Ryk Neethling is known amongst most South Africans as one of the swimming stars that won an Olympic gold medal for South Africa in the 4 x 100 m freestyle relay at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece. Many people vividly recall the day that Ryk and his three teammates, Roland Schoeman, Darian Townsend and Lyndon Ferns broke the world freestyle relay record as complete underdogs. Today, his swimming achievements – including breaking several South African records – has given him excellent grounding in both business and the real estate industry.
Ryk – originally from Bloemfontein, Free State – was educated at Grey College which set the stage for his success. He was first appointed to the Olympic team in 1996 in Atlanta where he finished fifth in the 1 500 m freestyle, having swum for South Africa for the first time. Thereafter, he enrolled at the University of Arizona in Tuscon in the United States where he studied industrial psychology.
In 2003, Ryk decided to get back into the pool to chase his Olympic dream one more time – a lifechanging decision which led to his gold medal the year after. His swimming career almost took a turn in 2005 when he was offered R 50 million to swim for Qatar. However, to remain true to the South African flag, Ryk turned this offer down. Ryk officially retired from swimming in 2008 after four successive Olympic Games and started a number of swimming academies, franchising his ‘learn to swim’ brand.
Today, he owns and manages four swimming academies, and mentors and manages Olympic swimmer, Cameron van der Burgh.
Ryk as a real estate apprentice
Ryk’s first move into real estate came after he graduated from the University of Arizona in 2001, where he started working for a new commercial real estate development company in Tucson, Arizona called Bourn Partners. He said, “It was a very dynamic environment and they dominated established national real estate companies in the area. I started right at the bottom doing cold calls and looking back I wouldn’t change a thing.” This was where Ryk developed his enthusiasm for the property industry.
In 2011, he became a major shareholder at Val de Vie Estate where he took over as marketing director and as property developer at the estate. Val de Vie is a high-end polo and lifestyle estate situated in the Paarl-Franschhoek Valley in the Cape Winelands. It is home to many of South Africa’s prestige personalities and celebrities. In 2016, Patrice Motsepe’s African Rainbow Capital bought a 20% stake in the estate marking a significant milestone in the estate’s history. Val de Vie also recently acquired Pearl Valley Golf Estate, and thus the super estate now comprises approximately 1 000 hectares and 2 500 housing opportunities, of which 70% have already been sold. It additionally includes two hotels and a retirement village.
In August 2016, New World Wealth announced Val de Vie as South Africa’s top residential lifestyle estate. New World Wealth – a global wealth intelligence and market research company – rates estates on the quality and design of houses, facilities on the estate, activities, security, space, views and resale and growth potential. Ryk says the Val de Vie team is honoured to be recognised as the leading residential estate in South Africa.
Ryk’s business philosophy and objective with Val de Vie is to partner with like-minded companies and investors; develop conservatively and try to assemble the strongest possible team. The Western Cape is becoming increasingly attractive to upcountry buyers. As part of a recent marketing campaign that involved the 60 buyers of the newly developed Polo Village suites, Val de Vie gave away a Ferrari worth R 4 million in a lucky draw.
Ryk has had good and bad experiences in investing and believes in keeping his approach hands-on. He shares, “I’ve learned the hard way that it is very unlikely to have a successful investment if you are not actively involved in making it a success.”
Ryk believes that “estates are here to stay and already account for a major share of property values in South Africa. Properties in estates generally outperform non-estate properties. I think estates will try to focus more on branding and doing partnerships with strong lifestyle brands or personalities going forward.”
While Ryk has seen success in many areas of his life – including having developed his own wine under the Val de Vie label, it is safely said that Ryk’s passion is now deeply rooted in the property industry. “Investing in my business, Val de Vie, has produced the most significant – and rewarding – returns for me,” he concludes.