Japanese Aquaman becomes a Red River Warrior in Việt Nam

April 11, 2024 - 07:30
It was not the first time Ayusawa Takanori hit the waves of Hà Nội's mother river. He also took part in the first season on April 24, 2021 of the Red River Warrior and finished first. He butterfly swam that day, when most other participants did backstroke or crawl, and finished in a record time of 2h21'03''.
In the Red River Warrior 5km swim race, Ayu came second behind Nguyễn Văn Thắng (1st) as RRW founder Nguyễn Ngọc Khánh looks on. Photo courtesy of RRW

by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

Early on the last spring Sunday of March 31, 2024 in Hà Nội, Ayusawa Takanori from Japan took to the water in the Red River, swimming for 5km in a community event titled Red River Warrior 2024, in its third season, and came in second place.

It was not the first time, Ayu, as he liked to be called, hit the waves of Hà Nội's mother river. He also took part in the first season on April 24, 2021 of the Red River Warrior and finished first on a day that organisers said the river rocked its bottom up due to unexpected strong winds. He butterfly swam that day, when most other participants did backstroke or crawl, and finished in 2h21'03'', a record time for Việt Nam according to the organisers.

Nguyễn Ngọc Khánh, an engineer by training and an amateur open water swimmer, who founded the Red River Warrior swimming race in 2021 and has been running it in its 4th season, told Việt Nam News, "Ayu genuinely loves swimming and he is truly a great swimmer."

March and April always bring low water and are a good time to swim in the Red River, when the flow stays lowest during the year with March at under 914 cubic metres per second, and in April at 1071 cubic metres per second. July and August are when the Red River gets roughest at 7,986 and 9,246 cubic metre per second, it's strongly advised not to swim in the water then or challenge the river gods.

Last Sunday, Ayu said he was satisfied with his record finishing second, and told Việt Nam News "I was glad to swim on Sunday and happy about the result" via online interview.

From a child who hated swimming lesson

"In Japan, there's no swim competition in a river like this (Red River Warrior), so I loved to try. We only swim in the pool or at the sea," Ayu started to talk about his dislike of swimming in childhood, which eventually turning into not only his hobby, but his fulltime work and passion.

"I've only swam in the Red River four times: in the first and third (Red River Warrior) competitions, once with Mr. Khánh (founder of Discovery Swim and Red River Warrior swimming competition) and another time with one of my colleagues."

Ayu says he first took swimming lessons when he was five or six. "I was scared of water, didn't like it at all," he says. "I even cried and pretended I had a stomach ache to avoid the lesson. I had no interest at all," he says in Japanese with a help of an interpreter.

Now at 41, the man born in 1983 is the director of SandF Vietnam Ltd. company, a member company of the S&F Ltd. company in Japan, a swimming company Saginuma founded in Japan in 1973. He trains the swimming trainers and coaches, so far he has taught about 20 other trainers.

To swimming coach and trainer

A STROKE AHEAD: Ayu butterfly swims in the Red River Warrior, season 1, in 2021, with Nhật Tân Bridge in the background. Photo courtesy by Ayusawa Takanori

During his high school years, Ayu says he changed a lot. "I joined a swimming club, learn to swim and loved it," he says, "I wanted to swim faster, for longer time and teach others to swim."

Ayu says one of his problems was that he didn't have a mentor, or a trainer. It's really hard not to have a coach in sport, as you don't really know what to do. "I didn't have a master trainer, so I wanted to be really good to train others. I taught myself to become a good mentor," he says.

Ayu says after he finished college, he started working for Saginuma Club and met a great swimmer named Koike in Kanagawa. "He taught me how to train students in swimming."

Ayu says he didn't know that many Vietnamese people were actually afraid of swimming in the rivers, as a popular Vietnamese saying goes, "Đất có Thổ Công, sông có Hà Bá," literally means that the land has its land god and rivers have their water gods. "I didn't know about it, but I saw many other Vietnamese who also loved swimming in the river, so I joined the first competition in 2021.

Though working in Việt Nam, Ayu says he's still actively involved with other events in Japan. "The longest route I swam in the sea was 5km," he says, "and I do three or four competitions each year."

Ayu came sixth of his age group in the Ironman 70.3 in Đà Nẵng in 2023.

Asked what qualities that make a good swimmer, Ayu says, "First of all you need to keep your balance well in water. Next you need to relax and let your body feel at ease, you need not stress or strain your muscles and body. And the last thing you need is to keep your breath stable."

On top of these qualities, if you want to improve your record, you need to learn from others, think about how you can swim faster and for longer time or distance. Ayu says now he trains other trainers to teach how to excel in swimming, how to improve your speed and more.

However, he sees a setback among his trainees. "Swim trainers in Việt Nam vary in great gaps. They can be very different. In Japan, there are some standards that all swim coaches should pass. But that's not the case here in Việt Nam," he says. "We work to bring them closer to international standards and among themselves to teach more people to swim well in Việt Nam," he adds.

Now living and running his club in the coastal city of Đà Nẵng, his club will host a competition with Japanese standards this May 19, 2024. There is no age limit for this competition, but there will be age and gender or style groups.

ONE STEP AT A TIME: Ayu ran 100 miles (160km) in the Việt Nam Mountain Marathon in 2022.

Besides hosting a competition, Ayu has been training every day to join the upcoming races. An Ironman 70.3 in May in Đà Nẵng, where he'll swim 1.9km, cycle 90km and run for 21km. That's the prep race for the next race he'll take on in September in Japan, where he'll swim 4km, cycle 190km and run for 42km, a full marathon.

This year he'll sign up for four races in Japan and total five triathlons for the year. In addition to this, he also does mountain trekking and he did trek in Sa Pa. He also did the Mountain Marathon in Sa Pa.

Ayu cycled in the Sado International Triathlon in 2023 in Japan.

Red River Warrior

Each race has its significance for training. Right now, Ayu says he swims, cycles and runs for an hour and a half for each category every day to get himself ready. He has a family with two grown up children aged 20 and 17.

"My wife and kids can swim, but they do other things, and are not involved as much as I am," Ayu says.

WINNING SMILE: Ayu ran in the Vietnam Trail Marathon 2023 in Mộc Châu.

On the Sunday race, many Vietnamese families went out to the river to support their husbands or wives. Many male swimmers brought their children along. "In Japan we only swim in the pool or the sea, so it's not likely that my family would join me to swim in the Red River," Ayu said.

Well, the next time, we hope that he'll have his family cheer him on when he competes. VNS