The GoPro Mountain Games Attract a Growing International Audience
By Scott Willoughby
Much like the mockumentary band Spinal Tap, you might say the GoPro Mountain Games are huge in Japan. Maybe not Scorpions or AC/DC huge, but they’re getting there. And growing fast.
That’s all thanks to Masayuki “Yacu” Takahata, a stand-up paddle (SUP) rock star that discovered the Mountain Games in 2012 and has been hooked ever since.
“The atmosphere here is so nice and by coming here I can learn how to make the sport more attractive and how to involve more and more people,” the 43-year-old from Tokyo said. “I want that to happen in Japan, so this is our model as a destination of how the outdoor sports in nature should be.”
Yacu runs a SUP school on the Tama River in Mitake, Japan, a place he describes as the “Olympic kayakers’ practice and playground.” By coordinating with Japan’s Olympic Team kayakers, he has almost single-handedly grown the river SUP paddling community in his home country. And their enthusiasm for the sport is spilling over to the GoPro Mountain Games.
“In Japan, ocean paddling has been rapidly growing. After that, we have been growing river SUP for the past couple years,” Yacu said. “That reflects the participants we have at GoPro Mountain Games this year. This year we have seven Japanese at the event, compared to four last year. And we have more and more that want to compete.”
After placing third in the Yeti Downriver SUP Sprint in each of the past two years, Yacu stepped up to the top spot on the podium in the 2017 race on Saturday. His friend Hiroko Sasaki placed third among the women.
Although the Japanese paddlers only really train in SUP, they’re participating in as many events as possible at the GoPro Mountain Games. In addition to the SUP Sprint and Sunday’s Yeti SUP Surf Cross, that includes some raft races and at least one kayak race as part of the Ultimate River Challenge. For many, it will qualify as another first.
“They only have paddling experience of one or two years, so all they know is SUP maneuvers,” Yacu said. “But because they are here, they want to be involved in the event as much as possible. So this is their challenge.”
In the true spirit of the Mountain Games, their challenge is being met with the best possible attitude — equal parts heart and humility.
“I always want to try my best,” Yacu said before racing Saturday. “I don’t know if people know about me, but I will do my best.”
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