As you know, we here at CTRL are all about, well… control. Speed comes a close second, but our view is that CTRL is where the skill is at. CTRL is what harnesses all of the power that technology and engineering gifts us, and makes something awesome happen.
What could possibly demonstrate this better than a man (or woman) thrusting an axe, saw or chainsaw with speed, power and precision at a hefty lump of timber while their opponent attempts to do the same, but faster and cleaner. This is timbersports!
Side note: If you’re gonna be down with timbersports, don’t say “Chainsaw,” say “Hot Saw.” This clip sets the tone quite nicely:
Enter West Virginia native and multiple US Champion Matt Cogar, hailing from a family of timbersportsmen, he’s a Red Bull athlete who according to the energy drink brand is “taking his sport from the backwoods to the mainstream”. He certainly grabbed our attention, so we reached out* to find out more about his life competing and chopping around the world.
Was timbersports something your family always did and encouraged?
Matt:Timbersports is in my blood. Growing up around the sport had a heavy influence. It was a normal family outing going to competitions and an opportunity to spend time with my father, who would help me in any way he could if I wanted to compete but left the decision to me.
Are you surprised at the timbersport global boom?
Matt: I am surprised with how many countries and individuals want to give the sport a try. I never thought it would grow as fast as it has and that is what makes it so exciting. Spain had enduro woodchopping but, other than that, it was almost unheard of in Europe until 2000 when they started training individuals to compete. There are now more than 26 countries that compete in the Stihl Timbersports World Championship.
What important lessons did you learn from your early trips to Australia and beyond?
Matt: I learned I had so much more to learn about how to take a log apart. The primary timber they cut in Australia is gum and eucalyptus, which is more dense than the softwood timber we cut in the US and Europe so I began to understand more about proper technique that was necessary to complete the cut. I’m continually working to be more efficient and precise.
“I learned I had so much more to learn about how to take a log apart.”
So what does a typical training day consist of?
Matt: Event training is when you train technique and work on rhythm, but I still spend some time doing gym work to keep strength and fitness. I set up a log for a particular event and then go through the motions, paying attention to details of the cut. The next log goes up and I continue to refine or stay consistent in form and precision. I may cut three to six logs depending on size and what my goals are for the session. I use video to pick out the things to work on or see what was working well. Perfect practice makes perfect.
During a competition when you’re in action, it looks intense, what’s going through your head at that point? Is there a mental side to the sport like golf or do you just shut off and not overthink it.
Matt: Really I just shut down and don’t over think it. Sometimes you have a plan going into it, but it’s more reactive thinking, see what’s happening and change plans accordingly.
Do you undertake any special training to maintain your hand-eye coordination?
Matt: No specific training for hand-eye coordination – the event training helps that. You do have to spend a lot of time with an axe to feel comfortable. Splitting firewood has a dual purpose, it works on both hand-eye coordination and getting comfortable with the axe.
“In 2005 I cut my leg below the knee and spent a month in a restrictive brace to let that heal.”
Have you suffered any big injuries over the years?
Matt: Most of my injuries have been with the single-buck saw. In 2005 I cut my leg below the knee and spent a month in a restrictive brace to let that heal. In 2014 I got a pretty gnarly half-inch cut on my hand from the back of the saw, clipping the tendon to my index finger. I had a great deal of physical therapy, but was chopping eight weeks from that.
👆🏻:The video of you breaking the U.S. record for the Underhand Chop is amazing, but seeing how close the axe gets to your feet made me wonder, what do you do regarding footwear? They don’t look like steel toecaps?!
Matt: Haha, yeah it looks like it’s getting super close to the toes. No steel toes, but we wear a protective mesh, chain mail sock, that will prevent the axe from cutting your foot. The preferred competition shoe is Volley brand, flat sole shoe.
Which of the six disciplines have you had to work the hardest at to master?
Matt: Each of the six disciplines in the Stihl Timbersports Series has some little nuanced things that give you an advantage, but I think the hardest one for me to master has been single buck. Besides injuries, it was a motion that wasn’t completely natural.
So, if someone like myself wants to get started in Timbersports, what would you recommend be the first tool to buy and which discipline would you start with?
Matt: Some things to get to start: buy a set of guards or make a pair of chain mail guards for safety. China TUATAHI axe; cheap and will get you started chopping. First event to try is Underhand Chop, standing on the log. It’s the easiest of the chopping disciplines and will familiarize yourself with the axe. Probably the most essential is a coach or Timbersports athlete. You can learn about the disciplines through watching YouTube videos, but having someone to explain and watch your technique; everyone’s mechanics are different, so you have to find what works for you.
“We wear a protective mesh, chain mail sock, that will prevent the axe from cutting your foot!”
What are your favourite pre-competition rituals?
Matt: I usually have a good Italian meal or some sort of carb load the night before and a good breakfast before the competition. I also use a mental grounding technique by holding an axe and feeling the wood handle then visualising positive results and hits.
Do you listen to music to get you into the zone or while you’re training? What kind of stuff do you have on the iPod?
Matt: I listen to a good bit in training, usually during competition I’ll listen and watch what’s going on. Sounds of the axes hitting the wood, chainsaws, hotsaw; small intricate sounds that give clues to what the wood or motors are like. My music of choice is Metallica and similar. I listen to it all, Alt Nation to relax, changes with mood I guess.
What do you make of the hipster lumberjack fashion (flannel shirts, duck cotton pants)? As a real lumberjack, what clothing is most functional?
Matt: Functional attire for the sport with pants that don’t restrict knee movement or spreading out the stance. Shirt or singlet and flat sole shoes. I support the lumberjack fashion. Andrew Zaleski said it better in a Men’s Health article with me. The style has a connection to a hard working group of individuals that made their livelihoods at falling timber. It’s cool people have embraced that culture by making their own culture around that. They may never chop wood like we do but they do have great style. I’m jealous!
Thanks Matt! Consider us #timbersports converts 💪🏻
*Some questions provided by Red Bull, some we asked the man ourselves 👌