“SINK OR SWIM”: RICE REVEALS REASON BEHIND SWITCH TO FENN
Kenny Rice describes it as one of the toughest decisions of his life.
But now that he has officially departed Think Kayak to join the race team at FENN, the star surfski paddler says the knot in his stomach has been replaced by butterflies.
“It feels like sink or swim for me.” Rice tells The Paddler.
“It’s an opportunity for me to prove to myself that it wasn’t just the boat that made me good.
“I’m excited to have a go at something new.”
Rice had been with Think for eight years, joining older brother and two-time world champion Sean on what would prove to be a meteoric rise to the top.
Paddling his Uno Max, Rice claimed an Under 23 ICF World Championship and later a senior silver medal, three Cape Point Challenges and three straight victories at The Gorge, along with a swag of podium finishes at the biggest races in the world.
More valued than the results are the memories that were made around them.
“My time with Think was so special because of the experiences we spent together as a team, travelling together and spending time together,” he says.
“Daryl and Think have been responsible for giving me the opportunity to achieve my dreams and see the world.
“I’m no fool to think that I’m the only one responsible for achieving my goals.
“I’m so lucky to have Pete and Lexa from Orka supporting me, but at the front of it all has been Daryl getting me to races and getting me boats to race in. He’s really opened up the door.
“It was an incredibly tough decision because of that history. Not just with Daryl, I’ve watched his boys grow up, I’ve watched the brand grow.”
“I’ve grown with that too, over the past eight years. So, it wasn’t easy at all. It wasn’t something I just clicked my fingers and decided to do.”
That deep-seeded bond also explains why Rice decided to leave.
When COVID shut down the world, it also disconnected him from his Think family.
With Sean Rice now based in London, Kenny was the only Team Think paddler in Africa.
“The rest of the team is at least halfway across the world for me,” he explains. “So, it’s been really hard to keep that feeling going throughout the past few years.”
“I was soul-searching a little bit. The world changing presented the perfect opportunity for me to grab the bull by the horns and change with it.”
“It’s only seemed logical to switch to a local brand and have that same support network here at home.
“I feel like I had skipped into a bit I complacency, in a way. Now I have to make a brand new boat work, and that’s really exciting because it is a really nice boat.
“I’m at that age where change won’t be too detrimental. I feel like I’m quite adaptable and I know what works for me paddling wise.
“I’m just excited to transfer that to a new boat and continue learning about paddling. I flipping love it.
“I am so appreciative to FENN for opening the door and allowing me the opportunity to join their team.
“It’s a huge honour, one that I’m incredibly grateful for. I cannot wait to get started.”
FENN isn’t foreign to Rice.
In 2013, he arrived on the international stage with victory at the first ever ICF World Championships in the Under 18 category.
Kenny Rice on his way to winning the 2013 Under 18 ICF Ocean Racing World Championship in Portugal.
Back then, he was in a Glide.
Now, he’s piloting a FENNIX Elite S.
“It’s definitely a different set-up, in terms of seating position and the like.”
“The boat feels really lively and agile on runs and surfs in a different way, so it’s about learning all of that again.”
Another attraction for Rice was the multi-faceted options for his paddling, coinciding with a return to coaching.
“I’ve got a new double so I can take people on downwinds and it makes my coaching a lot more accessible.
“It’s nice to be paddling a brand that also makes lifesaving and double skis, it’s really broad and that’s really exciting.”
Still, he hasn’t yet shaken the significance of his decision.
In a touching social media post, Think founder Daryl Remler said Kenny had been an “incredible ambassador” for the brand.
“He made every paddler feel like they were part of Team Think, regardless of their racing prowess.”
“Ken will always have a family here with Think Kayak.”
Leaving that family was a heartbreaking call to make.
“It’s sad,” he says. “Not just leaving Sean, But Teneale [Hatton] and Mac [Hynard] too.
“It really was nice to be able to go overseas and see my brother. It might separate us a little bit now, staying in different places, but I’m sure it will all work out.
“But at the same time, I also have Nicky [Notten] as a teammate who I can share experiences with.
“We can compare apples and apples now at training. We’re both learning about the Fennix Elite S and we can share that information with each other and work out how well we’re going.
“It’s also comforting to know I can get on a plane and go somewhere in the world having a companion with me.
“As much as Think is a family and FENN is a family, surfski paddling is its own big family.
“It’s not the kind of sport where people hold grudges because you paddle a different brand.”