Stihl Timbersports World Championships – Victoria Times Colonist

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A 23-year-old man from Port McNeill who builds logging roads for a living will travel to Austria in May to represent Canada in a logging championship.

Thomas Symons flies to Vienna in May on his first trip to Europe.

The Port McNeill man doesn’t go to the Austrian city for the music of Mozart and Strauss, however, nor for the palaces, museums or sacher torte.

The 23-year-old, who helps build logging roads for a living, will be in a more familiar space, where the roar of chainsaws and the smell of fresh sawdust fill the air. Indeed, his luggage will include at least two axes.

Symons is heading to the Stihl World Timbersports Championships – sponsored by the German company that makes chainsaws and other power tools – after being named in February to represent Canada at the Rookie World Championship, scheduled for May 27. The recruits are 25 and younger.

He’s thrilled to represent Canada, something he says every little kid dreams of doing, whether it’s hockey, curling or even lumber sports — or lumberjack sports, as they’re more commonly known. commonly in Canada. “I don’t even know if it’s felt yet.”

The rookie competition is followed by the World Championship, where Marcel Dupuis of Memramcook, NB, will represent Canada.

Symons was selected based on past performances and consultation with coaches, said Cassy Melnike, spokesperson for Stihl Timbersports Canada, noting that Canada suspended last year’s competitions due to the pandemic.

Athletes will compete in five disciplines over a two-hour period, she said. The first-place winner takes home 4,000 euros, or nearly $5,500 Canadian.

Lumberjack sports are an integral part of many BC communities. While some annual competitions have disappeared, others continue in towns with a logging history, including Port McNeill, Campbell River, Powell River, Duncan, Port Alberni and Squamish.

Despite some difficult years over the past few decades, forestry remains an important economic driver and employer on northern Vancouver Island and throughout the province.

Port McNeill Mayor Gaby Wickstrom says Lumberjack sporting events are “extremely important”. “It reflects our heritage,” she says. “In the summer when they have lumberjack sports, it’s wonderful to be able to go watch the competition and cheer on the favorites in town.”

Symons’ mother, Ann Marie Baron, says local groups from other sports or activities will help organize a special sporting event for the loggers.

Symons, six feet tall and weighing 200 pounds, is a familiar face at many of these events as he travels to various communities to compete.

Growing up in Port McNeill, where about 2,300 people live, he was active in sports like hockey and curling, he says. But it was in lumberjack sports that he really found his stride.

“Winning a hockey game was awesome and I’ll never forget a lot of the experiences I had. But it’s another thing when you physically hit a block and it bursts and you break that block on your last hit,” he says.

Symons got hooked on logging sports in 8th grade after trying it at Roger Briscoe’s in Port McNeill. Briscoe’s daughters Dawn and Allison are also competing and Symons has joined the family training regimen.

“I had my first day and I never really stopped,” he says.

Briscoe, who coached the group, is an accomplished lumberjack athlete who has traveled to New Zealand and Switzerland to compete. He also judges locally.

“The most important thing for Thomas was that he was interested and passionate,” says Briscoe. “And he would accept coaching and listen to what needs to be done to improve.”

From the start, “he loved it,” Briscoe says.

He says Symons’ strength is an asset in the underhand cutting discipline, which simulates cutting down a fallen tree. Competitors stand on a block of wood positioned horizontally and cut a 32 centimeter log with an axe. “He was a strong kid to start with and he kind of embraced that.”

He also does well in the stock saw race, where finesse and body movement are key. In this case, a chainsaw is used to cut two “biscuits” or discs of wood to a specified thickness from a horizontal shaft truck.

Baron thinks Symons likes the challenge. “He just likes to figure things out.”

Symons doesn’t have a favorite discipline but likes that sport means he’s “always learning, trying to develop more. Push yourself further, right? »

He tries to bring a positive attitude to every contest, making the most of every experience, saying, “I’m not racing the guy next to me. I run myself.

When Symons gets a good block of wood, he thinks about how fast it can go and how smooth he can cut it.

