By STIHL® TIMBERSPORTS®, 3/31/2008
Style Over Smash
Mike Slingerland and Dave Jewett chime in on importance of good technique.
For baseball pitchers, they call it mechanics. On the free throw line, it's all about the release. And when it comes to wielding an axe, running a chainsaw or sawing through a log of wood, the size of the lumberjack really doesn't matter as much as a lumberjack's technique.
"A lot of people think that big guys - guys like Jason, Dion or Dave - that you have to be a big guy to win," STIHL professional series competitor Mike Slingerland said.
"But if they all didn't have good technique, they wouldn't win."
Slingerland likened the importance of technique in lumberjack sports to those found on a golf course, instead of a sport like powerlifting. The reason golfers can drive a 300-yard drive has more to do with the swing than pure brute strength.
"It's accuracy - it's science," STIHL professional competitor and ESPNOutdoors.com color analyst Dave Jewett said. "To cut a log in half, it's not about hitting it as hard as you can hit it. Once you get that technique and accuracy, then you generate the power and can harness it to make that first part work."
Slingerland identified the "whip" at the end of a swing as the focal point of energy provided by the competitor. This whip marks the perfect culmination of placement, efficiency and power that result in the lowest competition times.
Jewett offered fellow STIHL competitor Mitchell Hewitt from Australia as a prime example of a lumberjack mastering the technique. Consistently besting men over twice his size, Hewitt's technical know-how is second to none.
"He's what, about 170 pounds?" Jewett asked Slingerland, rhetorically. "But I've watched him beat 350-pound guys all the time."
Slingerland and Jewett both stress technique so often, many times they will drop in on a college practice to share their knowledge of the sport. Jewett will make the drive from his Rochester, N.Y., home to nearby Finger Lakes Community College several times a year to provide instruction to those interested in learning.
"They're in college, so you have a very short time," Jewett said. "And some of these schools are only two-year programs, so it's somewhat of a crash course."
For Slingerland and Jewett, the most satisfying aspect of helping students comes when they see immediate results.
"It's great when you tell them something and in minutes they can do it," Jewett said.
When Slingerland isn't working in North Carolina schools as a physical therapist for handicapped children, he volunteers at forestry clubs at colleges across the state. His love of instructing has also led him to Europe, to teach aspiring lumberjacks in other countries.
"I live not far from Montgomery Community College, so I'll go down there sometimes," Slingerland said. "Actually, I helped collegiate champion Jay Blackburn get started out of Haywood Community College."
In fact, the North Carolina resident even identified a young Dave Jewett when teaching a collegiate clinic years ago.
"I give Mike a lot of credit - he pulled me right out of college," Jewett said.
Like Jewett, many college-aged lumberjacks already have a natural talent and solid fundamentals in place for slicing wood.
"Some of these guys don't even have a coach," Jewett said. "They just got it, and they're just doing it right."
Although he admits some collegiate lumberjacks learn proper technique by emulating the pros, Slingerland feels those "naturals" more likely owe their skills to childhood chores.
"Look, if you're going out there to the woodpile to split wood for six hours, you're not going to waste a lot of energy," Slingerland said. "Like (STIHL competitor, Matt) Bush, he got so good from splitting tons of wood."