Raul made an impression on me from the very first time I met him (for the record he doesn’t remember – oh well!). It was back in 1997, when my godmother, invited me to live the life of my dreams for six months. I surfed, I played, I learned English, and I fell in love with Hawaii. One night when we were leaving a restaurant, she saw her old friends, Raul and Hina, standing outside. They told her that they had just came back from Kona, where he raced Ironman Hawaii and got married the day after the race. At that time I didn’t know too much about an Ironman, but I knew it was a big deal! Right away I thought “cool couple”!!! When we were saying good bye, for no reason Raul gave me his Ironman water bottle that he was holding. And I kept that special water bottle during my whole stay in Hawaii.
After six months I went back to Brasil, finished high school, went to college, and started working on socio-environmental projects. But I always had in the back of my mind the dream to go back to Hawaii. So finally in 2006, I made the “crazy” decision to come. I left everything (loved ones, my career, etc) to chase the dream of living in Hawaii, and swim, bike, and run. Consciously it didn’t make any sense, but in my heart I wanted it so badly…
The first week I arrived here, my godmother drove me to Raul’s shop Boca Hawaii, and she told me “Do you remember my friend Raul? So he has everything you need, he can help you!” She was so right! He had everything I needed and he has been helping and supporting me beyond words since that day! I have learned so much with him, not just about triathlon but especially about fighting for my dreams, believing in my intuition, and making time for the most important things in life…family and friends. He is a crazy, busy man, as a husband, a father of two boys, a shop owner, a race director, and as a coach. However, he always has a smile and a few encouraging words to give to you no matter how busy he is.
I am grateful that life made us cross paths again 10 years later. Today Raul is my coach and one of my dearest friends. His stories, his passions, and motivation for life are contagious. It’s so worth sharing, so last weekend I sat down with him on his cozy lanai. He offered me a cold beer and one delicious and sweet lilikoi (passion fruit) from his yard and we chatted…(make yourself comfortable because Raul and I can chat forever!)
Hina thank you for coordinating Raul’s busy schedule to chat with me, I couldn’t do it without your help:)
Raul, how did triathlon start being a part of your life?
RAUL: How long do you want the answers?!?
As long as you want…
R: I used to play water polo and run marathons. And at that same time, my brother Duda was training for his first triathlon race, but the race was canceled, and they postponed it to a weekend when Duda was traveling. So I called Duda and asked him if I could use his bike and do the race for him. He said yes! So that’s how triathlon started being part of my life, that race it was also the first time I rode a bike. It was because of Duda…
Why did you come to Hawaii? I know you dropped out from one of the best business schools in Brazil, left your family, a good job, and a lot of girlfriends, right? What were your reasons?
R: One day I watched the Ironman on ABC, and it was Dave Scott and Mark Allen racing the Ironman on the Big Island. I was already doing triathlon at that time, and I thought, “I would like to go to Hawaii and do this race!” So I signed up for the race.
At that time could you just sign up for the race?
R: There was a special category that you had to apply for it, and send your resume with what you have done. They would choose a couple of people from Brasil, and they picked me. So I quit everything in Brasil, and moved to LA where I had some friends that would let me live with them. I got a job in LA, made some money, then in August I came to Hawaii to train and race the Ironman Hawaii in October. And that was it!
Which year was that?
R: It was back in 1989. I was 25 years old.
People know Raul Boca as a coach and race director, and owner of Boca Hawaii. But you also have huge list of your own races accomplishments. Let’s get into that…
How many Ironmans have you done?
R: I did 11 on the Big Island, and 10 other ones, so a total of 21 Ironmans.
What were your times?
R: Pretty much all in between 9hr19min and 10hr.
So 9:19 is your PR in an Ironman?
R: Yes! And I my slowest time was 10hr30min.
Wow, so your slowest Ironman is my best time! [Laughs.]
How many triathlon races have you done?
