Masatoshi Yamakawa’s love of canoeing and kayaking has taken him all over the world, from the Tama River in Japan to the Animas River in Durango, Colorado – and even to the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Yamakawa works for Magna software sales and engineering in Japan, and devotes his spare time to his sport.

The expert paddler stayed on land during the Games, serving as an assistant chief of scoring for the International Canoe Federation during the canoe slalom competition. He is also the volunteer manager of the national training center for canoe slalom in Japan, a role that includes charting the course for junior and college athletes, and future Olympians.

“I’m a technical analyst for Olympic athletes,” Yamakawa explained. “I support the Japanese coaches. I do everything from making and analyzing videos to connecting the teams to sponsorships.”

He added: “What I do for athletes is similar to my job at Magna. I am always thinking about how to make everything easier and faster. A slalom race is not only physical, but mental. You are constantly observing the effects of gravity, water current and water pressure. Basically, it’s engineering.”

The engineering element of the sport appealed to Yamakawa, who earned a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Prior to water sports, Yamakawa’s hobby was car racing in the subcompact Toyota Yaris.

“In those races, your technique is more important than the horsepower,” he said.

“I was always striving to make my times shorter and shorter.”

Now that the Games are over, Yamakawa, whose last name means “mountain river,” has more time to spend perfecting his own paddling technique. He lives next to a small canal on the Shinkawa River in Japan and often launches his white-and-orange kayak late at night for some time on the water, and even a little reflection on what the sport means to him.

“How I feel depends on what kind of water I’m in,” he said. “In white water, I feel challenged. In many ways, your life is similar to the river. Some parts are easy. Some parts are difficult. I feel that way in life and on the kayak.”