Camarena digs new gig in land of aloha

Cam CamarenaWho wouldn’t enjoy spending retirement in a place like Hawaii?

Long-time Santa Barbara resident Cam Camarena is having a blast on the big island of Oahu. He’s playing golf, stand-up paddle surfing, ocean canoeing … and coaching two college soccer teams.

A life-long soccer junkie, Camarena, 59, has taken on the duties of coaching the men’s and women’s teams at the University of Hawaii-Hilo. He’ll bring his men’s squad to town Saturday night for a match against Westmont at UCSB’s Harder Stadium. Earlier in the week, he was with the women’s team at Westmont, where his Vulcans lost a 2-1 heartbreaker in double overtime.

Camarena, who has more than three decades of coaching experience and won a conference championship as the SBCC men’s coach in 2002, was hired to coach the Hawaii-Hilo men’s program last year. He guided it from a No. 167 to a No. 5  ranking in the West Region of NCAA Division 2.  The school named him the women’s coach last March.

He took over both programs under the conditions the school would support his coaching style and philosophy.

“It’s a different attitude in Hawaii,” he said. “It’s laid back and everything is relaxed. And I’m not that way.

“When they asked if I wanted to take the job, I told them I’d take it but I want to take the program as far as we can go right away. ‘If that’s what you’re looking for, I’ll take the job,’” he recalled saying to school officials.

Hilo learned about Camarena three years ago when then-coach Travis Clarke invited him out to the island to help with a training session. Clarke got his start in college coaching as an assistant to Camarena at Santa Barbara City College.

“Travis did a very good job. His style and mine are different,” he said. Clarke stepped down after last season.

Camarena, who retired after a successful career in real estate, still owns his home here with his wife Sigrid. She decided not to join him in Hilo full-time during the soccer season.

“My wife likes Santa Barbara better, so we’re going back and forth,” he said.

Soccer has been a huge part of Camarena’s life and it continues to be in his retirement years.  He’s excited about sharing his knowledge of the game with the Hilo players and watching both teams adapt to his system and elevate their play.

“I’ve been retired for 15 years and coming back to do that was interesting,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. I’m enjoying it.”