In the seven short years since she was introduced to paddleboarding, Joanne Hamilton-Vale has blazed a trail for SUP endurance athletes.
Her highlights from 2017 include becoming the first U.K. paddler to cross the finish line of the M2O World Championships, guiding a blind racer during the 11 City Tour, winning the title of U.K. Ultra Endurance SUP Champion and setting two new records at the Yukon River Quest.
She also relocated to Australia and turned 50. “I decided my 50th year would be a big one,” said Hamilton-Vale, who grew up on the west coast of Scotland. “I’m not a professional athlete, and I wanted to show people if you put your mind to something, nothing can beat you.”
A lifelong water lover, and former sailor and rower, Hamilton-Vale was inspired by endurance athlete Bart de Zwart to enter her first SUP endurance race. The 220-kilometer 11 City Tour in Holland hooked her—she loved the challenge and the camaraderie the difficulty of the race cultivated between paddlers.
she set a new female Yukon River Quest SUP record
By the time de Zwart and Hamilton-Vale entered the 715-kilometer Yukon River Quest in 2016, the two had become good friends. De Zwart won the race in the SUP category that year, but Hamilton-Vale had a tough race.
Unable to keep any food down, she scratched. Within hours of pulling out, she gave her wedding band to a race volunteer along with strict instructions not to return it until she crossed the finish line the following year. “I wanted to make sure I came back to the Yukon, so I gave someone the only thing I could never replace,” she says.
Her second attempt at the Yukon River Quest wasn’t without challenges. She swam twice, faced a fierce headwind and difficult navigation.
Yet, she set a new female Yukon River Quest SUP record. Finishing the race in 59 hours, 28 minutes and six seconds. She also set a new 24-hour female SUP moving water record of 283.32 kilometers.
“I’m just praying someone beats my world record so it gives me the motivation to try again, I know I can improve,” she says. At the awards ceremony, Hamilton-Vale was called up to receive her award and was reunited with her wedding band, which she slipped over a blistered finger.
“I keep pushing because I want to see what breaks me,” says Hamilton-Vale
Hamilton-Vale often paddles for breast cancer awareness charity, Standup For The Cure.
During the Yukon River Quest she wrote the names of cancer survivors and victims on her shirt, taking them on the journey with her. “I took their strength with me and their strength got me through,” she says.
It was her own battles with breast cancer at the ages of 29 and 31 that helped shape her life, inspiring her to ditch a math degree and strike out for a life of adventure, first becoming a flight attendant and then working in hospitality before intently pursuing the podium the last four years.
Now living in Sydney, Australia, she plans to let record breaking take a backseat for 2018. This hasn’t stopped her from being in the gym, on the water or on a bike five or six days a week. “If something comes up next week, I want to be ready to go,” she says.
Last fall Hamilton-Vale entered Australia’s five stage, 404-kilometer Murray Marathon because organizers didn’t believe a paddleboarder could complete it.
She came in fifth overall. She plans to race the same marathon nonstop this year.
“I keep pushing because I want to see what breaks me,” says Hamilton-Vale. “Winning is good for my ego, but it doesn’t define me—I’m equally inspired by those who come in last place because they keep pushing. You don’t have to win, you just need to achieve your goals—and that’s what I want to keep doing.”
“I had to dig deep to get here,” said Joanne Hamilton-Vale after setting two new records in the 2017 Yukon River Quest. | Photo: Marissa Tiel