While most people associate marine sports with beaches, a stretch of the Yodo River running alongside the towering skyscrapers of Osaka’s Umeda downtown area has become a magnet for local windsurfers.

Many of them were out on the river in early December 2014, braving temperatures below 10 degrees as chill winds swept across the water.

Keiichi Kitamoto, 55, who runs a windsurfing school and equipment shop right by the river, was among them. The Osaka native used to work as a sales representative for a chain of cake stores, but quit in 1989 to pursue his love of windsurfing, competing as a professional and eventually becoming a national champion.

Windsurfing combines elements of sailing and surfing, and as it depends on winds much more than waves, can be enjoyed on downtown rivers far away from the beach.

“(The Yodo River) is suitable for windsurfing as it has wind blowing and its width is broad,” said Kitamoto, who holds regular workshops on the river.

Over the past 25 years, more than 300 people have taken up windsurfing after participating in Kitamoto’s workshops. In recent years, most of them have been middle aged or older.

Many of these older participants tell Kitamoto that they have always wanted to do something challenging but have only now found the courage, he says, adding that the oldest participant so far has been a 65 years old.

Kitamoto’s shop, which also serves as a storage site for windsurfing gear, is frequented by many regular customers. Among them is Corine van Wanrooy, a 43-year-old Dutch national who works at Osaka City University’s Global Exchange Office.

Van Wanrooy noticed people enjoying windsurfing on the Yodo River when she took a bike ride one summer day in 2011, the year she arrived in Japan.

She soon decided to join Kitamoto’s workshop.

“Gliding across the surface of the water while feeling the wind is really nice,” she said.

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