A gold medallist at the 2012 London Games and winner of silver at the 2016 Rio Games, in tandem with Polly Powrie, Jo Aleh (31) has recently taken a step away from competitive sailing to give “normal life” a try.  We caught up with Jo after a Tuesday night Harcourts Beach Series race and asked her to share a few thoughts with NZ SUP on life post-Games and how paddleboarding fits in. You can follow Jo’s journey at her own blog site joaleh.com

Jo Aleh with fellow NZ Paddlers Penelope Strickland and Annabel Anderson at the NZ Champs 2014.

What SUP racing means to me has changed a lot over the 8 or 9 years I have been doing it… It started out as a great cross-training discipline to my fitness routine, when I was in my build up to the 2012 Olympic Games. Running and cycling used to be my fitness of choice, but I needed a change when I kept having recurring running injuries, and there were a few too many cycling injuries in the sailing team. There was a bunch of us sailors that started paddling back then, led by JP Tobin, we became regulars at the Tuesday night beach series. The plusses for me was that paddling is low impact, it added in the balance & core element and is a real full body work out – as well the fact that the beach series is an all-out 30 min interval once a week! Much more fun than doing intervals on the bike at the gym….

I went pretty hard on the paddling back in the day, on the water 3-4 times a week, competing in Nationals, and eventually doing the SUP 11 City Tour – which is a 220km SUP race over five days in the Netherlands… Quite the experience in pain and pushing through!

Jo Aleh (in the blue hat) on the 11 City Sup tour 2015 , final day into Leeuwarden. from Furio on Vimeo.

Today, things are rather different… I have taken a break from competitive sport and I am working in an office five days a week. As a result my Tuesday night racing now means so much more to me, it is a much needed fitness session and a chance to get back out on the water – much less competitively, but having much more fun!

I have mostly given up on the competitive side of it, with Tuesday evening often being my only paddle session in a week, I now I race for the satisfaction of knowing I went all out and completed the longer 4km course (there is a shorter option but I was easily peer pressured into the 4km). It’s also a time to catch up with those people I used to paddle with, that I see around Takapuna all the time

– It’s about the community. I found it nothing but welcoming from the day I started, and it’s a massive part of why I keep paddling today.

Stand Up Paddlers Susannah Pyatt, Jo Aleh, Katrina Gavin, Kristin Percy, Victoria Stuart and Marlene Jackson Get Blue for Prostate Cancer at an Akarana Winter Series Race back in 2012.

I wish more people were willing to just come and give it a go, I tell sailors they should come down and have a go, and they worry that they will be too slow, or no good – But it’s just not about that… For me it’s about giving it a go, taking that time out of the week to do something for me, getting out on the water. Something I appreciate far more now that being out on the water every day is not my job.

What used to be all about the fitness is now a chance to get out into nature, with a bunch of fun people, get some fitness gains while you are at it, but most of all – to enjoy it.

Join Jo Aleh at the 2018 Hoe Toa NZ Paddle Champs – she’ll be riding bumps on the Magrette 16-20km Hoe Tawhiti and then charging in and out of the surf in the 4km Hoe Toa Technical.  As for the Teams Relay – well Olympic Gold medallists are pretty rare amongst our lot – who’s bidding?