LEHI No one knows for sure how it all started, likely one lumberjack challenged another to chop through a log, then one camp challenged another ... and today, chopping and sawing events are a worldwide sport.
The best modern-day lumberjacks in the world will be at Thanksgiving Point on Friday and Saturday to compete in the Stihl Timbersports series, one of the activities in the Wild Outdoors Festival.
Official lumberjack competition started in 1927 in Germany. It came to the United States in 1974 and became the Stihl series in 1985, the same year ESPN began airing competitive events.
"Now we have athletes from all over the world competing. This year we probably have the largest international field. We have athletes from the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, to name just a few of the country," said Roger Phelps, promotions communication manager for Stihl.
"We'll have two events here in the United States, at Thanksgiving Point and in Ohio, and events in 18 different countries. Then we'll hold the World Championships in Ireland."
There will be 32 athletes competing in the six chopping and sawing events, 10 in what is called the "boom" run and 10 in a climbing event.
Boom run. Here women run over seven logs tied together in a 70-foot pool of water, "which is what loggers had to do in rivers when there was a log jam," said Phelps.
Speed climb. Athletes will climb a 60-foot tree in less than 18 seconds to be competitive.
Underhand chop. Athletes will stand on a log and chop through it.
Standing block chop. Athletes will chop through a log standing vertically.
Springboard chop. Athletes will cut notches in a 9-foot pole, then place boards in the notches in order to climb up and chop through a log on top of the pole ... "which is similar to what loggers had to do in order to get to a point where the tree was thin enough to saw through," said Phelps.
Stock saw. Two athletes will use identical Stihl saws to cut through a 16-inch log twice.
Single buck saw. Athletes use a long saw with razor-sharp teeth to cut through a 19-inch log.
Hot saw. This is the high-performance event. Competitors build their own power saws, many times using a snowmobile engine that runs on alcohol, with a monster chain, to cut through a 19-inch log three times in around six seconds.
Jason Wynyard of New Zealand, a seven-time champion and professional competitor, was on hand earlier this week to demonstrate the various logging skills.
He will compete in all six of the chopping and sawing events. His training program involves practicing all six.
"It used to be I could specialize in two or three and not even compete in the others and still make the finals. Now I have to be proficient in all six and do well in all six to make the finals," he said.
He said he was drawn to logging by following his father, a top ax-man, to competitive events in New Zealand. He said he got serious about the sports at the age of 14 and has been competing for more than 20 years, 12 of those in the U.S.
The axes he uses, both heads and handles, come to him as blanks. He then customizes them to fit his style and grip. Where most athletes swing a 6 1/4- to 6 1/2-pound ax, he chooses to go with a 7- to 7 1/2-pound ax, "that requires more strength to swing but carries more momentum. You have to go with an ax that suits your strength and body weight."
Logs for this event come from a commercial tree grower.
Competition will begin with qualifying Friday at 9:30 a.m. and competition starting at 1 p.m. On Saturday, qualifying begins at 10:30 a.m. and competition at 1 p.m.
Other festival events including a fishing pond for kids, campfire cooking, archery fun shoots, clinics on packing into the backcountry by horse and guitar competition.Tickets to the festival and lumberjack competition are $15 for adults and $10 for children ages 3 to 12. For information visit www.wildoutdoorsfestival.com or www.stihltimbersports.com.