True Story: I’m A Competitive Lumberjack

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things.  This is the story of Nate and his job performing all over America at Lumberjack shows.


Tell us a bit about yourself! 
I grew up and currently reside in Stillwater. In my 32 years I’ve lived in three states and have set foot in no fewer than 25 countries. I keep taking my earnings from every summer and blowing it on travel to places that the department of state insists will result in my untimely death at the hands of swarthy men who hate ‘merika. I head west to snowboard and mountain bike a couple times a year. I also enjoy long walks on the beach.
How did you get into competitive lumberjacking? 
A friend was looking for people to train for a lumberjack show that his dad was putting together. At the age of 19 I learned to logroll. Next thing I knew I was traveling the country entertaining small town America.
What are the different areas of competition? And which area is your strongest? 
The basic areas of competition are water events (log rolling, boom running) Climbing, and chopping/ sawing (axes, cross cut saws and chainsaws) I specialize in the water events.
How do you train for these competitions? 
I run a lot. I’ve run every day single day since January 1 2012. Running is great conditioning no matter what sport you do and you can do it anywhere. What I can’t do just anywhere is logroll and boom run. During the summer I spend a fair amount of time doing both of these several times a day, several days a week while performing in lumberjack shows. During the winter I volunteer at the YMCA in Hudson, WI teaching kids to logroll. After class I can usually sneak in an hour of practice.
Can you tell us about an average day during competition season? 
The season runs April- November and 99% of my time as a lumberjack is spent entertaining people while pretending to compete. Wednesday or Thursday I’m driving to some far-flung rural community somewhere between the Canadian border and the republic of Texas.
After arrival, the real work is setting up the equipment for the All American Lumberjack Show. Thursday- Sunday is the fun part. That’s when the shows take place. I’ll get up around the 11:30 so I throw on the standard issue plaid flannel and jeans and make my way out for a noon show, one of three shows for the day. That show will consist of me “competing” against another lumberjack in four events. The MC will provide folksy commentary and officiate the “competition.”
The first event will be the obstacle pole race. A narrow tapered log about 16 feet long is propped up so one end is on the ground and the other is about 5 feet in the air. You sprint up the log, chainsaw in hand, and cut a slab off the end, inches from your toes, then sprint back down. Doing this hungover is an advanced maneuver and not recommended.
Next: axe throwing. Throw a double bit axe (double edge) at a target. Bullseye is worth 5, next circle 4 etc. Take three throws and highest score wins. Easy. Third event: hot saw race. A hot saw is a chainsaw that is modified to run as fast as possible. Generally these are snowmobile engines converted into a Frankensteinesque chainsaw. On GO! you cut off three cookies (slabs) fast as possible. Even giant pieces of wood are finished in seconds.
The last event for this hypothetical competition is boom run . This is a water event where perfectly round cedar logs floating in a 10,000 gallon pool are tied end to end to prevent them from floating away but still loose enough to move freely. The competitor sprints one way across the logs creating large waves and making the logs spin and bounce wildly. Once across you turn around a post and sprint back across the now wildly unpredictable logs and hope like hell you don’t miss a step or worse, fall and end up in the splits.
It would be easy enough to make dry runs every time, but no one wants to watch us make it look too easy. The first run will be a slow, but dry run. The second run a dramatic fall, possibly involving doing the splits on a log, and the last run will be an all out sprint actually trying to post a fast time. As we are running in soaking wet blue jeans and flannel by this point, it can be a bit tricky to put up blazing times but I assure you that it is entertaining.
By now all the kids in the audience have made up their minds that they too will become lumberjacks and sprint across floating logs. After the show we encourage these future lumberjacks and lumberjills to grab a chunk of wood from the show and get it autographed by the soggy woodsmen who just preformed for them. This is repeated with four new events at 3:00 and then again at 5. The same kids are at every single show end up with 9 slabs of autographed pine by the end of the weekend.
What’s included in the prize packages at these events?
Not much. Top prize at the world championships is less than a grand. The t-shirts are pretty bitchin’ though.
Do you have a ‘day job’? 
I make ends meet with my earnings from shows during the summer. But with my wanderlust I have to save as much money as I can so I do what I can to save a buck here and there. Lots of thrift shopping and doing my own car maintenance. I’ve been driving the same Saturn for over 10 years now. What can I say? Its a glamorous life.
How do your friends and family feel about your career choice? 
Everyone is very supportive. I think they know I’d lose my mind working a normal job.
Do you plan to do this long-term? 
I planned to do this as a summer job in college and I’m 32 now. I’ve become trapped in a vicious cycle of lumberjacking all summer and international travel all winter. Its a great life but my body won’t hold up forever and I fear that some point I’ll have to assimilate to the real world. I’ve dabbled in actual work before including leasing manager for an apartment in buffalo, NY, and Team Leader for the grocery dept of a Target store. Those weren’t the right fit at the time. Every time I think its time to grow up I’ll go and get a real job only to realize I have to show up the same place at the same time every day and start to slowly lose my soul until I come to my senses and go back to the lumberjack gig.
What advice would you give to someone who’s interested in lumberjacking? 
Check out the Hudson Y Tuesday or Thursday nights Sept-May and give logrolling a try. We have great coaches and a great community.Thanks for sharing your story, Nate!  Do you guys have any questions for him?


photo by matt magnum, cc

4 Comments

Nicole

That's really cool! I had no idea there was such a thing, I must not be going to the right festivals. I congratulate you on having an awesome job that lets you travel half the year.

Reply
Mariko

I'm actually a little sad to learn that "competitive lumberjacking" is actually a sham. The lumberjack games were always my favourite part of the fair.

Reply
Samantha Kimble

Wow I didn't know this was a thing at fairs. I'm feeling a little cheated. All we had were demolition derbies and tractor pulls. Now I wonder if they were a sham too.

Reply

Leave a comment