World’s Oldest Extreme Sport

BY LINUS WOODS

Picture the scene.

4am: Alarm goes off. I wake up having slept for a few hours. Get dressed, down 2 cups of coffee that I made the evening before and a can of Red Bull. Ready to go.

4.10am: Get into the car and set off on a 4 hour drive to somewhere I have never heard of, to do something I have never done. This is my first trial in a sport that I thought I had dreamt up as a child. But this is not 20 years in the making. This moment was over 10,000 years in the making.

*Cue melodious harp music and fade into a daydream*

Many years ago, back when people lived in caves and enjoyed a good group hunt, then used to sit together for a meal in the evening around a big outdoor fire (we’ve not gotten far from our roots, I still love a good old BBQ), people used to partake in one on one contests. But I guess it’d be limited to running and fighting until better tools were made to compete with. I guess these were the origins of the oldest sports in the world; running, boxing, jumping etc. Welcome to the world of track and field events…and martial arts, namely boxing or more accurately just fighting. Humans as a species love a good competition, pitting skill, speed and strength against one another.

4:30am: Realise I am in well over my head and start to panic. Maybe I have had too much coffee.

4:46am: Realise the time and that I’ve hardly been on the road. More importantly there is so much farther to go. I need more coffee. Pop into motorway services, figure out the number of cup holders in my car. Stock up.

6am: Start to think about how old this sport is.

*cue more daydreaming*

As time progressed and tools/technology developed, so would opportunities for competitions. People would have gone from when single piece tools were made e.g. stick throwing (think super-ancient version of the javelin), to making slightly more complex tools like the axe. As complexity is the foundation of civilisation, so must it also be the foundation of sports. It’s pretty obvious we cannot enjoy a sport where the tools to partake do not exist. Even before the bow, the caber etc. there was the axe. As people some of us seem to have an innate will to compete with one another in almost everything possible. I have no understanding of why, but it’s just what we seem to do. So, with the invention of the axe there would have been axe competitions. Over time the tools would have developed more and more. Imagine how quickly they would have grown with the invention of metal blades and saws, I bet these competitions became common amongst those involved in forestry. (I am not involved in forestry. I am an outsider to this.)

6:47am…I am so lost. Pull over and sort out sat-nav.

6:49am: Glare at my sat-nav suspiciously. Is she telling me the truth this time?!

After spending too long staring at road surfaces and trying to drive through cities that I shouldn’t have been in in the first place, I finally got to the testing grounds at what seemed like a lovely agricultural college campus at an undisclosed secret location (Brooksby Melton College). Okay, I lied about it being a secret location.

Welcome to Stihl TIMBERSPORTS®…the original extreme sport. Stihl TIMBERSPORTS® is a modern, high speed, high intensity, competitive wood chopping and sawing competition that is growing in popularity every day (I kid you not it is really growing so quickly). Being the curious person I am, I thought I’d go check it out and see what all the fuss is about…thus the 4am wake up.

If this is the first you have heard of Stihl TIMBERSPORTS®, please pay attention, because this sport is hitting the big time. Sorry, I mean, The BIG TIME! The UK is in the fortunate position to be hosting the Stihl TIMBERSPORTS® World Championship this year in Liverpool. You heard me right. There is a World Championship. That means there must be championships in other countries too, right? Right! Although it is currently seen as being very niche and you’ll probably not know any of the competitors. But that won’t last for long. Much as how The World’s Strongest Man was very niche and we all know Eddie Hall (congratulations Eddie) and many of the other competitors, so it will be with Stihl TIMBERSPORTS® very soon. Household names and regional competitions will become well known.

One reason the sport is growing is the increased televisation. Last year, for example, the sport was featured on BBC’s Countryfile and The One Show.

With the growth of the sport and the increased TV exposure it’s getting, Stihl TIMBERSPORTS® is set and ready to become a household name.

8:30am: I turn up on location and find myself to be one of the larger people taking part in the Stihl TIMBERSPORTS® taster day. I am hyped to be here, let alone knowing I have a massive strength advantage. I am about a stone larger than the majority of other people here today, except one guy who was like 6’8”, but there’s always one. Pumped up on excitement and testosterone I am ready to find out what’s causing this sport to be so popular and more importantly to find out whether it’s really a sport or just a load of cavemen with axes trying to best one another.

We split into groups of 5 and head off to try the different disciplines. There are 6 disciplines in all, but we would only be trying 3 today. Apparently climbing up 12 feet in the air and swinging a razor sharp axe whilst standing on an unstable 6 inch wide plank of wood precariously wedged into a tree trunk, is not appropriate for beginners and people who have never swung an axe before. The events we would be trying were Single Buck, Stock Saw and Underhand Chop. I would be trying them in that order. If you don’t know what any of these are, nor did I. It’ll all be explained. Even though I didn’t know what they were…I was ready for them.

Single Buck is where you take a 6 foot long, razor sharp, 2 person saw, take off one of the handles and do it all by yourself. My high spirits sunk. Maybe I was not as ready for this as I first thought. The instructor, Rob, was showing us the technique and took his time sawing off a cookie (a disk of wood from a worryingly thick log). This sawing took him 20 to 22 seconds. It really couldn’t have been any longer than that. I later found out he can regularly chop them off in 16 seconds when competing.

