Inside the world of timber sports, with the SUNY-ESF Woodsmen

first_img Published on October 22, 2018 at 12:38 am Contact Kaci: [email protected] A crowd of people stood around a rectangle of yellow caution tape. Inside, people hammered pieces of wood upright into platforms. Heather Morris, a member of the SUNY-ESF Woodsmen, and part of the women’s A team, revved her chainsaw to life. The sound overpowered the music playing in the distance as she approached the wooden block.“Competitor, are you ready?” the timer asked Morris. She nodded and began to slice.For one day in October, the grassy field across from the Nice N Easy in Tully becomes the home field for the SUNY-ESF Woodsmen team. Morris, a senior, is one of more than 25 members on the squad, which competes three to four times a semester. Athletes participate in singles, doubles and team events to earn points and help their respective teams win. Events include the fire build, cookie stack and hard hit. Saturday’s first-place finish for the women and second place for the men’s A teams came in the only home meet SUNY-ESF hosts all year, which gathered schools from across the northeast.“I was just looking at schools for lacrosse and I was looking at ESF and I was like do they have a lacrosse team and I was like nope but they have a timber sports team, that’s cooler,” Juliana Ofalt, a women’s A team member, said.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textLauren Miller | Asst. Video EditorFor more than 100 years, timber sports have been a part of the SUNY-ESF athletic scene. It started out as the forestry club, coach and former SUNY-ESF woodsmen team member Pat Craner said, before separating into its own team. In 2010 it became formally recognized by the school as a Division III sport, with most competitions more than two hours away.At the meets, the SUNY-ESF Woodsmen team is split into smaller teams of six — the men’s and women’s A teams, a men’s B team and the Jack and Jill team (men and women). About 15 teams in the Northeast partake in events with SUNY-ESF.Some are club teams and others receive limited funding. This results in some events running more efficiently than others. At some meets, wood sizes vary, announcers and judges aren’t up to par and times are misreported.For SUNY-ESF’s competition, Nathan Waterfield, a professional in timber sports, milled the wood. That’s the hardest part about planning the event, head coach and former Woodsmen athlete Sarah Murphy said, because competition requires barkless wood, so it doesn’t dull the saws. They use softwood like red pine and aspen as opposed to hardwoods like maple trees, because hardwoods tend to have more knots and aren’t preferable for blades.But finding wood, saws and other tools required for the sport is difficult, members of the women’s A team said. There are only a few people in the United States who know how to make the saws required, which create expensive products that take a long time to get. A single buck saw, which SUNY-ESF won as a prize after totaling the highest combined score between the men and women’s A teams, typically costs between $1,500 and $2,000.The wait time to receive different types of saws varies between six months and five years. For the high price and long wait times, the saws only last for 20 competitive uses and another 20 practice uses.“The way that we’ve been taught is that a lot of people can only saw with one person and one type of saw,” Eliza Phillips, the head steward of the Woodsmen, said. “But we’ve been trained to saw with many different types of people and different types of saws.”SUNY-ESF used the bow saw as well as the single buck saw during Saturday’s competition, which included more than 10 events.The morning portion of the meet consisted of individual events such as cookie stack and hard hit.It was in cookie stack that Morris readied her chainsaw. She cut the block horizontally, creating slices of wood – a cookie. The goal is to keep the pieces of wood stacked on top of each other while slicing them with a chainsaw. Alternating the sides she sliced from, Morris cut pieces in thicknesses varying from a CD to a VHS tape. Her precision with the chainsaw earned nine cookies, with none falling on the ground.In hard hit, Woodsmen president Ben Karlson braced himself on top of a horizontal log with a razor-sharp ax in hand. A black X on the top of the log guided each competitor. In one of the few events not timed, Karlson broke logs in as few strokes as possible. Each thud of the ax burying itself into the wood was followed by the ringing of the chainmail protective gear Karlson had strapped to his shins and feet as protection against the ax. Chunks of wood flew out of the growing notch and after 12 strikes facing one way, he turned to break open the other side. The two notches met in the middle after 27 hits, and the log broke in two.The chainmail, a knight-like metal piece of armor, covered Karlson’s shins to keep them safe during competition. During events with chainsaws, competitors wear bright orange chaps and goggles. In some events that require chopping wood, such as fire building, they wear metal booties that cover the competitor’s shoes and shins.Injuries aren’t completely preventable, though. When Murphy was an athlete on the team, a friend of hers didn’t put his chainmail on correctly. It slipped off his foot while he was participating in a chopping event. The ax split through his shoe, hitting his foot.No one was hurt on Saturday, though the team events provided a different danger. During fire build, each duo had one cookie, half a log, two tools (axes, knives, etc.), three matches and a charred can filled with soapy water. The objective: Construct a fire hot enough to boil the liquid.Teams chopped the wood and created their flammable formations on circular cookies of wood. As the fire grew, the competitors placed the can of soapy water on top and blew on the flames.Spectators yelled to the competitors: “You don’t need eyebrows, get in there. They’ll grow back.”As the heat rose, boiling water followed suit. For the winners, it took less than three minutes. Once the competitors were done, their fires were dumped into a large barrel in the middle of the competition space. The scent of bonfire filled the air.“It means a lot to have it right here on our home turf and have schools come to us,” Murphy said.By the time the final event finished, piles of wood shavings covered the grass. The breakdown of the competition field commenced. Members of the SUNY-ESF woodsmen team shoveled the shavings into wheelbarrows until the grass was visible again.Leaving their home stadium an empty field, the SUNY-ESF Woodsmen team will return back to their practice clearing in the woods. There’s more wood to chop. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more