Passion, commitment and drive – interview with Jo Hamilton-Vale

Interview: Sup Mag UK
Lead photo: Tomas Januska
Other pics: Jo Hamilton-Vale & Dave White

Jo Hamilton-Vale is certainly an inspirational character. Having overcome a serious illness she discovered SUP and has been making a name for herself both on the domestic race circuit and international scene. Never one to rest on her laurels, she was confirmed to take the helm of UK SUP Clubs last year and will drive the organisation forward in 2015. We caught up with JHV to see what makes her tick.

Jo Hamilton-Vale

Tell us how you got into stand up paddling. What appealed to you about the sport?
Almost three years ago I was in Melbourne and was struggling to find something to do. I saw an advertisement for SUP lessons, so I took one. Once I got home I bought a board and paddled a few times but I got bored of leisurely paddling. At the end of 2012 I was introduced to racing – and then I was hooked.

We know you enjoy a good race but do you participate in other areas of the sport?
When I am on my board it is only to race or train. I am a naturally competitive person and have always struggled with doing a sport for leisure. Every sport I have taken up, it has been to compete.

What are your personal SUP goals for 2015? In 2015
I hope to compete at more international races. I did three international races in 2014 and would have loved to have done more but I struggled with transporting the board.

How did you become involved with UK SUP Clubs?
At the end of my first year of racing in 2013 I was really disillusioned with the lack of structure in the UK races. Race dates were very rarely publicised, race starts were frequently late by hours and there was no standard set of rules and regulations. I came from a sailing background where the structure and rules were set in stone and I struggled with haphazard races. As a result, I pitched my idea to a few key individuals in the UK and within six weeks we hatched a plan and had ten races in the series

How do you feel driving such an organisation forward – what are your plans and aspirations for the UK SUP Clubs for 2015?
In 2015 we are hoping to add a three race surf series, a three race series to find the GB team for 2016, hold a four race kids series and also help promote all races and events within the UK. My passion for growing the sport and giving it structure and credibility in the UK is extremely important to me and helps drive me forward.

We understand that UK SUP Clubs will be working with BSUPA for the first time – how did that partnership come about?
BSUPA have the link with Surfing GB to send a team to the ISA Worlds but have never held a race series to establish who should be attending. They have always just held one short race to ascertain who that competitor should be. Unfortunately in 2014 this race was cancelled one month before it was scheduled. Therefore they asked if they could use the UK SUP results to choose the team. In 2015 we will hopefully be holding a three race series to choose the national team.

Jo Hamilton-Vale

What aims have both organisations got in mind for UK SUP?
We are unable to state what BSUPA has in mind for SUP in the future. UK SUP will continue to facilitate and organise the National Race Series, with the addition of a surf series and kids’ race series. We will also be working closely with the clubs to promote all their events, races, demos and leisure paddles. We are also hoping to have two additional pages on our website, one that lists all the clubs in the UK and one detailing all events in the UK – not just race events.

How much time and effort do you devote to UK SUP Clubs? Is it a full time job?
Right now I devote two to three days a week to UK SUP and this time is all voluntary. It is slowly becoming a full time job but I must admit that this is because I like to know everything that is happening every minute of every day! However, I have a great team working with me; Ali Pereira, Chris Kenyon and Colin Elston. We are in the process of finalising the positions everyone holds and hopefully this will free up some of my time, but I know how involved I like to be and I will struggle to take a small step back.

Which areas of stand up paddling do you see as having the most potential (if any) and why?
I believe racing will continue to grow in the years to come but the results of our survey showed the leisure side of paddling is the largest part of the sport in the UK. The clubs are doing an amazing job assisting leisure paddlers and we will do all we can to help them by promoting their events.

Sum up the UK SUP club scene for us and how it helps get people on board with SUP.
It was felt in 2014 that we focused on the high level racers a bit too much so in 2015 we will be putting as much focus on the individual age groups within the races. These age groups are: Junior (16-18) Masters (41-51) Veterans (52+) Red Paddle Co have also offered to run a kids series for under 12s and age 13-15. This racing will be on inflatable boards and we will be holding four races in 2015. I feel the best way to grow the sport is to get the kids involved.

What do you think is missing from UK stand up at the moment – club related or otherwise?
What we are missing is a national governing body. If we could find the correct NGB it would help grow clubs through funding and the structure could be finalised. Right now I feel too many self-styled coaching organisations are being set up and not enough thought is being put into what we can do for these paddlers once they have paid their money for their lessons and know how to paddle. The clubs are the grass roots of the sport and I feel they should be getting financial assistance to help them promote and grow.

As a lady paddler do you think there’s more that can be done to encourage females into the sport – and if so, what?
I feel the clubs encourage and help females just as much as the males. In my short time in SUP I have been treated the same as the boys and have been given so much assistance and encouragement. I could not have asked for anything else. All that is stopping women paddling and racing is themselves. The help and opportunities are out there and they will be welcomed with open arms.e a cross between the two?

How can the UK SUP fraternity support UK SUP Clubs?
The UK SUP fraternity can help by getting involved and assisting at club level; join a club and help it grow in the future. I received quite a bit of negativity from some individuals because they wanted to be involved in running the race series with UK SUP but it is the clubs that need help and assistance; they are the grass roots of the sport and they will be the ones that continue the growth and need the help.g the shop.

Jo Hamilton-Vale

Any final shout outs, thanks or acknowledgements?
Firstly I would like to thank Pete Holliday who set UK SUP up with me and put a lot of time and knowledge into the running of the 2014 series. Also thanks to Ali Pereira and Chris Kenyon for all their help in 2014 and continuing into 2015. Thanks to the clubs who came on board when we were starting up. They held amazing races and thoroughly bought into the idea to make it the huge success it was.

On a personal note I would like to thank Ryan James who gave me so much help and encouragement for my 2014 race season. He was invaluable and a big factor in my 2014 race results. I would like to thank my husband, Pete Vale, who has accepted that a lot of my time will go to UK SUP, agreed to cut our summer holiday short by four days as I had two of our races that I needed to attend and yet again is allowing me the time, whilst on holiday, to complete this interview and finalise the race plan for 2015.

Lastly, I would like to thank all the paddlers who took part in races or volunteered to help run the races for their clubs. We had 267 paddlers race in 2014 and most did five or six races. The biggest thank you is to you guys.

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