You could probably visualise this kind of thing, but there is one thing you may have overlooked…imagine a 6 foot saw with hundreds of teeth. To maximise the cut, you need to get every tooth to run through the wood. So it became an issue of moving the saw the full 6 feet of its length. This is when the first “Why am I doing this?” moment occurred. Whilst the saw is held forward at full extension, I hesitated for a split second and the saw ‘dug in’. Picture yourself sawing a foot and a half log, but you’re in the kind of position cartoon characters are in when they are trying to keep a door closed, legs really wide apart, both hands as far forwards as possible. From this position you now have to argue with the saw because it decided it was going to stick into a log and you had to pull all 6 feet of the saw through the log from the worst position imaginable. One small mistake in your timing (like I had just made) and that saw was going nowhere. Rob just smiled “Welcome to TIMBERSPORTS®.”

After an hour of instruction that was all about technique + rhythm, and after we had all had a few test cuts to get the hang of it, I was ready for my timed run to cut off a cookie. Mentally I was aiming for a good time of around 30 seconds.

3…2…1…Go.

After a full minute of sawing with sweat pouring from my body I was the proud owner of…nothing. I was just over half way through the log. This required 100% technique, 100% rhythm, 100% power and 100% immense stamina. You lack one of them and you’re in a world of hurt. I was in a world of hurt.

After just over a minute and a half of whole body exhaustion and pain…I managed the full cut. Gasping for breath and having my muscles ache in a way I never knew possible I was experiencing TIMBERSPORTS® properly. The exhilaration, pain, dizziness, light headedness and a strange sense of euphoria made the experience surreal, beautiful and definitely addictive. I’m not sure whether the disk of wood hit the floor before I did, but all I knew was that it was over! The Single Buck hurt so much but for some unknown reason I loved it. I really do mean LOVED it. If someone asked me, whilst I was lying on the floor, if I’d like to pick up the saw and go for it, I certainly wouldn’t have said “No”…but I definitely would have begged for time to recover.

After a well-deserved lunch it was time for the next session to begin.

Next up was training for the Stock Saw. My first thought was “Not another saw! I’ve just eaten.” But thankfully this one had an engine! A STIHL® MS661 chainsaw, fresh from the box. This was a timed double cut. One cookie being cut going down the log, then another one pulling the saw back up through the log. Both cuts had to occur in a 10cm section of the log. The down cut was pretty easy, however the up cut was quite the opposite. The up cut was so hard for me and me alone. Why was nobody else struggling with this? I later found out that everyone else in my group worked in forestry and used chainsaws for around 8 hours a day every day. Even though I live and work in the countryside, my wife does not trust me near chainsaws, so my experience level is “I’ve seen one of those in a catalogue”. I even had to ask the instructor how to turn it on. After which I asked why the chain wasn’t moving. With that in mind, I still managed to end up in the middle of the group in regards to our timed cuts at the end of the session. All credit to the instructor there. Thanks Andrew. This was great fun and now a chain saw is definitely on the 2018 Christmas list.

A quick snack break and we were off to the final event.

Last up was the one I knew (thought) I was going to dominate. The Underhand Chop. Picture standing on a 75cm long, 30cm thick log, then swinging a massive axe to chop the log. Sound scary? Now imagine you are swinging this razor sharp super axe within an inch of your toes. In the words of the instructor “It will go through your shoes and feet like a hot knife through butter.” We all looked at the axe, then back at each other in a shared thought of “I’m not going first.” Thankfully we were given metal boots to wear, which kind of looked like they were a heavy duty version of a theatre costume for the tinman in a recent production of The Wizard of Oz.

After a quick size up of my nemesis, the log, and a quick few calculations, we were taught (definitely not a caveman’s calculations), as well as being shown how and where to mark the log to chop, I was ready. But the session was not ready for super-axe swinging. We went over more training and technique with fireman style axes (I thought these were pretty sharp! So the competition axe was now worrying me a little) and we were ready. This was it. This is what I had come to do. So I stand up on this log, I look at my tinman feet and I swing a razor sharp axe within an inch of my toes. Spike, the instructor, laughed. Was that an impressed laugh? He adjusted my technique and the next blow from the axe cut double what the first one did, with half the effort. I felt so stupid. My power advantage was zero. The event I thought I was built for was another one where I finished middle of the pack. Well, at least I was consistent.

Although I spent the day chopping wood using saws, chainsaws and axes, I was the one chopped down to size. I finished the day realising technique and determination were more important than power. Inevitably I went home exhausted, sweaty, body aching, my heart racing, and smiling from ear to ear! It was a fantastic day out and provided a whole new appreciation for Stihl TIMBERSPORTS®. It’s not just a fun competition with mates, although it can be that. These are certainly not cavemen swinging axes. These are athletes competing in an amazing sport. It’s also a serious sport with skill, power, agility, stamina and respect. Lots and lots of respect. To get to where the instructors are in regards to skill and fitness is a whole other world of dedication and training.

Although not yet a household competition in the UK, its growth is massive with more and more training sessions coming throughout the year and even the World Championship being held in Liverpool this year…do you think you have what it takes?

Tickets for the 2018 Stihl TIMBERSPORTS® World Championship, which takes place at the Echo Arena Liverpool on October 19-20, are available to buy now at www.echoarena.com

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