Life Boarding

by Laura Storey



When Jo became the first woman, aged 54, to stand-up paddleboard her way coast to coast across Northern England, many assumed she had been paddleboarding her whole life. However, they couldn’t have been further from the truth… Jo had only taken to the board a few years earlier… “I’d injured my knee and was feeling down as I couldn’t move,” Jo explains. “I’d read that paddleboarding was really good for core strength and overall balance and fitness but wouldn’t hurt my knee. I set myself a challenge to go outside for 30 minutes every day as a way to build my joy again.” As well as becoming fitter, Jo found that paddleboarding was having a positive impact on her mood “I think it’s the water with its blue health benefits. I think the idea of moving from one place to another as well can help, as you feel like you’re literally leaving your problems behind. Lots of people do say that their problems just seem to float away into the water.”


I set myself a challenge to go outside for 30 minutes every day as a way to build my joy again.

As a tough Yorkshire woman, she’s not afraid of the cold, in fact, when she was gifted her first paddleboard in the depths of winter, she was determined to try it out in the freezing water of the North Sea. Of course, for us northerners, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. “I have dry suit pants which are like trousers that you wear over leggings and they keep out the rain and keep you warm.” Jo explains. “Of course, it really depends where you’re paddling or what time of year it is. You might want to jump in the sea  afterwards, but if you’re on the canal – then you probably won’t be jumping in!” She laughs.

One of the many stone bridges on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal

While the Leeds and Liverpool canal might not be inviting to dive into, Jo was inspired to travel along it on her remarkable journey coast to coast. “My youngest son was going to university and this dream pulled me through the whole empty nesting thing,” Jo smiles. “I realised how short and precious life was so I wanted to accomplish that dream. I’d wanted to do it for years but was told it was probably too difficult for someone like me, at age 51, but then at 54 I completed it.”

Not satisfied with breaking records, she also picked up litter on her journey and raised money for the Two- Minute Foundation which encourages everyone to spend two minutes each day picking up litter, whether that is on the street, walking to work, on the beach or even on a paddleboard! Jo was never what she describes as sporty and exercise took a back seat as she grew up. “I’m a single mum, so I was always busy. Then, in 2013, I had a moment in the biscuit aisle in Tesco’s where I sort of broke down sobbing, I was going through the menopause and both my parents were going through chemotherapy and life just felt overwhelming,” Jo explains. “I hadn’t slept for months and my friend recommended exercise. So, I started indoor rowing, just to try and get some sleep.”


Jo on her paddleboard

In May 2014 Jo completed a rowing challenge in memory of her mother who had passed a year earlier and raised money for Macmillan, finding that exercise helped with menopause and the grief of losing her mum. “People say that I’m a fitness fanatic, but I just like moving,” she smiles.

If, like Jo, you’ve found yourself too busy for exercise, she recommends some tips to get moving: “Start small, with a walk or push-ups against a wall, and most importantly, find something that you really enjoy. Build a friendship community in real life or online, whether that’s at the gym or elsewhere, find people who can encourage you.”

I love the freedom; I love being outside and I love the community

If you decide paddleboarding is for you, try a lesson with a qualified professional. “They can teach you tips and techniques in that first hour or two that you’d be trying to learn for weeks alone,” she explains.

To inspire more women to try out paddleboarding, Jo has a podcast – The Joy of SUP (stand-up paddleboarding). “I wanted women to have that community of other people to talk about paddleboarding. I spoke to a woman who was plus-size and worried that paddleboarding didn’t fit her image. I wanted to tell people that it’s all shapes and sizes!” For her, the best feeling is when people message her saying that they’ve been inspired to try paddleboarding because of her and the podcast.

Despite so much going on in her life, from her podcasts, to her new book, Beautiful Places to Paddleboard, Jo still finds time to grab her board and get out on the water. “I love the freedom; I love being outside and I love the community – community is really a big thing in the paddleboarding community. It’s also good for your mind, your body, your mental health – on the paddleboard I feel like a warrior, not a worrier!

Stand-up Paddleboarding in Great Britain – published on 2nd June by Vertebrate Publishing.

Craven & Valley Life Summer 22