River Rafting legend Keita Yagisawa is making a return to competitive rafting at the age of 46, cutting his early retirement short. With years of competitive runs under his belt, it seems as though the call of the river rapids was just too strong to keep Yagisawa away.

Yagisawa’s love for rafting began back in 1996 when he moved to Australia to pursue a career as a river rafting guide.
Back before graduating from University in 1995, Yagisawa had high hopes of heading to America post-graduation. However, without a solid plan of action and after reading about the difficulty of getting into the States without relevant qualifications, his dreams of living abroad seemed to be covered by an impassable cloud. Heading to a library to research the topic some more, Yagisawa came across the “working holiday visa”, and within one hour of entering the store, had changed his mission from living a lonesome life in America to living a fun and unique life with a river rafting career in Australia.
At the time of Yagisawa’s big move to Australia, he had no idea that river rafting existed in Japan, and believed that the only way to become a professional rafting guide was through Australia – although this may seem silly now, it may be possible that the experiences he had in Australia as a guide made him a better athlete than if he had began in Japan.

As a professional guide, he worked with Australian rafting company RnR (based in Cairns) for 13 years, where he achieved the highest rank as a guide during his fourth year with the company. Overall, Yagisawa estimates that he took part in at least 3000 river rafting rides during his career as a professional rafting guide in Australia.
In addition to working as a river rafting guide, Yagisawa also started out competing in local river rafting competitions, and after being granted permanent residency, he was selected as a member of the Australian national team. Competing for Australia, Yagisawa participated in 4 international events, winning the 2007 India Cup and placing fourth at the 2008 World Cup.

By 2008, Yagisawa had become a well known name across the sport and in 2009, he returned to Japan after he was invited to join “Team Takei”, the only professional river rafting team in Japan. The return to Japan seems to have worked out well for Yagisawa, as in 2010, he took the Japanese team all the way to 1st place at the World Championships (a first for the Team Takei) held in the Netherlands, and made a consecutive 1st place win in 2011 at the World Championships held in Costa Rica.

In 2017, the River Rafting World Championships were held in Japan for the first time. During the event Yagisawa took part in the “Masters” category, for competitors aged 40 and over, where his team of six took 1st place. Yagisawa repeated a win in the same category at the World Championships of 2019.
So far Yagisawa has become World Champion a total of 4 times, but with his return to professional competitive rafting this spring, his tally might rise yet again.

The return of Yagisawa to the elite team was requested by Team Takei as part of a mission that will see them attempt another World Championship title. Team Takei has not won a title in the World Championships since 2013, and are hoping that with the return of Yagisawa, they may once again be able stand on the top podium.
As of now, it is uncertain whether Yagisawa will physically take part as an active rower for the team, or if he will just provide training and support for the team, either way he is determined to help the team get back to the top again!

Selection of team competitors for the 2021 World Championships will be taking place on October 31st and November 1st this year, during the Rafting All Japan Championships.
Yagisawa jokes around when comparing his age to that of the other competitors hoping to take part in the 2021 event, saying, “In ‘Team Takei’, the other competitors are in their 20s. The age of 46 definitely makes me a very old athlete – there is no doubt that I am an "old man". But since this is an opportunity for me to participate, I would like to do my best and enjoy it all at the same time. My good imagination takes me to the top of the world again!”

By - Connie Sceaphierde.