Anyone who would like to know how easy – and fun – it can be to “fall off a log” can get actual experience at the John W. Chapman Aquatic Center in Holmen this summer. Log rolling classes are back at the aquatic center after a lapse of a couple years.
Two recent Holmen High School graduates, Tyson Noffke and Ben Brinks, will teach classes in the revived sport this summer. Noffke first tried log rolling a few years ago during a visit to Wisconsin Dells. Working at the Holmen aquatic center this summer, Noffke decided to try the sport again.
“I saw the old log lying up against the fence (at the aquatic center) and thought I should give it another try,” said Noffke.
Both Noffke and Brinks say log rolling can be a demanding sport.
“It’s very tiring,” said Brinks. “First you have to learn the balance and agility and then build up the endurance.”
The log rolling classes are open to any skill level. Classes are offered in two-week sessions with two offerings per day. The earlier classes run from 11 to 11:25 a.m., and the later classes run from 11:30 to 11:55 a.m. The sessions run from June 22 through July 3, July 6-17, July 20-31 and Aug. 3-14.
Log rolling didn’t start out as a sport; it was serious business in the lumber industry of the 1800s. With thousands of logs getting sent down Wisconsin’s rivers, there were often log jams. To untangle the timbers, men had to walk across the floating logs to separate the logs.
The practice eventually led to competitions to see who could stay on top of a floating log the longest. Even after the lumbering era slowed, a number of old lumbermen kept up their skills. Bands of log rollers gave exhibitions of the “favorite sport of the American lumberjack” throughout the country, helping to keep the sport alive.
Competitions, now known as roleos, pit two people against each other to see which will be the last one standing on the log. The winner of the first unofficial log rolling world championship was a Wisconsin man – Tom Fleming of Eau Claire took first place in 1898 at the Omaha, Neb., competition.
Initially, logs used in competitions were made of pine or fir. Eventually, red cedar was found to spin faster and float higher than other types of timber. The logs were lathe-turned to the diameter and length specifications by the International Log Rolling Association. Current regulations call for logs to be between 11 inches and 15 inches in diameter and between 12 feet and 13 feet in length, depending on the level of competition.
The United States Log Rolling Association is the governing body for competitions in this country.
In the early days of the sport, competitors wore spiked shoes to give them traction on the wet timber. Unfortunately, the spikes damaged the logs. Because of the cost of frequently needing to replace the logs and the expense of the spiked shoes, the sport lagged in popularity.
That changed in 1981 when Judy Scheer-Hoeschler came up with the idea to wrap the logs in carpeting. The La Crosse YMCA instructor’s innovation now allows competitors to log roll in bare feet when done in a pool. In natural bodies of water, competitors often wear shoes to protect their feet from the bottoms of lake or pond if they fall off the log.
Anyone interested in signing up for log rolling classes may do so at Holmen Village Hall, 421 S. Main St., at the aquatic center, or online at www.holmenwi.com/holmenpr.