Talk Story: Justin Kanoho

  • Nick Celario / The Garden Island

    Kauai CrossFit coach Justin Kanoho, right, gives encouragement to class participant Greg Meyers on Wednesday in Lihue.

  • Nick Celario / The Garden Island

    Kauai CrossFit coach Justin Kanoho gives encouragement to class participants Wednesday in Lihue.

Justin Kanoho is a guy who likes to have fun and go with the flow.

He oftentimes, though, ist put in uncomfortable spots working as a fireman. Kanoho also is a coach at Kauai CrossFit in Lihue. In his case, the two go hand-in-hand.

And when he’s coaching CrossFit classes, he gets joy out of celebrating other people’s victories.

“Brah, I love that. When you’re there for that moment, that person looks at you and it’s like, ‘Brah, we made it.’ Like, ‘Right on, man. All that hard work paid off,’” Kanoho said.

It is also through CrossFit and living an active lifestyle that he releases anxiety.

“I had a fear of admitting it, but then I started realizing that you never know who’s going through a tough time. You never know who has anxiety issues. CrossFit helped me with that,” he said.

After coaching a class, Kanoho sat down with The Garden Island and talked about how he’s come to be a fireman and CrossFit coach, and about how he simply aims to live life to the fullest.

How did you get into it, and how did you start coaching?

I actually got into CrossFit because I was running at the track (at Vidinha Stadium) one day. I saw a bunch of people that was running around the track, and then they just disappeared. I was like, “Where did those guys go?” And they looked like they were working really hard. So, I came over here. I followed them, and they came over here. They were like, “We’re going to do this workout and all this stuff.”

I was very hesitant at first. I came from a football and rugby background. I was going down the athletic club all the time. I just thought I had a really good training regimen. I did the (CrossFit workout). The next two days, brah, I was so sore. I just found something that challenged me. It was new, and it pushed me. So, I decided to come here.

I was coming to the 6 a.m. class. There was a bunch of us that were really religious on coming to the 6 a.m. class. It was really good. It was a bunch of bros just working out together and just having fun. Ever since then, the 6 a.m. class was religious. Come every day. From there, it evolved. The gym owner was like, ‘You want be a coach?’ So, I got my Level 1 — it’s what they call it in CrossFit coaching. The rest is history.

What kept you coming?

What I like about it is the accountability of it. What I mean is, we all have a standard we’re trying to get to, right? There’s good days and bad days. It’s the good days where you’re like, “OK, I’m going to go work out.” But what about those bad days? Like, “Man, I don’t want to work out today.” But then you think about all those people. They’re going to be there. So, it forces you to come. And it forces you, like, they’re getting better, I got to get better.

That for me drew me — the community. And not to say (it’s bad). But brah, on a level, it is a cult. I’ll be real. A lot of people have this perception. The joke is in the fitness industry, if somebody does CrossFit, they’re going to let you know in about a minute. Somebody says they do this and that. “Well, I do CrossFit.” That’s just how it goes, but there’s a big community.

You mentioned you had a background in football and rugby? Did you grow up playing it?

No, actually I didn’t. I didn’t play football until senior year of high school. I went to Kamehemahema-Kapalama. I only played that one year. Then I went to play football at Southern Oregon University. Brah, I just showed up, just walked on.

I played D-line, O-line and right bench.

Why did you start that late? Just wasn’t interested earlier?

I loved football ever since I was little. I always wanted to play. But playing over here, for Pop Warner, I was too big. I was too heavy. I played baseball. I loved baseball. I thought that was cool. But I was never really serious, but nowadays, kids are always going. Every day, they’re going to practice. Brah, I hated practice. I wanted to just cruise around. I really wasn’t motivated.

Then I got hurt my freshman year, and then I got hurt in my sophomore year. I missed that time to play high school. Then my junior year came around, and I was just like, I had a fear of failure. I was just scared of not making the team. I had this anxiety about it. But then my senior year, I was like, “Brah, this is your senior year. You have to do it.” Yeah, went for it.

But you were always active?

Yeah, always had an active background. I swear to God, I think I have ADD. I can’t sit still. I want to be doing something.

I think it is something that’s attributed to my uncle guys. They were all football players. My dad was a football player. Everybody was active. Everybody played sports in our family. It’s just one of those things. And me and my cousin, we always played football. You know how everybody gets together on family things? It was, you show up at my grandparents house, you eat, we go outside and we played backyard football for three hours. I’m a big Packer fan. He’s a big 49er fan. Back in the day, it was a big rivalry, yeah? It was lots of fun.

Did you graduate at Southern Oregon?

Yeah. I graduated in 2013 with a degree in criminal justice.

Then how did you become a firefighter?

My dad’s a firefighter. He’s actually a battalion chief. I grew up in the firehouse. Ever since I was a young boy, every Halloween, firefighter — every chance I could get to be a firefighter. But at the same time, you know, I wanted to try out other things and see what they’re like.

I thought with criminal justice, I could maybe pursue something like FBI and all this other kinds of stuff. But the more I learned about the criminal justice system, the more I realized (I didn’t want to do this). This is what I want to do. I want to be a firefighter.

How long have you been a firefighter?

A year, year-and-a-half. I’m a newbie.

You got any crazy firefighting stories?

You know, they tell us not to say that kind of stuff. So sorry, bro. But the thing about it is, every day is never the same. You should always be on top of your game. Anything can happen, so you always got to be on top of your game, brah.

Are there ways where firefighting and CrossFit complement each other?

