Tragically Young Tongan Olympic kitefoiler dies in diving accident at age of only 18

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Tongan Olympic kitefoiler JJ Rice tragically passed away at 18 in a diving mishap.

The young athlete was poised to make history as the first Caucasian to represent Tonga, his lifelong home, at the upcoming Games where his sport, kite foiling, debuts.

Similar to kiteboarding but with a hydrofoil under the board, kite foiling was JJ’s passion. The accident occurred on Saturday in Faleloa, Ha’apai, where his parents own a renowned lodge. His father recounted JJ was free diving from a boat when he likely suffered a shallow water blackout, found unconscious on the seafloor.

Despite resuscitation efforts, the teen couldn’t be revived.

Born in the US, JJ moved to Tonga at 3 and embraced the island kingdom, often expressing his Tongan identity in interviews as his skills progressed.


The most likley cause of death is shallow water blackout


– here is what you need to kow

Shallow water blackout (SWB) is a serious and often deadly condition that occurs when a swimmer loses consciousness underwater due to a lack of oxygen to the brain. This can happen without any prior warning signs, making it particularly dangerous. SWB is particularly relevant for those engaged in free diving, spear fishing, or competitive swimming.

How Does Shallow Water Blackout Occur?

  1. Hyperventilation Before Diving:
    • Swimmers or divers often hyperventilate before submerging, mistakenly believing it will increase their oxygen reserves. Hyperventilation reduces the carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the blood. However, it’s the CO2 levels, not oxygen (O2), that primarily trigger the urge to breathe.
  2. Prolonged Underwater Time:
    • With reduced CO2 levels, the urge to breathe is delayed, allowing the individual to stay underwater longer. During this extended period, oxygen levels in the blood continue to drop.
  3. Loss of Consciousness:
    • Once the oxygen levels drop below a critical threshold, the brain no longer receives enough oxygen to function, leading to a sudden loss of consciousness. This can happen rapidly and without warning, often at shallow depths where the individual feels safe.
  4. Drowning:
    • If the swimmer or diver is not rescued immediately, they can drown. Even if rescued, brain damage or death can occur if oxygen is not restored quickly.

How Common is Shallow Water Blackout?

SWB is relatively rare but potentially fatal. Precise statistics are hard to come by, as many incidents may be misclassified as simple drownings. However, it is known to be a significant risk in activities involving breath-hold diving or extensive underwater swimming.

Prevention Measures

  1. Avoid Hyperventilation:
    • Divers and swimmers should avoid hyperventilating before submerging. It’s crucial to understand that hyperventilation does not increase oxygen reserves.
  2. Buddy System:
    • Always swim or dive with a buddy who can assist in case of an emergency. Ensure your buddy knows the signs of SWB and is trained in rescue techniques.
  3. Limit Breath-Hold Time:
    • Set conservative limits on how long you hold your breath underwater. Remember, the urge to breathe is your body’s signal that it needs oxygen.
  4. Education and Training:
    • Increased awareness and education on the dangers of SWB can help prevent it. Training programs for divers and swimmers should include information on the risks and preventive measures.


Shallow water blackout is a stealthy and dangerous condition that adventurers must be aware of. Understanding the risks, avoiding hyperventilation, using the buddy system, and proper training can save lives. Adventure sports enthusiasts, especially those who love the underwater world, must respect the power of nature and the limits of their own bodies to ensure their escapades remain exhilarating but safe.

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