Grant Higa is one of the old school boys from the Pacific Northwest. He is a Powerlifter and Pro Strongman, he is the state chair for North American Strongman, and on top of everything else, he is one of the nicest guys you will ever have the pleasure of meeting. Check out our interview with him below:
1. Thanks for taking time to answer these questions, Higa. Can you tell us a little more about your history in strength sports? As far as I know, it’s quite an extensive one.
I started Powerlifting in 1992. My first contest was the “Mauka Gym push/pull” in Kona, Hawaii. I didn’t start weighlifting till 1992 when my friend, Keith Daniels & I worked at Big Island Moving while in college. Keith was 165 lbs and could bench press 325 lbs with a pause. He told me that if I wanted to workout with him, he would pick me up at 4:45am cause the gym opened at 5am. We worked out 5am-7am, then had to be at work by 7:30am.
I moved up to Corvallis, Oregon in 1995. Still competed in powerlifting in the USAPL and WABDL federations. In 1997, the USPF Bench Press Nationals was held in Portland, Oregon, and a team from Hawaii came up to compete. Odd Haugen was part of that team, and he told me that he was putting together a Strongman contest in Honolulu. Odd said that if I was able to fly back to Hawaii from Oregon, he would waive my $100 entry fee. I said “sure” and figured it was just a local strongman contest with guys from Hawaii. Come to find out, Magnus ver Magnusson, Mark Philippi, Joe Onosai and Regan Vagadal were there competing. What the hell did I get into? These are guys that have been to the World’s Strongest Man. This contest was also shown on ESPN. I thought I was strong as a Powerlifter, but was quickly humbled by doing the events. I carried a 220 lbs Farmer Walk for only 18 feet, pressed a 190lbs keg for only 1 rep, and my only good event was placing 5th in the Lava Rock load medley.
After that humbling experience and how different it was from Powerlifting, I was hooked on to Strongman. I was fascinated at how strong but athletic you need to be. Been a strongman ever since the 1998 “Beauty & the Beast World Strongman Challenge” at the Waikiki Shell.
2. Can you tell us all a little bit about your cultural background, and how you think it has helped you become the Higa Monster you are today?
I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. My parents & I moved to Hilo, Hawaii when I was 12. I was always a big kid, growing up on a farm. My Dad would wake me up early to do chores around the farm before I had to go to school. So I learned quickly how important hard work was, despite the long early hours. My Mom was very strict with making sure I stayed on top of my schoolwork, but she also made sure I knew how to cook some meals, iron my clothes, and fix my bed. She always told me, “one day you are going to need to do this on your own, so you better learn now”. She was right.
3. You are very well known in the PNW for hosting some of the best shows around. What goes into making a successful show for the athletes, as well as the spectators? What were some mistakes you used to make when hosting shows?
My first strongman contest that I promoted was in 2002 and it was the “Oregon’s Strongest Beaver”. I promoted that show for 6 years on the campus of Oregon State University. The challenge with putting on a strongman contest is that you need to keep the audience captured & engaged. Nobody is going to stay at a strongman contest for 6 hours, except maybe the competitor’s family & friends.
So, my wife & I have been through some great contests in powerlifting & strongman, but have also been to some bad ones. I wanted to use my experience as a competitor, and my wife gave her input as a spectator too, because Lord knows she has been through her fair share of long-ass contests.
Combining both of our point of views helped ensure that we put on a quality show. The first show you put on is the most important IMO…you need to impress the sponsors, athletes and audience and make them say at the end of the day, “I can’t wait to come back for this show next year!”
4. You have been competing since, what, the late 90s? How do you think the sport of Strongman has changed in the last 10 years? Where do you see it going in the next 10?
The weights of the events have increased so much, but what is even freakier is that smaller guys can hang with these huge Event weights. Also, I think you see alot more agile big guys…guys like Brian Shaw who are over 400 lbs but are agile. In contrast though, Chad Coy just won the “Masters America’s Strongest Man” contest that I did last month and he only weighed 265 lbs. Chad won the 176 lbs Circus Dumbbell press for reps with 13 reps, and he did 6 on his left hand.
5. What was one of the craziest things you have ever witnessed backstage at one of the Pro shows?
Jesse Marunde and Corey St Clair telling Jon Andersen at “The Oregon’s Strongest Beaver” that he needs more tacky on his arms. Now Jon had alot of tacky already, but Jesse & Corey told him, “No bro, thats not enough…you need more” so Jon looked like he was attacked by a Glue Factory and holding onto the stone like he was grabbing a greased pig!
Whit Baskin using a cheese grater to shave his callouses. I kid you not, its like he was grating cheese for your meal at Olive Garden.
Scott Cummines (Canada) likes to scoop 5 spoons of Instant Coffee into a water bottle and drink that before the contest starts. NASTY.
