When the challenge is toughest, state wrestling champion Boltyn Taam is at his best.
The Moanalua senior came home from Tulsa, OK. with a new prize: All-American status. Taam earned the honor after a superb performance at the World of Wrestling Kickoff Classic. The achievement came months after Taam — a state champion as a sophomore — lost in the state tournament as a junior.
He regained his momentum after the state tourney, working diligently through the spring and summer. Placing at World of Wrestling requires a difficult path. State champions from across the nation step onto that mat in Tulsa.
“I got fifth in that at 154 (pounds). That’s was probably the hardest tournament I’ve ever been in,” he said of the litany of state champions in his bracket. “All-American is when you place.”
After Tulsa, Taam committed to San Francisco State. He had been in contact with Coach Jason Welch since sophomore year, when he won the state crown.
“We’ve stayed in touch ever since. A while ago, I did a campus visit and I really like what they have to offer. It’s a little bit outside the city,” he said. “Their program is really good. Good assistant coaches. Coach Jason was an NCAA finalist and he was a No. 1 recruit out of high school.”
Taam already has a design for the future.
“I feel great. We have a good connection. I think I’m going to have a lot of fun in college over there. I want to major in Business,” said Taam, who carries a 3.2 grade-point average.
He has a lot of initiative. Taam runs a business, Bolt Unlimited. One of his items is a neon-style palm tree.
“People bought it for Christmas presents, gifts for other people. It’s a desktop light for people, (mostly ages) 13 to 18, sometimes for gamers. You just turn it on when people come over just to make your room a lot nicer,” he said. “It’s LED lights, and I wrap it in bubble wrap.”
Inspiration comes from his father, Andrew, who also runs a business.
“I started this business about two months ago. I sell things that are trending online. For now, it’s just those lamps, but I’m going to get into different things. I want to be an entrepreneur like my how my dad is. I want to become financially successful,” Taam said.
The palm tree, by the way, goes for a modest $14.95.
“Not many left, but I’m ordering some more. I’m giving some away to the children’s hospital for Christmas,” he said.
His mother, Heidi, doesn’t worry about his spending money. He also works as a busser/dishwasher at Sushi King, and resells sneakers.
“I make my own money. I don’t ask for handouts from my parents. They love it. They’re happy to see me starting my own business. They’re very supportive,” Taam said.
Taam is a championship wrestler with an uncommon route. A talented, borderline workaholic, he trained for years. He rose to No. 5 in the Hawaii Prep World Pound4Pound rankings as a sophomore, eventually winning the state title at 160 pounds.
When he met Golden Backs Wrestling Club Coach Kamu Woode, it became a new chapter in Taam’s career log.
“Boltyn had a lot of strengths. He was strong. He was fast. He knew how to wrestle. He was pretty good — for Hawaii,” Woode said. “It was all the little things he wasn’t doing, I’d say. His basics were really basic and nobody explained to him what he was supposed to do before the move, completing the move and what position to be in after. He was pretty raw, even though he’d wrestled all his life and he had a state title.”
Together, they worked on refining Taam’s techniques and mental approach. It worked for his younger brother, Tyger Taam, who was already being taught by Woode.
“I had to give Boltyn, mentally believing in himself, an understanding what he’s supposed to do, and you’re not doing it by yourself anymore. You have a coach, a family, a team, everybody’s behind you. I think he used to feel pressure that he was doing it all by himself,” Woode said. “I think he came to me because of his brother’s success. His brother started winning smaller national tournaments, went to World of Wrestling and solidifying himself in the wrestling world as a true All-American.”
Now Taam and his parents check his weight, what time of day he weighs in, and he does the daily run consistently.
“He’s willing to learn. When he started with me, he would always have a counter when I instructed him. It’s the first time someone told him, you’re not going to do it that way. It’s not going to work,” Woode said. “Now it’s, ‘Yes coach, let’s do it.’”
Junior year began with a serious injury.
“In the summer, I got hurt training with one of my partners. I had to go into surgery and get a Tommy John (elbow). That set me back six to seven months of recovery,” he said.
The drop to a super-loaded 152 weight class wasn’t necessary, except to Taam.
“I wanted to prove that I was the best, to beat Kanai Tapia and Branden (Pagurayan). I wanted to go against the best,” he said. “I did lose a little bit of muscle, but that’s the sacrifice you have to make to compete at that weight. 160 (again) would’ve been an easy state title.”
At the state tourney last February, Taam entered as the Oahu Interscholastic Association runner-up at 152 after losing to Kapolei’s standout wrestler, Pagurayan, in the league championships.
Taam was, arguably, the third-best wrestler in the state at 152 after taking home the 160 gold just one year earlier. However, he entered states unseeded because the format requires league champions in the four seeded spots. After an 11-3 decision over Isaiah Villanueva of Kamehameha-Hawaii, Taam lost to top-seeded Tapia of Kamehameha, 6-4, in overtime. It was an unusually tough quarterfinal pairing.
Tapia went on to edge Pagurayan in the final, 3-2.
Taam’s experience in the consolation bracket was bittersweet. He was whistled for what he believes was a legal move, and lost.
“It was a bad call by the ref. I went for a two-on-one tilt, and the ref called a defensive pin on me. I don’t think that was the correct call. My dad saw him at Chun Wah Kam two months after states and (the referee) apologized. It doesn’t matter,” Taam said. “I’m glad he apologized. You can’t go back and change it. You move on from it.”
Nonetheless, Taam was back on the mat with Golden Backs two days after the state tournament. Unhappy, but working.
“I know his mind wasn’t in a good place,” Woode recalled. “If he’d won against Tapia, he probably would’ve won the tournament. He told me his theory, to grind it out, and I told him it’s not going to work.’”