R: Probably over 200, during 30 years of racing.
How many marathons have you done?
R: Maybe 20…not including the Ironmans.
What is your marathon PR?
R: 2hr49min at Honolulu Marathon.
So of all your 220 races which one is your favorite one?
R: Hmmm…maybe my first Ironman in Hawaii. It was fun and easy, it wasn’t painful. It was the first time and I had a good time! [Raul did his first ironman in 10:01hr]
What’s is your favorite? Swim, bike or run?
R: All of them! They are all pretty fun.
What is the special thing about triathlon? Why is it your sport of choice?
R: I was a swimmer, then I played water polo, then I ran a marathon. And I liked to do all the other sports too, like tennis, soccer, handball, etc. Then when I realized that in triathlon you could do three sports, and I could train three different sports, I thought that was pretty fun!
And I guess, I am stubborn, so if I start to do something I am going to do until the end [Laughs] and I am not going to change.
When did you transition from athlete to coach?
R: In Brasil I had a good coach. When I move to LA I was my own coach. And my two roommates they smoked, they drove cars, and they were very unhealthy. All they wanted to do was to go out, to party and to do stuff…I did that too (laughs), but then I said “I need to train too!” So I told them “I am going to live six months in LA, and I am not going to buy a car.” They said it was impossible to live in LA without a car. I bought a mountain bike, and I did everything with my mountain bike. I used to ride 50 miles per day just to commute from my house to work, to the swimming pool, back to my house.
Then, my roommates were surprised with my dedication. So they asked to start training with me. They stopped smoking, and we start racing triathlon races every weekend. They were always asking help with their training, so I started to write workouts for them.
So when I moved to Hawaii, I was hired to be a coach for other clinics, and I was coaching for them for 5 years until I decided to have my own clinic.
You were the first coach, and the mentor of a lot of top level athletes in Hawaii, and also for hundreds of amateur athletes. What do you enjoy more, working with high level or entry-level athletes?
I think it doesn’t really matter. Sometimes you want to work with top athletes and sometimes you want to work with people doing triathlon for the first time. But for me the most important thing is I have to feel that the energy is good and fun, and feel that the athletes are having a good time. If there is not such a thing, I can’t get into it. Really I don’t care if the person finish in first or finish last. There are different ways to enjoy and coach each type of athlete, but I don’t really identify that the faster you are, the more exciting is for me to coach.
So do you think that people that want to be coached by you, they already have this mindset or do you teach them to enjoy and have fun?
R: Both. A large amount of athletes they come to me because they want to get faster. They want to beat their husband or a friend. They want to prove to their ex-girlfriends that they are better than whoever. They want to show the (other) people at the office that they are a bunch of “sack of potatoes”. They want to say “I am a triathlete”. Or they have a job that it’s good to put on their resume that they finished an Ironman. [Laughs.]
Seriously, you would be surprised that not everyone come in for the same reason that we think about. Like “Let’s have fun!”. Some people they don’t even think about the fun, they think “Ok! I am going to finish an Ironman! Then I am going to have the certification and the finisher t-shirt and cross from my list! Done!”
However, there are people that come in because they want to have a good time, and they want to get healthy.
So what do you tell the people that are coming to “not have fun”?
R: Actually I treat them the same. Because in the end of the day, they are all going to figure it out that if they don’t have fun it’s not going to work out. To train for a triathlon you dedicate too many hours, you make too many sacrifices; you have to train 3 or 4 times per week. Sometimes you have to train when you don’t feel like training. It’s cold, it’s whatever, and it’s not always pretty. Not everyday is an “aahhhh” day (perfect day). So if they don’t like it, they are gone. I have experienced already in my triathlon career 5 or 6 generations of triathletes coming and going…
Oh Raul that makes it sound like you are really old….
