SPORTS

Slash, Burn, Chop ‘N’ Saw: Getting the Buzz on Timbersports

4/12/2006

American lumberjack legend, Mel Lentz, yanks a cord and cranks up his 066 Magnum. He gently places it on the ground, the chain still whirring hungrily.



American lumberjack legend, Mel Lentz, yanks a cord and cranks up his 066 Magnum. He gently places it on the ground, the chain still whirring hungrily. Lentz’ hands move to the ready position on top of the wood and as the starter counts backwards from three, his muscles tense with anticipation of the sprint ahead. When the countdown ends, chips fly into the air as Lentz’ screaming saw slices down deep into the log, then comes back up seamlessly 11.26 seconds later. The cut time is good enough for Lentz to take the stock saw event at the Ducks Unlimited Great Outdoor Festival in Oshkosh Wisconsin.

It’s 4:30 a.m. when this ESPN broadcast airs via the Outdoor Life Network (the STIHL Timbersports series can also be seen on TSN in Canada). It’s by far the coolest thing on in the wee hours of the morning—the only problem is it’s hard to tell if you’re watching the current tour or a rerun. Even the lumberjacks themselves have trouble with this. “When I catch a Timbersports championships episode I've got to watch about half of it to figure out the year," Dave Jewett, a popular Jack told the Rochester Democrat.

However, the ambiguity can be forgiven when the product is this top notch. Thirty-Two of the best axemen in the world compose the Timbersports field, the top sixteen of which qualify to lug their axes and saws to Championships in July. Now in its twenty-first season on ESPN, with sponsorship on the rise and media coverage increasing, the sport is more popular than ever. It’s about time Timbersports cut away from the fringe.

Watching axemen, ( a term used to connote respect in the sport), like Jamie Cogar, 35, a malpractice lawyer who participates in about fifteen lumberjack events a year and holds multiple chopping titles is what makes Timbersports truly prime hangover viewing.

Built like the Michelin Man with tree trunk arms and a barrel for a chest, this gorilla of a West Virginian is not only a masterful chopper and sawyer but he can also dead-lift 700lbs.

Cogar is a one-man wrecking crew with or without steel in his hands, but it’s his mental agility, not his brute strength, that allows him to glide through blocks of white pine with blistering speed and scalpel-like precision. Cogar’s best event is the Standing Block Chop where competitors race to hack through 12-14 inches of vertical wood.

“It’s all about timing. It’s much like hitting a golf ball,” Cogar explains. Just as golfers make adjustments to add distance on their woods, lumberjacks work on their cut techniques to shave precious milliseconds off their times. Cogar incorporates Fa Jing, an explosive form of Tai Chi into his training regimen in order to hone his chopping and sawing form.

“My Sensei has taught me how to bring my energy from my feet all the way through my body, out my hands through the ax handle and to the ax head,” says Cogar, who also performs Bagua exercises before competitions to stabilize his body and achieve inner peace.

Other lumberjacks have their own ideas on how to improve their game. “Mostly to train for the sport you have to do the sport. Some of the best competitors don’t work out at all, they work hard during their life,” says Mike Slingerland, known on the lumberjack circuit as the Professor because he never answers any question with “I don’t know.”

Asked if a tree falls in an empty forest and no one is around to hear it fall, does it make a sound? His expert reply: “It does make a sound…Timberrrrrrrr!

At 41, Slingerland, would be at the twilight of his career in most sports but in Timbersports he figures he’s at least got another ten or twelve good years left in him.

“The nice thing about Timbersports is that it’s a lifetime sport. I’ve seen eighty year-old men do it,” he says. Of course, Slingerland’s a pediatric physical therapist by day, so he does have something to fall back on, in the event that trees stop taking the hit for him.

For his part, Cogar is aging like whiskey and figures he’ll eventually overtake perennial New Zealanders David Bolstad and Jason Wynyard who have been dominating the sport of late

Unspoiled by the trappings of most professional sports, the rugged athletes who compete in Timbersports strive to be the best solely for the sake of being the best, anything else that comes with that is bonus. Purse money is gradually getting better but even the top lumberjacks still don’t get rich off the sport.

“I’ll almost always spend as much or more than I make. I might win $10 or $20 thousand [in a year] but I’ll spend at least that much on travel,” admits Slingerland.

“You look at what the golfers are making or even the rodeo cowboys, and our sport is really lagging behind. It’s unfortunate that there is not a potential right now to make six figures,” he adds.

But wherever the money is heading Timbersports is in healthy hands and the future is looking good.

“I have a little one that shows a lot of promise because she’s as mean as a blacksnake—but don’t write that,” says Cogar. If this little Lumber Jill has got half of Daddy’s spirit, she’ll have the world by her axe handle.


LEARNING TO CHOP

Standing Chop
Axemen put their homerun swings on full display in this simulation of felling a tree. Competitors wield extremely sharp axes (customized for attacking specific wood types) to hack away at 12-inch blocks from both sides.
For a Good Time: 17-19 seconds

Underhand Chop
Recalling the days when woodsmen had to use their axes to “buck” a fallen tree into smaller more manageable sections, this chopping event requires axemen to mount a block of wood with one end secured and the other loose. Then they chop down toward their feet cutting half way through the front side of a 13” block before turning around to hammer away at the other side.
For a Good time: 15 to 18 seconds

Springboard
Athletes use two springboard placements to climb to the top of a nine foot pole and then chop a 12-inch diameter block from the top. The block must be chopped from both sides.
For a Good Time: 45 to 60 seconds.

Stock Saw
In this truest test of sawing power Competitors operating identical 5.59 cubic inch (91.6cc) STIHL 066 Magnum chain saws make two cuts in a 16 inch diameter block. The competitor is allowed 4” of wood to make both cuts (one down and one up). Each “wood cookie” as the cutouts are called must be 360-degree disks or else the competitor will be disqualified.
For a Good time: 11-13 seconds

Hot Saw
Like hotrods, hot saws are custom chain saws (often made from snowmobile engines) that run on high-octane gas, jet fuel, or alcohol. For this event, each cut can only be six-inches deep, and three must be made: one down, one up and another one down.
For a Good time: 6 or 7 seconds

Single Buck “The Confetti Spraying Contest”
It's the inevitable confetti-sprayhing contest. Using a cross cut saw, competitors push and pull the teeth of their manual saws through an 18-to-20 inch block until they’ve severed the wood. A helper is allowed to wedge as well as spray lubricant on the saw.
For a Good time: 10-12 seconds

Copyright © Mike Dojc, 2006

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