So, they went to work as national tournaments neared.
“I took some of the kids from our team and they did really good against nationally-ranked kids. We did it together. Everything I called out, Bolt would look back to me in the corner,” Woode said.
Taam altered his course, leaning on his club. Fully healed and mentally rewired, he won most of his eight matches — all in one day — in Tulsa. After the All-American performance, Taam rewarded himself with the usual: a high-quality dessert.
“After every tournament, I get a milkshake. It has to be at least $8, the premium ones. I think we went to Denny’s. Oreo (milkshake) is my go-to. Then I ate a big bacon cheeseburger with extra fries and soda,” he said.
There were other mainland tournaments, two prior to Tulsa at 145 pounds. That won’t happen again.
“Boltyn is really lean, muscular, not too much body fat. He was still growing, but he thought he needed to cut down,” Woode said. “I told him, ‘You’ll be too drained, but we can try it out.’ “
Back then, Taam figured 145 was his future at the college level.
“Ironman was in December 2019, Cleveland. That was my second tournament. I wrestled at 145. On the mainland, they’re twice your size at your weight. Tapia wrestled at 145. He did good. We were on opposite sides (of the bracket),” Taam said. “A couple months ago for Super 32 (in Myrtle Beach, S.C.), I had to go from 167 to 145 in about a month. You just drink a gallon of water every day, slim down on carbs, take it out of the diet pretty much, and work out two to three times a day. It took a toll.”
Now that dropping weight — and muscle — to 145 is history, Taam is being a normal kid to some extent. He is bulking up, and then will slim down to a natural competing weight.
“Now, I’m walking around at almost 170. If we have a season, I would wrestle at 160. I’m just eating whatever, lifting as much as I can. I’m trying to get my body ready for college,” he said.
Goode gives his blessing on this.
“If he didn’t have a lean abdomen, we would talk about dropping weight, but he’s lean, so let’s grow. You’re faster, and nationally, he’ll probably wrestle at 152,” he said.
With senior season in the balance because of the COVID-19 pandemic – Hawaii is in “Tier 2” and in danger of returning to highly restricted “Tier 1” – Taam still has goals. Wrestling is a higher-risk sport according to the National Federation of High Schools. Mainland tournaments continue — no hand-shaking allowed — but last week’s poll in Hawaii Prep World revealed no surprise. Winter-sport coaches scored wrestling as the least-likely to return to action here.
“I’m going to be mad if there’s no season. I’ve already come to terms with that if they decide to cancel the season. I take it out on lifting weights. My dad and my brother spot me,” Taam said. “My brother’s going to be a freshman and he’s going to be better than me.”
The COVID-19 pandemic shouldn’t alter wrestling in the islands, Taam said.
“I’ve been wrestling on the mainland during this pandemic. Up there it’s like everyone gets a COVID test before they get on the mat. Two days before. Everyone is wearing masks in the area, socially distanced,” Taam said. “I was talking to Coach Lucas (Misaki) from Moanalua, my old coach (Trenton Teruya) from Saint Louis. Maybe we can have an OIA tournament to qualify for a state tournament for kids to have a last chance for their wrestling careers.”
High school began at Saint Louis for Taam.
“I used to go to Saint Louis my freshman year. There’s a lot behind it. It got very expensive for us and there’s no scholarship money after my freshman year,” he said. “It was always in the back of our minds that I might leave. I was there seventh- to ninth grade. It was fun while it lasted.”
Moanalua had familiar faces.
“I knew a couple of friends there. Noah Wusstig. I knew him from elementary school. We played judo together at Tenri Judo Club,” Taam said.
That sophomore season at his new school was a testing ground of sorts between the 152 and 160 weight classes.
“I might’ve lost a couple times, split with Brandon Pagurayan in preseason. I dropped down to 152 at Officials and lost to him. I think it took a toll on me,” Taam said. “At 160, I won OIAs, go to states. I was top seed. Just kept winning, took it one by one, before you knew it, I was in the finals. I won 8-7 against Braden Akima from Kamehameha. It was close.”
Top 3 movie/show/program
1. The Manifest (Netflix). “It’s a mystery show. These people get on a plane, and they get caught in a storm, and when they land at an airport, it’s five years in the future. I’ve seen both seasons. It keeps you on your toes. The unexpected comes up and hits you.”
2. Love and Monsters. “I watched it on a movie site. It’s pretty much about the world ending and there’s an asteroid coming to earth. Every country shoots a nuclear weapon at it, and the chemicals from the bombs affect the earth. Now we have huge ants and stuff. Ants the size of a bus. We get kicked off the food chain.”
3. “I rewatched the most recent ‘Avengers (End Game).”
Top 3 food/snack/drink
1. Pizza from Pizza Hut. “Mushrooms and pepperoni.”
3. Sprite. “In a week, I drink 10. It has to be cold.”
4. “My mom makes good fried rice. She puts Spam or lup cheong in. I can make pasta, that’s it.”
Top 3 music artists
1. Justin Bieber – “Eenie Meenie.”
2. The Kid LAROI – “So Done.”
3. CJ – “Whoopty.”
New life skill: archery.
“I can shoot a bow and arrow now. I got bored in quarantine. I got it last November (2019). It was a dollar for the bow at a thrift store. I’m OK. I wouldn’t trust myself to shoot that good yet, but I’m getting better. I would probably miss a pig or something. I just learned it for self-defense.”
Who will cry first at the airport when you leave?
“I don’t think they’re going to cry. Nobody’s going to cry. They know I’ll be back.”
“To my coaches at Moanalua, my club coaches (at Tenri and Golden Backs Wrestling Club). Jason Welch, the head coach at San Francisco State.”