San Luis Obispo’s Cal Poly is hosting the Association of Western Forestry Clubs Logging Conclave this week, or as it’s more casually known: timbersports - the largest collegiate timbersports competition west of the Mississippi.
Louise Kraemer stood on the sidelines of a sunny, open field during a break in the timbersports competition.
“It’s just kind of a cool sport. It’s just unique, right?” said Kraemer. “It’s so cool because it’s the girls and the guys doing it. If you watch some of them, it’s incredibly taxing.”
You may think a bunch of people grunting, yelling, chopping, sawing and climbing wood would be easy to find. But Cal Poly’s campus is so big, to get to the event, you drive about a mile down a winding road, pass the meat processing center, pass the avocado grove, then make a left down a dirt road....and driving past the vineyards, you’ll start to hear the sound of cheering, and chainsaws.
On Wednesday afternoon the Stihl Series was underway. It is named and sponsored by the German chainsaw manufacturer. Essentially, it’s a wood sawing and chopping competition with six events in the series.
“When they are the top competitor, the name is ‘Bull of the Woods,’” said Kraemer.
The reigning ‘Bull of the Woods’ is Louise Kraemer’s son, Will Kraemer. Louise looked around for him.
“Where is he? He’s in the gray tank top with the ugly mullet," she said.
"I’m a bio-resource engineer agricultural engineer, but most of my time goes toward setting up this competition,” said Will Kraemer.
Kraemer is a Cal Poly third-year student. According to Kraemer, there is usually just one competition in the fall at Cal Poly, and this week’s spring competition rotates from school to school. This year Cal Poly hosted it.
“It’s a lot of work,” said Kraemer. “There are about 130 competitors and 12 schools. From Montana, Idaho Nevada, Colorado, Arizona and other schools from California."
Prizes are mostly bragging rights. But Stihl hooks the top winners up with some tools.
“The first place team might get one or two racing axes. Those go for about $500 to $800 bucks," Will Kraemer said. "There’s also going to be throwing axes given out as prizes to the top male and female competitor.”
Men and women compete. Like Whitney Barr from Montana. She’s competing for the first time.
“For my close events, I’m doing two chopping events- horizontal speed and horizontal hit,” said Barr. "And then I’m doing double buck, single buck, Jack and Jill, and then my last one is OP, which is my favorite."
Those names may not make a lot of sense unless you are a timbersports fan. So Barr explained OP, which stands for obstacle pole.
“So you see those poles over there? So you start at one hand with one hand on it. You grab your chainsaw. And then you run up the pole. And then you cut off an end that’s nailed to it and then you run back down. It’s really difficult. Because you have to start the chainsaw while running if you want to be fast, so i kind of like that. It’s really challenging for me.”
There wasn’t a competitive series for women this week at Cal Poly, but Louise Kraemer said there will be next year.
One competition of cutting wood with a chainsaw ended, and another began that using axes. Will Kraemer put on some protective gear and went into the vertical chop competition, which basically mimics chopping down a tree. Kraemer finished first.
The other contestant took a little longer to finish, but everyone kept cheering him on as he chopped away. When he finished, Kraemer walked over and two congratulated each other.
"It's the camaraderie,” said Dave Camenson, a competition judge. “I went this this event in two years ago in Montana and got hooked, just because of the students out here cheering everyone on all the time. You don’t see this in other sports. It’s incredible.
When the events wrapped Wednesday afternoon, Will Kraemer was the winner. He’s ‘Bull of the Woods’ again.