Escalas received an athletic scholarship to attend UCLA, where he competed for coach Ron Ballatore's UCLA Bruins swimming and diving team in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) competition. In 1981 he set the NCAA record in the men's 1,650-yard freestyle (time: 14:53.90). Escalas is the only swimmer to win an NCAA championship after being seeded last. Escalas was ranked third in the world in the 1,500-meter freestyle in 1981. He was also a member of the UCLA's NCAA national championship team in 1982.
In recent Summer Olympics, Escalas served as Technical Director of the Swimming Competition (Barcelona 1992) and Competition Manager of Swimming (Atlanta 1996). A sports center in Palma de Mallorca is named after Rafa and his brother, Juan Enrique: Germans Escalas . Rafa is currently President and CEO of competitive swimwear manufacturer AgonSwim.
Experience as an athlete and as a swimwear manufacturer lead Escalas to be the athlete's representative on the FINA Scientific Commission for Suits (he has since stepped down from the committee). The commission was established to maintain the standards of swimwear and limit the impact that advanced technology might have on performance. FINA set January 1, 2010 as the date that polyurethane suits were banned from competitive swimming.
Rafa is married to Jennifer Edson Escalas, a professor at Vanderbilt University, and has two daughters: Elena Escalas and Marina Escalas.