I think the biggest thing is being comfortable with being uncomfortable. When you put someone in an uncomfortable position, you’re going to find out who that person is. Are they going to be cool under pressure? Or are they going to panic and freak out? Firefighting, you’re going to be put in uncomfortable situations. We have to have cool heads.

That’s why I like to come in here and do those really tough workouts, because it gets your mind going. Am I going to panic and quit? Or, brah, let’s hammer down and get this done. That’s the same thing that happens on the fire ground. It’s not like when a fire is raging, you can just be like, “You know what? This isn’t for me,” and bail. It’s, we’re in it. We’re there. We’re there to help the community. We’re in it to win it. Same in CrossFit. For me, on a mental (level), I think that’s how they mesh.

And physically, we’re doing the same movements and using the same muscles. Firefighting, you’re using a lot of upper-body and lowerbody strength. You got an 80-pound pack on you. You got your SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) and turnouts (fire gear). A lot of that stuff, it traps heat. So, you have all this heat. When you’re doing a workout like this, when you’re deadlifting or all this other kinds of stuff, you’re pretty much doing the same thing.

Being mentally tough, is that something you had to learn? You mentioned your fear of failure when you were younger.

Yeah. That’s something I had to learn. I had anxiety issues when I was younger. It was tough. But through CrossFit and the training with the fire department, to me, the people that came before me, they do such an awesome job preparing us. You rely on your training to do the job. So, having that cool head not only come from this (CrossFit), but also the training.

Sorry, but you brought up the anxiety thing. Can you talk about that more?

Yeah, brah, ask away. I had a fear of admitting it, but then I started realizing that you never know who’s going through a tough time. You never know who has anxiety issues. CrossFit helped me with that.

When I was younger, I don’t necessarily know if it was just, if I was born with it or if I got scared because of expectation, but it was there since I was a young boy. Just always being nervous about new things, about expecations, about all kinds of stuff. So when I got older, it still was there. You learn how to cope with it, but I didn’t have this way to deal with it.

Then, I started coming here. I don’t know, brah. I don’t know if it’s the endorphins you get after working out, you’re brain starts functioning and you change your diet a little bit. I still come in here sometimes and, like, “Brah, this workout looks so gnarly. Oh, my goodness. How bad is this going to hurt?” It’s just, well, there’s only one way to find out. Just do it, and just do it to your best.

There’s other people that are like, “It changed me.” Now, they have that outlet. And, if you had an expectation and you didn’t meet it, we’re still here. You still gave it your 110 percent.

Do you still have that anxiety sometimes?

No. I got a handle on it. That was cool for me. That’s what I was really stoked about. … And, it doest’t even have to be here. It could be surfing. It could be anything in general, just working out.

I tell that to a lot of people, too. They come in, and they’re like, “I want to try.” But the biggest thing I get is, “I’m scared, though.” What are you scared about? Are you scared about failing? I had the same thing. I didn’t want to fail. But if I do fail, guess what? I can come back the next time.

Have you ever done the CrossFit Games or any competitions.

Nah. I had (aspirations), and I think that’s the thing about CrossFit. Everyone’s gotten wrapped up in the CrossFit Games, and I had it, brah. I had the fever. I’d love to do that, but at the same time, my goal is to be a really great firefighter. That’s where a lot of my focus is, and I can’t be No. 1 CrossFitter. My goal was always to be the best firefighter I can be. But you know, that’s why I come in here. This is what helps me. I get physical activity from it, and I get mentally strong.

What I like about coaching, too, is you get people that are like, “I’m never going to be in the CrossFit Games.” It’s like, brah, it’s OK. It’s cool. Just come in here, and you’ll gain more if you just (have a good attitude) — I’m going to come in here, work out and give it my best. It gets that snowball rolling.

I’ve seen people come in here. “My goal is to lose 20 pounds.” Next thing you know, they lose 40 pounds, they completely change their lifestyle like stop eating sugars. I almost want to say it’s like radical. Like, somebody went from zero to 100. … It can be for everybody for different reasons. That’s why I like coaching. It’s for the everyday people.

So, one of the things you do enjoy about coaching is seeing progress.

Brah, I love that. When you’re there for that moment, that person looks at you and it’s like, “Brah, we made it.” Like, “Right on, man. All that hard work paid off.” I think that’s one thing that’s so cool about this, when you see them make leaps and bounds and they do good. And then, you see them here and they’re working out really good, and then they go out and they’re like, “I’m at my job. You know what? Maybe I’m eying that promotion.” Well, go for it. That’s why I like it.

(Some of the other coaches), they have all these accolades. Me, I’m just a Level 1 coach, but I bring the hype if you want to have a good workout. People feed off that energy. I just want to see people do better. It really does help you. It helps you get that one more rep, and people are stoked. You have people (setting personal bests) in here, it’s like, “I’m going to have a really good day. Today, I am stoked.” You keep building off of that, and people are being better and better.

Is there anything else you’d like to say or anything you want readers to know about you?

I’m here at Kauai CrossFit or at the fire department. I want to see the people of Kauai be their best. In the fire service, they have this thing. “I’m not here for me. I am here for we, and we are here for them.” I always tell myself that every day. Brah, we’re an island. We all know each other, and we’re all here for each other, and we’re all a family.

All these people are a family. Life can be tough as it is, but if we’re here for one another and we help each other, I think we’ll have a good-quality life. We’re only here for a short time. Let’s make it the best.

  1. ruthann jones February 17, 2019 1:50 pm Reply

    thank you for sharing your story…and I thank you for your courageous service, I so admire and respect firefighters! You are the best.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.