Tonga's Pita Taufatofua praying for progress before kayaking debut

The Canoe Sprint World Championships are just three weeks away and Tonga's Pita Taufatofua cannot paddle more than 20 metres without falling into the water.

The 35-year-old announced in May he had taken up kayaking in a bid to become the first person this century to compete in three different Olympic sports.

He first made global headlines with a shirtless entrance as Tonga's flagbearer at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, a feat he repeated at last year's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

But, after representing his country in taekwondo and cross-country skiing, he admits his bid to qualify for Tokyo in a new discipline is not going well.

"Progress is going absolutely terrible. I can't stay on the kayak longer than 20m - I need to make 200m," he said.

"I've got a rule that I always show up and I said I was going to show up so I've got to show up and the second rule is that I always have to finish, so if my kayak tips over at 20m I've got to swim 180m. I can't swim that far so I'm either going to finish the race or I'm going to drown trying."

"The time you think of is 34 seconds because that's the Olympic time, but I don't know if I'm a minute off the guys or 10 seconds or 20 - I have no idea because I can't finish 200m without falling off yet so I'm curious myself."

The Brisbane-based athlete is still without a proper race kayak of his own while his taekwondo coach, Master Paul Sitapa, has quit his job in New Zealand and temporarily moved away from his family in an attempt to help Taufatofua prepare for the World Championships.

"It's like the blind leading the blind at the moment...He knows as much as I know," he laughed. "He's been on YouTube looking and watching and learning how to coach (kayaking) so we will have a week in Hungary before the World Championships to try and figure it all out, he'll learn from coaches.

"But the biggest thing is he's got heart. He's up at five in the morning, he'll put the kayak on the car, he will have breakfast ready - he's a coach, he's a chef, he's a masseuse, friend, brother, everything."