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US-Born Kitefoiler, 18, Dies Weeks Before Olympics

JJ Rice had been set to represent Tonga in sport's Olympic debut
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 17, 2024 1:02 PM CDT
US-Born Kitefoiler Dies Weeks Before Olympics
A kite surfer rides a foil in Melbourne, Australia in this file photo.   (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

An American-born kitefoiler has died in a diving accident in Tonga at age 18, just weeks before he was to represent the Pacific island nation at the Paris Olympics. JJ Rice died Saturday off the island of Ha'apai, where his British-born parents operate a tourist lodge, CBS News reports. His father, Darren Rice, told the Matangi Tonga that JJ died from a suspected shallow water blackout while he was free diving from a boat. JJ grew up on Ha'apai and represented Tonga in kitefoiling in multiple events over the years.

He earned his spot on the Olympic team with an 8th-place finish at the Sail Sydney event in December, per TMZ. In kitefoiling, "riders 'fly' above the water on hydrofoils attached to boards and powered by huge kites," reaching speeds of up to 51mph, per the Royal Yachting Association. The sport is making its Olympic debut this year.

"I was blessed with the most amazing brother in the whole world and it pains me to say that he's passed away," Rice's sister Lily said in a Facebook post Sunday. "He was an amazing kitefoiler and he would have made it to the Olympics and come out with a big shiny medal." Darren Rice told the Matangi Tonga that when JJ was 15, he risked his life to save many people when a ferryboat capsized. (More Tonga stories.)

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