Logger sports, also known as timber sports, were invented in the logging
camps of British Columbia and the northern forests of the U.S. But today,
they're just as likely to be found on ESPN or at a major regional fair,
where hundreds of spectators gather to watch skilled athletes compete with
razor-sharp axes and saws.
A hundred years ago or more, when things got slow in the remote logging
camps of North America, the loggers engaged in a little friendly competition
to pass the time.
They'd see who could throw a double-bit axe with the most accuracy.
Or who could chop through a piece of wood fastest. Or who could climb to the
top of a pole the quickest.
Bev Wilson is the secretary manager for Orofino Celebrations Inc. That's
a logger sports show sanctioned by the American Lumberjack Association. "We're
trying to keep alive what they did in the old days," she says.
The roster of events reflects both the old and the new. There are two-person
events such as crosscut sawing and log rolling. And modern events like super-modified
chainsaws. Then there are traditional events such as axe throwing, tree climbing
and chair carving.
Some events are complex. During the springboard chop, contestants essentially
have to chop their way to the top of a piece of wood.
Forming notches as they go, they insert wooden planks into the wood. They
stand on the planks in order to cut a higher notch and insert a higher plank.
Plank by plank, they eventually reach the top!
Those same events make up some of the logger sports contests held during
the summer months. While logger sports are most common in areas where timber
is an important part of the economy, some of the athletes who take home the
prizes have never even seen a logging camp.
Top prizes at some fairs are $1,000. The Stihl Timbersports Series is a
traveling series of contests. It divides $100,000 in cash and prizes among
the best lumberjacks and lumberjills. Top competitors may also get endorsements.
In fact, the Stihl events and even some regional contests can draw competitors
from around the world. Australia and New Zealand have produced lots of young
logger sports talent.
However, most enthusiasts will tell you it's not about the money.
In fact, after traveling to and from shows, most of the money made is spent
before the lumberjacks even get home!
"For our world championship Jack and Jill sawing, first prize is $220 and
then it goes to $170 and [then] $120," says Wilson.
"It's not a money-making thing. People do it because they like to
do it. Some make a little bit of money, but they never make that much."
While fortune is hard to come by, fame is just around the corner for top
lumberjacks. "If you can get good enough, where you can do the really big
shows and get top honours, then you get on TV," says Wilson.
Professional lumberjacks travel from show to show. Professional logger
sportsman Karl Bischoff says he's often away from home.
"This summer we fly to New York, Tennessee and Maine. That's for the
Stihl series. Throughout the month of July, we just travel ... every weekend,
going to our shows."
Traveling can be time-consuming, but it doesn't have to cost much.
Lumberjacks are generally happy to squeeze another logger into the pickup
truck. "They throw in 10 bucks for gas and down the road we go," says Bischoff.
You can also save money by pitching a tent during the shows.
Most logger sports competitors and fans simply enjoy the thrill of competition
and the camaraderie among people who like the sport. Competitions are usually
held in areas where logging is an important industry or at major events, such
"I think the one big thing is the atmosphere of the whole thing," says
Wilson. "I mean, everybody just gets so excited....I think that's even
more important than the sport itself."
The pros usually come from a long line of lumberjacks. Local events often
feature teams made up of siblings, fathers, sons and daughters.
The original logging camps may have been made up of all men. But today's
logger sports include entire families. Everyone gets involved, from little
girls ("lumberjills") to weathered old men ("lumberjacks").
"We have two Jack sawyers and they started out when they were five and
seven. Their dad's done the circuit for quite a while and their mom does
axe throwing and sawing," says Wilson.
In addition to the serious professionals and easygoing amateurs, there
are many college teams for both men and women. Some teams travel across North
America to compete in logger sports events.
Most logger sports contests now require competitors to wear protective
gear such as special chaps that will stop a chainsaw chain. But the sport
is still considered very dangerous. The most common injuries are cuts to the
feet and legs from axes.
Be patient. Give yourself a chance to be a beginner before you're
swinging blades with the brawniest of loggers. Rushing your way into a sport
that involves heavy axes and the most powerful chainsaws in the world is not
wise. According to Bischoff, injuries are rare but severe.
Getting started in logger sports requires lots of practice. One of the
best events to start with is the axe-throwing contest. That requires a double-bit
axe -- they cost about $80 -- and a four-foot-wide target at which to aim
from 20 feet away.
But be warned: it can take thousands of throws before you become an expert
at this one event.
And if you get serious about the sport, you can expect to invest even more.
A good two-man crosscut saw, which is usually hand-sharpened by one of a handful
of North American experts, can cost around $1,000.
And a so-called "hot saw" -- chainsaws with motorcycle engines or engines
that run on jet fuel or alcohol -- can cost twice that amount.
Get to know someone involved in the sport. Most professional contacts and
show organizers are listed through the American Lumberjack Association. Lumberjacks
and lumberjills are renowned for their jovial personalities. They're
generally happy to lend a hand to newcomers.
Contact your local forestry division or the American Lumberjack Association
for upcoming workshops and local contacts.
Here is just a sample of schools that offer related training:
Texas Forestry Association
Pro Logger Accreditation Program
P.O. Box 1488
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Virginia SHARP Logger Program
American Lumberjack Association
North American Axeman's News
911 Somerset Dr.
North American Lumberjack Guide
Links to specific contests and world-record results
Indian River Olde Time Lumberjack Show
An exhibition of talented lumberjacks and jills
Stihl Timbersports Series
A big-money series of contests
Develop chainsaw smarts