Just to cut to the chase, yes, the Stihl Timbersports Competition is, indeed, the manliest sport in the world.
How could it not be when all six disciplines that make up Stihl Timberpsorts involve chainsaws, hot saws, and axes, and begin and end with wood-chips and saw dust flying, massively muscled arms moving faster than your eyes can take it all in, and the deafening roars of a crowd who are there to see some of the finest lumberjacking in the world. What makes this competition even more manly is that, well, it’s made up mostly of men in their prime. This isn’t a sport for young bucks–most competitors don’t hit their stride until their mid-thirties and some into their early-forties. So this is decidedly for the men, not the boys.
And one of those men, Matt Cogar has been the reigning champ for five years in a row. Looking more like The Mountain from Game of Thrones than a pitiful normal human, Matt Coger is just the latest of the Cogar clan to make his name in the Timbersports world. His cousin, Arden Cogar, Jr. (who is also a trial lawyer!) is an ardent Timbersports competitor as well as his own father, Arden Cogar, Sr. (who made the Timbersports final at the age of 60 in 1994), and Matt Cogar’s father Paul. Hailing from the forests of West Virginia, the Cogars are the unofficial first-family of Timbersports and seeing any one of them compete is a chance to watch true experts in their field.
The six intense disciplines for the Stihl Timbersports Competitions are:
Perhaps the most iconic of the disciplines, the single buck requires contestants to use a long saw weighing between 15 and 18 pounds to cut through a 19-inch in diameter piece of white pine. Most competitors can do this in around 11-12 seconds. Our own attempts cocked in at over a minute, so trust us when we say it’s so much harder than it looks.
The most traditional looking event in the competition involves contestants using axes to chop through a vertically oriented 12-inch in diameter white pine log. While this event may look like a bunch of guys swinging baseball bat style at a chunk of wood, there’s a very nuanced method to getting that wood chopped in half in the fastest time. It involves first cutting one side at an upward angle and then the other at a downward one, until the final blow completely severs the top of the block, often knocking it a dozen feet downstage. This event is hands-down one of the most extreme high-intensity anaerobic exercises a person could do.
Using the second-most powerful saws that Stihl builds, the Stihl MS660 chainsaws, the stock saw event requires competitors to start their saws and cut down, and then cut up in the four inches of wood allotted. It’s that simple. But the simplicity of the event belies its true difficulty–cuts can go at an angle, creating wood discs of “cookies” that aren’t the same thickness throughout, or that have thinned at one edge to the point of being incomplete. The goal is to cut two wood cookies of stable width in the fastest time. Since this discipline features equivalent machines, the competitors speed and skill are the determining factors in who wins this race. Most times for individual competitors are separated by less than a second.
The most visually frightening of the events, the underhand chop requires competitors to plant their feet firmly on three foot long log and swing their axe from above their head directly between their feet to cut half way through the log before turning around (without touching the ground) and chopping through the other side until the log splits in half. As Stihl says, “The underhand chop mimics how early lumberjacks would cut fallen logs to length in the woods and is usually the first chopping discipline a competitor learns.” Times for this event come in at a mere 20 seconds.
One of the most exciting (and dangerous disciplines–mostly due to falls), the springboard chop requires the competitor to first chop with an ax a notch at around belly-button height into a nine foot poll, insert a springboard into the notch, climb up onto that springboard, and then chop another above and repeat. Once both springboards have been chopped and inserted and the competitor is standing on the top one (about six feet above the ground), he’ll chop at the final log. The event is over when the top log has been cut through and knocked to the ground. Times for the springboard chop typically clock in at just around one minute.
The loudest and craziest of the disciplines, the Hot Saw ends every Timbersports competition and frequently makes or breaks the competitors due to the individual hot saw’s fickle nature. Using a modified chain saw where the only thing remaining from the chain saw is the chain itself, this beasts of machines are more often than not hand-built using 250-350cc two-stroke engines that began life powering a dirt bike or snow machine. The goal of this discpline is to fire up the hot saw (which doesn’t always happen immediately since these machine function on the “ragged edge” of maximum power) and make a down cut, up cut, and a final down cut in around five seconds. The hot saw is also the most expensive piece of equipment, with some costs coming in at $10,000.
Thanks to Duluth Trading Company, which sponsors the event and outfits all the competitors in their amazingly durable (and protective) Duluthflex Firehose Work Pants, we were able to attend this year’s competition in Milwaukee, Wisconsin which also took place during the city’s Germanfest. I can tell you from personal experience that there’s nothing better than drinking a massive stein of Leinenkugel’s while watching real-life lumberjacks do battle with saws that make your local tree-trimming company look like children. And doing it all in Duluth Trading’s Armachillo underwear kept me cool under the hot Midwestern Sun. Similar to the company’s Buck Naked underwear, the Armachillo line is infused with crushed jade to naturally cool your nether regions. It’s comfort meets cool in the best of ways.
The 2017 Stihl Timbersports Competition will air on ABC in October.