Training Day With Koa Rothman

Tagging along during one of the young hellman's training sessions.

_S8A1831Photo: Taras

I have no manly brute left in me. Rare meat makes me queasy. And I’m pretty sure I welled up the last time I plucked a nose hair. I’ve never really been into working out, so as I hold a plank position with my shins resting atop a faded red exercise ball, all I can do is hope that the lactic acid doesn’t flood my now feeble arms before I can make it through…

“Four more; just four more pushups. You got this.”

I don’t. And after two more shaky reps of down and up I buckle at the elbows and not so gracefully fold onto the floor.

“Good job.”

It was a half-decent job at best. What looked like a challenging, yet perfectly feasible routine has defeated me.

Maybe it seemed so doable because a young man had effortlessly demonstrated it before me. His name is Koa Rothman. And that voice of encouragement? That’s his close friend and trainer, Rob Garcia. I’m in the Rothman family workout studio in the heart of Sunset Point with my face pressed against the floor, sweating profusely, accepting myself as a failure.

I should probably explain how I got here.

Earlier in the day, Koa invited SURFING Photo Editor Peter Taras and myself to the family studio for a training session. It’s an invitation that made my palms sweat. Here I am, my first year “working” on the North Shore as a part of the media, and somehow I’ve found myself hanging out at the Rothmans’. Koa was busy with something when we arrived.

“We’ve been wanting to put a pullup bar in here for a while,” he says as he lifts the metal piping up to a beam running through the center of the ceiling.

“Move it up a little on that side,” younger brother Lono chirps.

A few pilot holes are placed before the project hits the age-old carpentry speed bump of “How the hell are we going to wedge the drill in there?” But the logistical headache can wait for another time. Trainer Rob steps into the studio and introduces himself. It’s time to get going. Koa queues up a playlist of assorted pump-up songs via a small speaker and the workout begins.

I stand in the corner, out of the way, trying extraordinarily hard to look like I’m comfortable. Phone in hand, water bottle at my feet, which I immediately regret bringing because it implies I’m here to accomplish some great physical feat.

The studio we’re in is a simple room, stilted above the grass, tucked away in the domain of an intimidatingly endowed pit bull lurking the grounds. It’s a quaint space. No bells, no whistles, just a matted floor, some free weights in the corner, a few pairs of boxing gloves, two hefty punching bags and a looming aura that asks, “How hard do you want to work today?”

With a layer of sweat soaking his back, Koa makes the answer to that question very clear only five minutes into the warm-up.

_S8A1891Photo: Taras

Rob looks over to me and explains how everything he has Koa doing serves a purpose in his surfing. The planks and pushups help strengthen his back and shoulders for paddling. The unstable lunges and squats on exercise balls dial in his balance. The breath-holds in between each exercise help expand his lungs. These exercises, along with copious amounts of time in the water, are all factors in the equation that makes the young hell-man so comfortable in situations that would leave most of us needing a new pair of Hanes.

The two run through multiple cycles of these exercises for a good 30 minutes or so. Never actually stopping to catch a full breath. It makes sense. In the type of conditions that Koa has his sights set on, I guess you never do get to fully relax. The communication between the two is kept to a minimum; Koa knows what he needs to do, and Rob is there to make him do it. Simple.

After the third and final round of the exercise ball workout from hell (my eventual downfall), Koa sits up against the back wall. He takes a deep breath in, closes his eyes, and holds it. A vicariously grueling 45 seconds goes by before he finally exhales, stands back up, and takes a lap around the studio with his hands on his hips, and that’s when I notice it.

There’s a subtle smirk on his face. It’s not the kind of dimpled grin you can really see, but it’s more one that you can feel. It’s a radiating sense of satisfaction that glows from his eyes and hints that asking the question, “Is this training actually fun to you?” might be completely redundant.

I ask anyway.

“It is.” Koa replies, genuinely, as he’s still reaching for breath. “It gives me a sense of confidence. Not just physically, but mentally too.” And he continues: “I’ve never been one to want to sit inside and play video games all day, so when the surf is flat and I get that feeling like I need to do something, I can always come in here and get my energy out.”

_S8A1708Photo: Taras

Rob hands Koa a pair of boxing gloves as he finishes this thought and the two go into a quick sparring session to end the workout. Koa’s fists land with a loud crack every time he makes contact. I start to think about what Koa said about this being fun for him. He floats around the room, thumping combo after combo. One last thunderous belt and it’s finally over. Koa’s sweating, he looks drained. But that smirk remains.

This is where I try to recreate Koa’s routine on my own, and, well, you already know the ending to my pathetic attempt.

It wasn’t fun to me, nor would it be to most people. And that’s probably because fun for “most people” in Hawaii falls along the lines of having a pie-eating contest at Ted’s. Or getting a couple Nerf footballs from Foodland and having a three-flags-up championship in some friendly shorebreak. Or anything else that doesn’t involve working your abdomen to the point where you feel like you’re going to puke.

But Koa Rothman isn’t like most people. He finds pleasure in the pain that coincides with training like this, and so it’s no surprise he’s also quick to stare a mutant slab of water in the face, turn around and take off without a shutter of doubt. Coincidence? No.

We shake hands and say our goodbyes. Koa is off to surf Pipe. There’s a solid swell filling in through the evening and it could turn on. And if it does, there’s a good chance he’ll be on the wave of the day — he’ll come off the bottom, set his line and stand tall. The wave will erupt, spitting him into the channel. And as he’s paddling back out, now wearing a very visible grin, an inexplicably euphoric feeling will rush over him. It’s a feeling unlike anything I’ll ever experience.

At least not as long as my face is stuck pressed to a gym floor. –Dayton Silva