J.J. Rice, Kitefoiler With Olympic Dreams, Dies In Diving Accident At 18

An 18-year-old kitefoiler who dreamed of representing Tonga in the Olympics has died in a diving accident.

Jackson James Rice, a U.S.-born son of British parents who grew up in the island nation, died Saturday from a suspected shallow water blackout, his father, Darren, told the Matangi Tonga newspaper.

Rice was free-diving from a boat when he suffered the suspected blackout. Divers found Rice’s body on the sea floor, and attempts to resuscitate the teenager failed.

The Olympics officially start July 26, and kitefoiling is set to be a competitive sport for the first time. Rice reportedly came in eighth at Sail Sydney in December and had high hopes of qualifying for the Paris Games, but revealed in a social media post dated May 25 that “a few mistakes” on his part had put his Olympic dreams on hold until 2028.

Rice’s sister, Lily Rice, paid tribute to her brother on Facebook, where she said he “was so talented and was amazing at everything he tried” that he would have “made it to the Olympics and come out with a big shiny medal.”

The International Kiteboarding Association also honored Rice’s memory on Facebook, saying that “his passion soared as high as the kites he rode.”

But Rice will be remembered in Tonga for more than his athleticism.

Rice’s father told the Matangi Tonga that, back in 2021, his then-15-year-old son had tried to rescue people at sea when a ferryboat capsized, and that he had saved the lives of two girls on another occasion.