IN THE BOAT with: KENNY RICE
Kenny Rice rode into 2020 on a wave of seemingly unstoppable momentum.
The South African powerhouse had just produced what was arguably his greatest year yet. There were wins at a host of major races including The Cape Point Challenge, Canadian Surfski Championships, and a third-straight victory at The Gorge. He also finished second on the World Surfski League and at the ICF World Championships – edging closer to older brother Sean.
A long list of achievements that only made him hungry for more – only to be stopped in his tracks by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As he writes in this In The Boat article, it was a tough reality to accept, but when he did, he became better off for it.
“In the Midst of Chaos, there is also Opportunity”
– Sun Tzu in the ‘Art of War’
I woke up to silence.
Cape Town’s usually bustling beachside town of Kalk Bay was eerily quiet.
Thursday March 26, 2020.
Today was the first day of hard lockdown.
This meant no leaving your house – not even for an emergency chocolate run!
Before I opened my curtains, I could already hear the South Easter blowing.
Ahh, Miller’s Run for training this evening.
But that’s when I heard the shuddering and splattering of a huge army truck driving past the house, 8 to 10 soldiers – armed – enforcing our new rules for living.
I was rather shocked at this show of force – never mind in our safe little community, of all places, where WhatsApp groups light up over the smallest trivial things – like walkers not picking up their dog’s poo.
Suddenly it hit me – we are in this for the long haul!
During the first couple days, I comforted myself with the thought that it would all be over in the three weeks that the government had suggested.
But with everyone news update, every new case and every alarmed reaction I soon began to realise the year was slipping away.
Initially I found it easy to jump on the ergo – I had managed to borrow one from my local Kayak Club – but I soon started to get annoyed with it.
I had it set up in my front yard which takes in panoramic views of False Bay – from Cape Point, down the Miller’s Run, and along past the local beach.
This made for a cruel viewing platform and I soon ended up moving it to the back courtyard just so I couldn’t be teased with the epic downwind conditions that we receive!
I lasted 12 days before I finally ventured out to the shops, but was stopped 500m from my house by a traffic cop wanting to know why I was on the road.
I guess it was slightly symbolic given the news I received once I arrived back home.
The Canadian Surfski Championships were off.
As bleak as it was that I wouldn’t be able to defend my title, unexpectedly, I actually accepted it quite easily and – weirdly – it seemed to lift this huge weight off my chest.
I’ve been skipping the depths of Cape Town’s winter and travelling to North America in July for six years and it forms a huge part of my season.
Not just in terms of racing, but also the time I spend coaching and catching up with friends – it’s one of my favourite places in the world.
And 2019 was my most successful tour yet, winning The Gorge for the third-straight time, as well as breaking through for my first win in Canada.
I often put a lot of pressure on myself to perform at my best – and sometimes those expectations can get the better of me.
This first cancelation actually helped me start accepting that there were far bigger things at play than simply trying to win a race.
With Canada scratched, I knew The Gorge would be a no-go, then the ICF World Championships… and most likely the rest of the international calendar.
Difficult to accept, but soon the real issues came to the fore in South Africa, with so many people without work and a source of income during what was an unprecedented time.
I kept in touch with some of the guys who worked at my company, checking in on how they were handling the lockdown and if they were managing to stay safe.
They live in rough communities, and for them, seeing an army truck outside of their homes wasn’t the foreign sight it was for me.
These guys are absolute legends, the hardest workers and most humble people you can meet.
Hearing their experiences and just trying to slightly comprehend the hardships they go through – even if I could just a fraction – really helped to put my cancelled races into perspective.
It was a wake-up call to sit up and appreciate what we have.
During lockdown I read two quotes which struck a chord with me.
I now have them saved on my phone, just so I can go look at them in times I need a nudge.
“In the Midst of Chaos, there is also Opportunity.”
This hit home for me. I didn’t find meaning in a new way to rule the world, but rather realising the opportunity I had been presented with to recalibrate.
