If you ever want to truly appreciate the vast chasm that separates professional athletes from the rest of us mere mortals, there’s nothing like a little firsthand experience to remind you of your relative place in the athletic hierarchy.
Early on in my writing career, back when I still fancied myself a halfway-respectable baseball player, I was offered a chance to participate in a home run derby with then-Marlins rookie phenom Giancarlo Stanton. He hit flatfooted, in jeans and Jordans. Spoiler alert: I didn’t win.
And I was reminded of that last week, while getting talked through the finer points of chopping through a massive log (preferably without taking out one or both of my legs) by two-time Canadian Timbersport champion Stirling Hart.
Timbersports may not get the same airtime on Sportscentre as the Big Four, but you’ve probably seen it on TV: a bunch of guys tearing up logs with chainsaws and axes, with arms nearly the size of the trees they’re slicing through. And if it looks relatively easy on TV, well, so does hitting a 90 MPH fastball.
That’s why Stihl assembled a group of media at a Toronto gym for the hands-on demo: to get a chance to see for ourselves just how demanding this sport actually is. Here’s what I learned from my walkthrough with Canadian Stihl Timbersports Champions Hart and Caitlin Carroll.
1. Timbersports goes way back.
The Stihl Timbersports series, basically the major leagues of logging, first started in the mid-‘80s. (Women were added to the tour three years ago, according to Carroll.) But the general concept has been around ever since the 1800s, when rival logging champs would challenge each other to crown the best lumberjack. Now, competitors from over 23 countries square off in an annual series of national and international events.
2. Yeah, Canada’s pretty good at this.
Hockey may boast the rep as this country’s national pastime, but it doesn’t get much more Canadian than lumberjacks. (Just ask Monty Python.) Led by Hart, Team Canada took home Silver in last year’s World Championships in Germany.
3. There’s six events total.
The athletes compete in six different disciplines, each with their own distinct challenges. Hart and Carroll demonstrated three:
1. The Single Buck
AKA cutting through a giant log using a giant saw.
2. The Stock Saw
Same idea, only with a chainsaw.
3. The Underhand Chop
Hacking at a tree trunk with an axe, while you’re standing on it, because these people are insane.
4. None of them are easy.
Watching Hart or Carroll rip a six-foot-long saw through a log in under 20 seconds makes this all look deceptively easy. But the same goes for Steph Curry nailing threes from ten feet beyond the arc. Seeing it on TV is one thing. Seeing it live is another. Trying it for yourself is… humbling.
5. These guys are serious athletes.
The Canadian champs may not have the name recognition (or multimillion endorsement deals) of a DeRozan or Bautista, but don’t confuse them for weekend warriors. Hart trains year round, and dude is lumber-jacked. “This sport is no different than any other sport,” explained Team Canada coach Gerry Rozo. “An athlete like Stirling Hart needs to prepare his body just as hard as any other elite athlete.”
6. Pulling a saw back and forth is way harder than it looks.
According to Carroll, there’s a reason why they call the six-foot crosscut saw “the misery whip.” One false move and you’re just yanking on the thing like an idiot. “If you’re having difficulty pulling the saw, it’s not the saw’s fault, it’s yours. It should be easy to pull,” Carroll told me. …This did not make me feel better.
7. There’s a trick to it.
I did pick up one helpful hint: a good way to get a breather when you’re gassed from pretending to be a lumberjack is to pretend you don’t know what you’re doing wrong, and ask for tips about your technique. (Presumably, you can’t do this during the actual competitions.)
8. Axes are sharp AF.
I’m aware that’s probably common knowledge, but we’re talking sharp enough to shave with, as Hart demonstrated by running the blade across his forearm. Before you switch from your regular razor, they’re also expensive – with a retail value of $800 CAD.
9. “Chainmail socks” are a product that exists.
I was told they’re to prevent you from accidentally sending said super-sharp axes through your toes and/or shin.
10. Apparently this is a legitimate concern.
And one I didn’t know about when I first agreed to cover this. “I’ve got 10 toes, but these axes are really expensive. So that’s my main motivation for not hitting my feet,” offered Hart. Again, this did not exactly help.
11. I’m picking up a battery-powered chainsaw for the zombie apocalypse.
The gas chainsaws were off-limits (wise move), making our toned-down Stock Saw demo feel a little like the adult version of those Power Wheels Porsches for kids. But A) turns out battery-powered chainsaws are surprisingly badass. And B) I still have all my fingers and toes.
12. I can be trusted with a chainsaw.
Believe me, no one is more surprised about this than me. (See above.)
13. I am never going to be a professional lumberjack.
According to Hart, it takes most competitors anywhere from 12-18 seconds to complete timbersports’ signature event, the underhand chop. It took me 10 minutes. To get through half a log.
14. I’m out of shape.
Or this shit is just really hard. Yeah, let’s go with the latter.