By Katie Dahlstrom
Nearly 2,500 people watched as lumberjacks and jills delivered driving blows, bolted across floating logs and sent big chips flying Saturday during the third annual Lumberjack Festival.
“It’s the middle of summer. It’s hot. It’s what we do,” organizer and competitor Nancy Zalewski said.
While it was the third time that 30 axe-bearing and saw-slinging competitors battled outside the Sawmill Museum in Clinton, it was also a day of firsts and new opportunities.
The first ever U.S. title for the 16-inch, underhand chop, along with a $1,000 prize, went to Arden Cogar Jr., of West Virginia.
“It was very exhilarating for me to be able to cut against the top competitors here in North America,” he said. “Thank you to the Sawmill Museum for preserving the old-time lumberjack heritage, which is lumberjack sports that we are demonstrating today.”
Zalewski said the U.S. title competition is something new that was started to add a little kick to the day’s events.
“We’re trying to bring the sport around to find a new angle and find some new excitement in it for the competitors,” Zalewski said. “It’s kind of getting the competitors excited to cut something big and then you put some money on it and they all decide, ‘yeah, we’re going to train for this.’ And it’s fun for us to watch it.”
In the underhand chop, the competitor stands on a white pine log. At the signal, he starts chopping through the log with an ax. Once halfway through, he will turnaround and make the same cut until the log is chopped in half. The 16-inch underhand requires competitors to cut through a bigger log than they’re used to, which means more time chopping.
“It takes a little bit more lung capacity. Those guys don’t cut over, what, 30 seconds,” Arden’s wife, Kristy Cogar, said. “Women, we’re used to a minute.”
“Girls cut for a minute and for us it’s like ‘whatever,’” Zalewski said. ‘
Water events also made their Clinton debut on Saturday as professional and amateur log rollers and boom runners competed in a 10,000-gallon tank. Log rolling is a competition to see which of two competitors can balance on a rolling, floating log the longest. In boom running, the athlete runs across a line of floating logs.
Jamie Fischer, of Minnesota, has been logrolling and boom running for 28 years.
“It was tradition for me. My great-grandfather worked in the mills. My grandfather started logrolling as the first one to compete. It moved down through the family generations and I picked up a couple of events from my father,” Fischer said.
Fischer was joined by Nate Greenberg and Tyler Berard. The professionals weren’t the only ones running on a log while trying to knock their competitor down; festival attendees also got their chance to try the sport.
Competitors from across the world came to compete Saturday ranging from some of the current champions to those who continue on for the love of the timber sports.
Rick Halvorson and his wife, Penny, of Wisconsin, have been competing for 32 years. This was their second year at the Lumberjack Festival.
They started at a small lumberjack event near their home town. After that event came a stockpile of lumberjack tools, more events and eventually world championships for both husband and wife.
“We just kept going and soon I was going to Hayward to the world championships. I was hoping to get into the finals of one event. That was my goal when I started. I kept improving and the next thing I know, I’m in the finals of all the events and in ‘92 I was the overall world champion,” he said.
Although Rick says they’re mostly retired, the Halvorsons still compete and have turned some of their attention to training their granddaughter, Alyssa Berg, how to hold her own cutting through a 16-inch white pine log.
“I always was interested. I thought it would be cool to give it a try,” Berg said.
For Berg, competing at the Lumberjack Festival in Clinton gives her a chance to hone her skills so that one day she can be a world title holder like her grandparents.
“Every show gives me more experience,” she said.