile.
While workouts can be modified to fit each person’s body condition, there is a commonality.
“The whole range of fitness circuit uses every single part of the body: all the muscles are involved,” Smilie said.
At Au’Rai Fitness, it’s all about being sharp not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. Faith, family and fitness are priorities in the Punzal-Riopta household and fitness center.
“It’s seeing everyone smile and gain the results,” Punzal said.
The youthful 38-year-old and father of two sons carries a solid 185 pounds on a 5-6 frame. He lives what he practices and preaches. On Saturday, he completed the 1,000 meter swim in the Hanalei Bay Swim Challenge. On Sunday, he completed the Koloa Plantation Days Family Fun Run 5K.
All the while, of course, he was cheering on and encouraging members of Au’Rai Fitness also competing in the weekend events. That’s what he loves most about what he does.
“It’s the fellowship, everyone is happy, making new friends that turn into family,” he said.
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.
“Because everyone has a tight schedule,” Punzal said.
He designed Au’Rai Fitness “for every lifestyle, mind, body and soul,” but the key driver in starting the business was his two young sons, Po‘okela and Ka‘eo. He wanted to earn a living while being able to attend school events, watch their games and take them to activities. That’s why he tries to limit work to 50 hours a week.
“The main reason I created this was for my two sons,” the Koloa man said.
Candee has two daughters. Between them, they have a big family. They enjoy surfing, hiking, hanging out at the beach and barbecues.
Because they understand well how parents want to exercise but need to plan for their children, too, Au’Rai Fitness offers a keiki area where young ones can play while mom and dad workout nearby. So important are the keiki, there is a free class designed just for those ages 4 to 10 on Mondays.
This is the eighth location for Au’Rai Fitness. After signing the lease in November for the building, it took months of completing applications for various permits to do electrical, plumbing, and structural improvements so they could open.
Smilie and Candee did what they could and hired out as required.
“It was like a skeleton when we started,” Riopta said.
“We thought we would open this place in two weeks,” Punzal added.
In late May, the doors to Au’Rai Fitness opened. Oh, what a feeling it was for Smilie and Candee.
“We felt so great.” he said. “Unreal feeling. It took so long to get it open.”
“From before pictures to what it is now, Candee and I worked so hard,” Punzal said.
Their efforts paid off.
Early evenings, the parking lot is full and people in shorts and tank tops and T-shirts and running shoes mill around, talking and warming up before circuit training starts. It can be loud as folks let out a few shouts and yells as they push themselves and each other.
There are triathletes and runners and swimmers and surfers and paddlers in the mix. There are shop owners, college students, retirees and fishermen, too. Some want to maintain fitness. Others want to reach another level. A few are fighting to shed a few pounds. And some just enjoy working up a sweat and being part of the camaraderie and positive energy at Au’Rai Fitness.
At the end of classes, Punzal likes to take a group picture.
“To show we’re family and we’re bonding,” he said. “And see the results, see the transformation.”
Goals are important, Punzal said.
“Set a goal, stay positive,” he said.
He chuckled and smiled when asked if he gives diet advice.
“I’m not a certified dietician, but I can tell you, if you eat too much of something, you will get bloated,” Punzal said. “Everything in life in moderation.”
There are morning and evening classes and monthly rates vary, from $70 for students, $75 for teachers, $80 for individuals and $150 for “couples in love.” It costs $10 to drop-in for a class.
Info: 631-2955 or 635-3540