Sometimes we lose track of how much a bit of forced ‘down-time’ can help us.
My knee-jerk reaction has always been to panic and try to catch up to where I left off, rather than acknowledge the opportunity at hand.
I stumbled upon this next saying quite late in lockdown, but it rang true in terms of my attitude and approach compared to others.
There are 3 types of people:
1. Those who do not know what is happening.
2. Those who watch it happen; and
3. Those who make it happen.
At the start of June, we were presented with a loophole to get back on the water.
Kayaking for sport wasn’t allowed, but kayaking for fishing was. So if you had a fishing license, which only set you back around 70 rand, you were on.
While some threw themselves at the chance, I held back.
Not necessarily because of any concerns around the rules, but in reality, I was scared about how I would perform back in the boat and nervous about how far I may have slipped behind.
I’ve spent the last six years racing at an elite level around the world, and had never had a break like this.
It was a fear of failure.
Eventually I faced up to the challenge, and at first, it may be fair to say the challenge won!
We only clocked 4.5 kilometres before we were too exhausted to continue, but even then, we never got the kayaks moving too quickly.
Time spent on the ergo ensured my technique was respectable, but my feel of the water was completely gone.
Not to mention my fingers, which spent the session smashing into the boat!
Still, I loved every moment. We were back.
After months of dreaming, the first downwinder delivered too.
I distinctly remember standing on Fish Hoek beach, staring out to Miller’s Point before a reverse. It was hooking!
Shit, I’m a bit worried that if I fall out, I won’t be able to get back in.
Or what if I’m not fit enough to get to the finish?
Is this even safe?!
With the rise of the first run, those fears washed away.
Once I was in the zone, those skills just seemed to take over.
The thrill of it all! It was so much fun.
Since mid-June, I’ve lost 10 kilograms.
I started cycling a bit and have cherished absolutely every single stroke I have put into the water!
This has been my way of being that Person 3) – making it happen by becoming a slightly better version of myself everyday.
By the end of June my longest flat-water session was 8 kilometres.
But I had a plan.
I wanted to smash out 500 kilometres in July, building towards the Virtual Berg Marathon – 240 kilometres in the kayak over four days.
It was game-time!
We spent the first two days on the Berg River – 78 kilometres one day, then 63 the next – and I actually felt really fit.
I had been putting in plenty of hard work, paddling at least 20 kilometres every day, and it was starting to show.
The following weekend next weekend we trekked out to the Breede River – the venue for another classic local race – and knocked out another 62 kilometres.
I figured that last day would be a treat to do over the iconic Cape Point Challenge route.
Unfortunately, the weather didn’t play ball and we were forced to paddle on the back-up course, which is inside False Bay.
It was a slog to Cape Point but we were rewarded with some ‘soul-soothing’ runs on the way home.
A mentally easy 53 kilometres in the bag to round it out.
The feeling of satisfaction I felt was immense.
I set a goal and I enjoyed every single minute of achieving it.
At the start of the month I decided on a plan and stuck to it and never looked back. It wasn’t a chore to get out of bed for a session and that positive mindset carried me through.
Some foul weather may have caused a few more forced rest days than I had originally planned… but nonetheless, I just felt golden in the boat, both physically and mentally.
I realised that the two are inextricably linked.
If you’re having a bad day, you’ll have a bad session. But if you focus on the positives, then your mind will carry your body through.
I went on to finish July with 652 kilometres in 25 days – roughly 26 kilometres per session!
And I’ve felt that way ever since.
That opportunity in the midst of chaos has reignited my passion for paddling.
Not that I had lost it – but after three months in lockdown, staring hopelessly out from my bedroom window and into the ocean, I’ve rediscovered the reasons why I paddle.
And foremost, it’s because I love it.
With some signs of ‘normality’ on the horizon, I know exactly what to do:
- Keep my chin up.
- Reach forward to ensure a strong catch on every opportunity.
- And a clean exit, that is slightly more slick everyday!