R: Yeah! Or the triathlon cycle is short! I have been doing triathlon for almost 30 years, so each cycle has 5 years. There are bunches of people that do one race, and they are gone. Those are the people in a rush and don’t enjoy it. I tell those people “In four years, you are not going to be doing this anymore.” And they tell me “Yes! I will! That’s not me” and they start to think…five years is a long time to be competitive. So there is a lot people doing for a long time, they might not do too many races, but doing the sport going for rides, swims, etc. In order to be a triathlete you don’t have to do a triathlon event.
I remembered one guy 5 years ago that came to your shop. He was a big guy, he didn’t know how to swim, he didn’t have a bike, and could barely run…
[Raul interrupted and said]
R: I tried to get away from him many times! I remember him, I told him to never show up again. I try to convince him to quit, he was so out of shape—[Tons of laughs]—and he told me “I am serious!” and he kept coming back…
But I do remember that you also told him “You can do it!” So a few years ago this guy crossed the Ironman World Champioship! How did you do that?
R: You know it’s not very complicated. It’s more simple than you think. It has to do with sport. Not everything in our life is under control, and it’s not very easy to get results. But when you do something for yourself, like sport, you have the control of the situation. You wake up and run, eat good, you feel good, you get better, you see the results. Then you train a little more, you eat a little better, you stretch, you drink water, and you get even better. So it’s very easy to control and show improvements when you exercise. People feel better about themselves, and then they make the connection to transfer that for other things in life and for a bigger, more challenged event. It’s one step at a time. You learn how to swim, then you swim 2k, then swim 4k, then you keep going. Next thing you know you are doing an Ironman. It’s pretty easy. It’s not that hard. Anyone can do an Ironman. My mother can do an Ironman! Your mother can do an Ironman if she starts to train.
When he said that, my mom, who was taking pictures while we were talking, brought some fruits to the table and said we should show fruits instead of beers—[Laughs]…We asked her to leave the beer, too.
Ok! So sport is a way to connect with yourself, more than anything. Because you need to concentrate, you need to work with your body, you need the whole thing. Then once the person feels that connection it gets easier to transfer it to their life.
R: I think a psychiatrist and psychologist have a tougher job. All they do is get the person sitting on the couch for an hour to talk. How hard that is?! I would get that person, take them to big open water, go through waves, make them swim. Whatever you tell them to do, they would do it, they are in your hands. But on the couch they have a much harder job! I am not comparing me with a psychiatrist, but it’s easier to see results when you literally make people move.
It’s not that easy! The person has to “click”, right? Because if it was easy, everyone would be doing sports and connecting…
As a coach you have touched, motivated, changed and improved so many people, not just teaching them to swim, bike or run but especially showing them to believe in themselves. What is your secret to do that?
R: Not everyone is willing to devote time to other people. As a coach it’s important to care, and a person knows when you care. So for me coaching is a process of learning how to connect, how to care. If you want to be a coach you cannot be egocentric, thinking about yourself all the time. So it was better for me to not keep racing on a high level, so I could devote time to the athletes and my training was secondary.
Boca Hawaii mission is “train with Passion”. How did you created that?
R: I don’t really remembered, I think one time I wrote that on someone’s schedule, and I liked it! Then I started to put it at the end of all workouts…that was back on 1992.
You must be proud of the culture that Boca Hawaii has become. It’s not only a place where people get coached, but it’s also an identity. It becomes so much more that clinics and coaching. It became a lifestyle. How did you build that?
R: I am the person that was there from the beginning because I created the company, but truly I have been surrounded by people that allowed Boca Hawaii to be the way it is.
I was thinking about that this week! It’s amazing how we have the same great people with us for years. Those people are affiliated with me from the very beginning. I started to coach Alika when he was 15 years old. I know Ray Brust for 19 years. My store has 10 years. And so many more wonderful people that have been around for a very long time… It’s amazing!
Now let’s go to your races! You put on running events, triathlon. And last year you put on the first half iroman distance race on the island of Oahu – the Inaugural Kawela Endurance Triathlon. What do you love about organizing races? It’s so much work!!! And I see you working like crazy!!! Would you rather be racing?
