Sean Rice’s smile says it all about his return to racing at the Gorge Downwind Championships. PHOTOGRAPH: © Gorge Downwind Champs/Sandy Yonley.​


He won’t remember it as one of his best results, but the 2022 Gorge Downwind Championships may prove to have a lasting impact for Sean Rice.

The two-time World Champion was sixth across the line in his first major race since 2019.

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

By numbers alone, that doesn’t stack up against the rest of his decorated career.

However, the realisations that arose from it could be just as valuable.

“I’ve never been one to say I’m just going to do this for fun,” he tells The Paddler. “It’s really fun when I win. I’m not getting soft like that.

“But it’s like a yin and yang in my life now. It’s nice to have paddling as that bit of a release.

“I find it quite stressful to get ready for these races, because it is a lot of work and there’s always a cost, because other things can’t be done in the day. But I have really enjoyed it.

“I’ve enjoyed my paddling for the first time in a while, which is probably the thing I should be chasing most.”

Rice a picture of determination on his way to sixth place at the Gorge. PHOTOGRAPH: © Georgia Schofield.

While Rice’s contemporaries continued to train and race domestically through the pandemic, the now 32 year-old South African, now based in London, took an extended break.

That was, for the most part, because he became a father for the first time. He and wife Emily welcomed son Sebastian in late 2020.

So, he admits his return at the Gorge brought some “nostalgia”, along with plenty of pride seeing younger brother Kenny claim his fourth event crown.

“I don’t know what work I have to do to beat him,” he says. “He paddled away from everyone.”

And it also delivered affirmation that he still has what it takes to win at the highest level.

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

“I’m doing everything I can, which makes me feel great about things,” Rice says.

“I’ve never sat on the couch and said, ‘I’m just not going to paddle today.’ I’m doing as much as I can in my current season of life.

“I’m still pretty young. There’s no point getting stressed out about it now. There will be other points when I have more and also maybe less time again.”

“I need to digest exactly what it takes now to be ready for Worlds. 

“Intensity is something that I can’t train for. I’ve always relied quite heavily on momentum of racing and using each race as a bit of a step.”

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

Rice does that better than anybody else.

In July 2019, he finished 3rd at the NELO Summer Challenge. In September, he was again the World Champion.

“I was probably a little fitter then though,” he laughs.

Sean Rice winning the 2019 ICF Ocean Racing World Championships. PHOTOGRAPH: © International Canoe Federation.

Even so, it is cause for confidence as he aims to become the first person to claim three World Championships.

“It will be something special to go to Portugal where it all started for me… we’ll see.

“As long as there is one Rice one the podium, that’s fine isn’t it, “he laughs. “Mum has got to be happy.”