In many years’ time – at least a decade, probably more – Ken Rice will be asked when it was that he first realised he belonged in the big time of canoe ocean racing.

The South African will have no hesitation nominating 2017 as the year it all came together for him. When he finally got a chance to catch his breath at the end of last year, the enormity of what he had achieved on the water in the previous 12 months took his breath away again.

“2017 was nothing short of incredible for me with some really special moments lived,” Rice said this week.

“I think in terms of break through moments, 2017 will be that year for me and I really hope to be able to continue with the momentum I ended the year off with.

“I was surrounded by the most incredible people and supported by the best sponsors - they really are the best, considering they saw a tiny bit of potential in a 95kg 14-year-old!”

A 95kg 14-year-old with an older brother forever raising the competition bar, and already entrenched in an ocean racing community arguably the strongest in the world.

But that was a few years back now; as of today, Ken Rice is the U23 Ocean Racing World Champion, courtesy of a strong performance in the rollicking surf of Hong Kong last year.

He finished fourth overall, after threatening for a podium, and maybe even a win, at crucial times during the race.

He took three weeks off at the end of the year, but didn’t want to spend too long away from the water, lest he lose some of the magic he tapped into in 2017.

“This year should be a very interesting year for me with everything being so different now in terms of benchmarks,” he said. 

“My main goal is to try narrow down the average positions at races and really enjoy what I am doing, rather than just throwing all my focus on winning.

“Saying that, every race I go to I will be sure to throw my back into it and be there to win or defend a title, but learning from every step should I win or come 15th!

“There's no better feeling than being shattered after a race and knowing you were as fit as possible and you left it all out on the water. As I like to say, 'Just trying to be one tiny step better than the day before.”


It’s a motto that’s served him well so far, and one that should strike fear into the ocean racing community. There’s no World Championships in 2018, but plenty of races which will be as good as.

So will we see a different approach from Ken Rice this year? Has he a cunning plan to make himself even faster, to help him continue his rise up the world standings?

“To be perfectly honest, I'm quite nervous to change from what I did last year seeing as though it worked so well,” he said.

“I am still very young though, so I will definitely be trying some new things in training and trying to keep the spice there to stay motivated.

“I know what works and what doesn't, and I think with the fantastic support crew I have it should be very easy to build on the momentum from last year with a few new things.”

A big plus in Ken Rice’s corner is his training environment – and not just the facilities and the local conditions.

While the current men’s world champion is Australian Cory Hill, the majority of the world’s best are blokes Rice trains with, week in, week out. The group is so strong, every training session is almost a mini-World Championships.

“The surfski community has a fantastic "Leave it on the water" attitude, which means everyone gets along very well and we have some awesome trips overseas to races,” Rice said.

“Our weekly Tuesday time-trial is so competitive, with the likes of Jasper Mocke, Stuart McLaren, Mark Keeling, and as the rest of the world recently saw, Nick Notten, in attendance.

“Our winter evening sessions are so good for your mid-year paddling and I feel it would be really hard to replicate it anywhere else! 

“With most weekends racing on the river, marathon sessions on the vlei and such a solid squad, we have some of the best race practice to offer. This makes for some very tough racing by the time marathon nationals comes around.”

Ken Rice has a pretty full book at the moment, balancing surf ski and marathon. The two disciplines complement each other, and for the short term, Rice is happy with the arrangement.


But longer term? The Olympics is a significant carrot for every athlete, and there are plenty of surf ski athletes who have made their mark in sprint canoe.

“The marathon/surfski combo is very good with basically the same training required - well for me, anyways, with 90 per cent of my sessions being on flat water,” Rice said.

“So those two I will always try my hand at. 

“Olympic discipline wise - One day when sprints receive some sort of funding to make it less financially taxing, then I'll definitely be giving it a shot.

“After all, most kids dream of one day winning an Olympic medal and getting the Olympic rings tattoo!”

And when the day comes that Ken Rice races for South Africa at an Olympic Games, he’ll be able to tell people how in 2017 the door swung wide open.

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