R: Sometimes I feel like I should be racing, but there are races out there that I could be doing and I am not. So working a lot and being a race director it’s not really an excuse why I am not racing—(laughs).
But as far as putting on races, when I decided to have my business and be a coach, I started to put on clinics, and I started doing well. But I didn’t want to do something just to pay the bills. I wanted to do something that could be a career. So I thought if I just coach, I would have limitations of time and so on. But if I coach and organize races, I could coach people to do my races, and then the store was the third factor.
The word is synergy. Synergy is when things work together to support each other, and that was my idea – coach, race and store. We are not relying on other people to be successful, you can create that synergy, and your own little world will survive by itself. That’s why I do a lot different things…it’s time consuming but it’s worth it and I believe I am doing a good job!
You are doing an awesome job Raul! And you are the kind of person that “do what you love and love what you do”, right?
R: That’s exactly right! Some days I am tired to do things that I love…
My father wanted me to work for a big corporation. He scheduled interviews for me to go, but I wouldn’t show up. He would be really upset!
But it’s not easy to do what you love. You have to work for it, because it can be a job like any other one. One thing that is on my mind all the time is “I am in the entertainment business!” I am competing with movies, bars, trips, etc. I am competing with anything that people can do in their free time. And people have a lot of options, and one option is to do triathlon and train. So instead of going to the movies, or going out for dinner, they meet out, to go for a run, swim, ride. So once you are in that position, you have to make sure you are happy with your own self. Because they are looking for fun, for excitement! If they come to my shop, to my clinics and I am stressed out, and my energy is not good, it is not going to last too long. So there is a lot of preparation to be there, be present, and be happy on an every day basis!
How do you do that. Be happy on a daily basis?
R: —————– [Tons of laughs – I can’t write down what he said—is too funny and R rated!—laughs]
Ok, but he also said…
R: First I have options, I can work my own schedule, in a way. And I try to keep myself mentally and physically healthy. And my job, it’s easier than some other jobs to stay healthy. Also, I try to do other things just for fun, because the best ideas that you will have for your own business, it comes to you when you are having fun, and you think you are not really working, but that’s when the answers will come! Do you know what I am saying?!
R: You think “Oh god! I am going to run, but I should be working, or doing this or that…” but then you go for a run, and in the middle you have all these good ideas, or you start thinking on a different way to solve your problems. So when you come back to work you are more excited about it. So basically what you are doing for your own self is helping you more than anything. A great story on how to take time off to create great things is the GoPro idea (read here the gopro story)
YES! YES! YES! That’s so true…I love that!
When I am racing I hear your voice in my head, and I know I am not the only one…your voice remind us “stay relax”, “breathe”, “run smooth”, “enjoy the pain”… the new one is “use your core power”… What is the one thing do you want me to remember?
R: What one phrase or one voice? If it’s a voice, I want you to always listen to my voice!—[Laughs].
Hmmm but a phrase….hmmmm well I don’t know. Different things trigger different things for different people. But usually people remember whatever makes them perform better.
Ok, but they listen to my voice in their heads, maybe because I talk too much, it’s a conditioning thing, you know. Like conditioning a rat or something. I am conditioning people. I talk too loud, I repeat over and over, and make them repeat with me. I do that with my family… I am a little bit obnoxious on that…
Ok now a very important question? Why “Boca”–“mouth” in Portuguese?
R: My brothers gave this nickname when I was young, because they said I (physically) had a big mouth. And so, in my first Ironman when I was filling up my application, they asked me if there was any nickname that I wanted to be called. At that time, I was alone in Hawaii, missing my family in Brasil, so I said “Boca”. So in the race results of Ironman it was “Raul Boca”, instead of “Raul Torres de Sa”. And that was it! Boca it is!
some dreams are worth sharing…