J.J. Rice, Olympic-Bound Kite Foil Racer, Dead at 18

The teenage athlete, who was set to represent Tonga at the upcoming Paris Games, died just weeks before his Olympic debut.

United States-born kitefoiler J.J. Rice, who was set to represent Tonga at the Paris Olympics, died in a diving accident. He was 18.

Rice's father Darren Rice confirmed his son's death Monday to the Matangi Tonga newspaper.

Jackson James Rice was set to become the first Caucasian to represent Tonga at an Olympic Games. His death happened Saturday at Faleloa, on the island of Ha'apai in the Tonga archipelago.

He was free diving from a boat when he suffered a suspected shallow water blackout, Matangi Tonga reported. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.

"I was blessed with the most amazing brother in the whole world and it pains me to say that he's passed away," Rice's sister Lily said in a Facebook post. "He was an amazing kitefoiler and he would have made it to the Olympics and come out with a big shiny medal. He made so many amazing friends all over the world."

Rice had recently returned to Tonga after competing in the 2024 Formula Kite World Championships in France, the Matangi Tonga reported.

Rice was born in the United States to British-born parents but grew up on Ha'apai where his parents operate a tourist lodge. "I've lived in Tonga my whole life, I see myself as a Tongan," he told Matangi Tonga last month. "I don't see myself as anything else."

Rice often posted videos of himself training in Tonga on his Instagram account.

In an Instagram post last month, Rice said he wanted to "say a big thank you to everyone who has supported, mentored, given me a couch to stay on and pushed me to my absolute limit."

"Thank you firstly to my mum and dad without you guys nothing would be possible," he wrote

Rice finished eighth at the Sail Sydney event in December to earn his Olympic place. Kitefoiling will be an Olympic sport for the first time in Paris.

Rice recently had been training and competing in Europe.

Kitefoilers race on boards that are lifted off the water on foils and can reach speeds of more than 30 mph.

This article originally published to CBS News on June 17, 2024, at 10:52 a.m. ET.