6. Your Instagram feed is chock full of food photos. What is one of your favorite go-to meals for eating big?
I am a big fan of Asian food, especially Japanese food like Sushi. Great nigiri sushi or sashimi is always a favorite of mine. I am not a big Fried Food kind of guy, so I don’t crave french fries all the time or drink soda regularly. The one thing I have enjoyed since moving from Hawaii to the Mainland is Mexican food. In Hawaii, Mexican food was going to Taco Bell. Now I can eat such yummy items like Cabeza, Lengua and Menudo.
7. How do you juggle with your busy schedule, taking care of your kids, and being the State chair of NAS, while still finding time to lift big?
If you really want to compete, you make time to do it despite the busy schedule. I remember working out at 4:30am while my wife & daughter was asleep, cause when my infant daughter wakes up, I won’t have time to train. So you gotta do what you gotta do.
When I travel, I make sure that I plan ahead and look for a good gym where I can get my lifts in. Does the gym have strongman equipment? Does it cater to powerlifters? Plan ahead and if that gym is great, remember it when you travel back to that area.
I also want to give back to my community because I think its important to remember where you came from. I got my start in lifting from a co-worker in college, and he would pick my ass up at 4:45am on his own gas money to teach me how to lift. I will never forget that.
8. What are some pieces of advice you have for athletes who may be interested in competing in Strongman, but don’t know where to start?
Try to hook up with a strongman crew locally in your area, so that you can learn proper techniques and get familiar with using strongman equipment. Also, if there is a strongman contest within a 3 hour drive of your home, I encourage people to try it! There is so much to learn from competing in a actual contest, which includes watching the other competitors.
Finally, make friends with a Welder or Scrapyard employee. Because you can make a lot of equipment for cheap as a start-up strongman. My first Log & Farmer’s Walk implements were made from scrap pipe that came from the construction of CenturyLink Field, where the Seattle Seahawks play. A gym member was a pipe-fitter on that project and he brought me some pieces from the job site that weren’t going to be used. Then another gym member worked at a company that made Security Storage gates & Railroad Crossing signs and said that his welder could weld it for me if I bought him an 18 pack of Coors Light. SOLD!!!
Five things you may not know about me:
1. I played Piano for 12 years in Hawaii. I even had recitals playing Bach, Mozart & Beethoven.
2. I never drank coffee while living in Hawaii. I started when I moved to Oregon and my friend said, “Here, try this drink…its called a Mocha”.
3. My parents bought me a 50cc motorcycle to drive myself to school in the 8th grade. We lived 4 miles away from a paved road, so I was able to park my motorcycle under a school building. One day, I was driving to school and thought I was late for school. I looked down at my left hand watch to see what time it was and when I looked up, I was going into the forest and hit a huge rock. I went end over end, then struck my head on another rock. Woke up and was so worried that I would be late for school, I drove my broken motorcycle all the way to school with blood dripping down my hair and the forks of the motorcycle all twisted. The bad part was that my Mom was driving maybe 1 mile behind me, and I was afraid that they were going to be mad at me for wrecking my motorcycle. My parents said, “Are you kidding me? Your life is more important that a damn motorcycle…so now you will walk 7 miles to school” Whoops…
4. I never played football growing up. People always ask me if I played football, but I only did some Judo for 2 summers and Boxing for 1 year. So when people see me, they assume I played football at some point of my life.
5. My first state Powerlifting meet was the USPF Hawaii State Championships at the Turtle Bay Hilton. Gus Rethwisch was the promoter. So this was my first meet where you had to do a Equipment check-in and all that other fun stuff. I had read in Powerlifting USA that all the big squatters were using the Inzer Z-Suit, so I ordered one without properly measuring it. Got it 3 days before the contest and I try to put it on and I couldn’t event get the crotch all the way up and the legs were tight like a tourniquet!! I couldn’t stand the pain. Barely got through the squats and couldn’t wait to strip that damn suit off. As I am warming up for the bench press, Ski Kwiatkowski comes up to me and says, “Higa, where is your singlet for benching?” I looked at him confused…I thought I could just use the Bench Shirt with my athletic shorts. He said no, you have to have a singlet for every lift. WTF?? So I had to hurry and put that damn Z-Suit back on to frickin bench press and it was so horrible to endure that pain again. I had rings around my legs that actually scabbed up. Thats how I found out that I need to invest in other equipment if I wanted to keep Powerlifting.
Grant Keola Higa
43 years old
5’ 8” tall
Resides in Maple Valley, WA
Married to Michelle Higa, and have 2 daughters Kaiea and Kalani
Sponsors: Animal Pak, Bulky Boy Clothing and Strideline Socks
My Blog: http://bulkyboy.blogspot.com/
My Instagram: http://instagram.com/higamonster
My Journey on Animal Pak