Even if he doesn’t win, he will look for something that went well. This was perhaps a particularly difficult block to cut and he will review how he approached it. “There’s always something to be happy about, isn’t there? »

No block – or tree – is the same. But he definitely has his preferences when it comes to blocks. “Dry and hard is no fun. This is where you build your calluses,” he says happily.

Lumberjack sports are more technical than some people think. “It’s not like chopping a piece of firewood. There’s a lot of thought behind what you do,” says Symons.

As well as requiring strength and speed, “there’s quite a bit of science behind it.”

Briscoe says physics, kinesiology, body mechanics and movement all play a role. “You want to swing the ax to generate the most speed, the most power, and the most efficiently so you can land your next hit quickly.”

Competitors must consider how to hold the equipment, how they move their body and the timing of their movements.

Good equipment is essential.

The gear going to Vienna with Symons includes an ax that was a graduation present from his mother and stepfather, and another $900 ax that was specially ordered from New Zealand with a particular grind to improve the cup.

Symons does not wear steel-toed boots. Instead, he wears soft, flexible shoes with chainmail protection on his feet and shins.

Flexible shoes provide a better feel for the boulder if he’s standing on it, he says.

“You have more versatility in where you can put your feet… I know some guys who wear steel toes. Just for me, it’s awkward.

Before the competition, Symons follows a rigorous training program. He builds forest roads 10 hours a day and after dinner he goes out to train.

He will spend three hours a night training with coach Nick Russell, whose accomplishments include finishing fourth while representing Canada at the 2017 World Championships in Lillehammer, Norway.

If he’s not training with Russell, Symons does two-hour workouts at the gym.

But he’s not complaining.

Baron thinks he has such a great work ethic because he grew up in a small town where kids go with their parents to volunteer in the community and take care of whatever needs to be done. “We can’t wait for someone to tell you what needs to be done.”

Wickstrom has known Symons for many years and says she does not recall ever seeing him in a bad mood or angry. “He really is a really wonderful and polite young man.”

Briscoe agrees, calling him “a very likeable, very upbeat guy.”

“It’s a feather in his cap for doing something the average person can’t do.”

Baron said his son, who coached young kids in hockey, has the support of every athlete and judge involved in lumberjack sports.

Once an event is over, “they come back and they look at how well you chopped. What could you have done better? What could you have done different? Hey, have you ever thought about that ?

She imagines Symons 20 years from now, stepping into the shoes of the most experienced athletes and “teaching this next group of people how to do it.”

As for Symons, if he has enough time, he is looking forward to visiting Vienna and trying a local beer.

“I’m just going for a walk to watch. Being from a small community fishing, mining and logging town in the North Island, I just want to see something different.

Symons is ready for any result in the competition. “Honestly, even though I’m 12th, I’m still 12th in the world under 25.”

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ROOKIE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP COMPETITION EVENTS

1. Standing Block Chop: Simulates the fall of a tree with an axe. A vertical block of wood with a diameter of 30 centimeters should be cut from both sides as quickly as possible. Fast finishes rely on optimal ax placement and a powerful swing.

2. Wood saw: A Stihl MS 650 chainsaw is used to cut two “biscuits” or discs of wood of a specified thickness from a horizontal tree truck, 40 centimeters in diameter, into a downward cut and an upward cut the top.

3. Sneaky chop: This event simulates the felling of a felled tree. Competitors stand on a block of wood positioned horizontally and must cut a 32 centimeter trunk with an axe.

4. single dollar: Competitor cuts through 48.26 centimeters of white pine using a one-man cut-off saw. Time ends when the block is cut. Relies on technique, brute force and endurance.

5. A springboard: The goal is to make a notch in a vertical trunk and to insert the board into this notch. Competitors then stand on the board and cut the top of the trunk. This test requires precise technique, strength, balance and skill.

Log rolling is sometimes seen in lumberjack sports in Canada, but is not part of this competition. He was never part of Stihl Timbersports. All countries follow the same discipline format consisting only of chop and saw events, a company official said.

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