Log Rolling: Your Favorite New Silent Sport
Judy Scheer Hoeschler
Editor’s Note: Judy Scheer Hoeschler was introduced to log rolling in 1969 in Hayward, Wisconsin. She was member of the first school for kids, offered by Tony Wise at the famed Lumberjack Bowl. Although she is a seven-time world champion log roller, Judy is most passionate about growing the sport. She knew the world needed a portable, synthetic log if her Olympic vision for log rolling could ever become a reality, and the Key Log® was born in 2011. After raising four children in La Crosse, WI, she and her husband, Jay, now live in Hayward.
As a devotee of Silent Sports, you’ve likely spent countless hours running, biking, skiing, and snowshoeing the trails of the upper Midwest, as well as paddling or swimming its waterways. But have you ever tried the authentic Silent Sport rooted in the Northwoods of the Great Lakes States? We’re talking about log rolling, an original outdoor recreation Silent Sport, born out of a way of life.
If your mind just flashed to lumberjacks navigating rivers filled with bark-covered white pine timber, you have some regional awareness of the origins of this 125-year-old sport. Nimble-footed rivermen managed the spring log drives to sawmill towns, with a primary goal of preventing the dreaded log jam. Their athleticism and agility atop floating logs were the means to survival in ice-cold rivers, but it was also the beginning of a great sparring sport.
If you imagined modern athletes of all genders and ages competing on ESPN or training on colorful synthetic logs at college campuses, camps, or community aquatic facilities, then you have insight into the radical change that’s happening in the sport today. The technological advancement of a manufactured product has brought the sport out of the woods into mainstream recreation culture.
Going Beyond Your Imaginations
Whatever you imagined, this is the perfect time for you and your family to take the plunge into a sport that offers superb physical, mental, and social benefits, and has the potential to become an Olympic sport. Whether you add log rolling to your cross-training repertoire to improve foot speed, agility, and proprioception (whole body involvement in sensing body position and self-movement; aka: kick-butt balance and movement) or you join the wonderful world of competitive log rolling, your recreational experience will be enriched. If nothing else, adding “log roller” to your Silent Sports resume will be a conversation starter at any dinner party.
At first glance, the ability to control a log spinning on water may seem like an unreachable goal. Many people who watch elite log rollers think, There’s no way I could do that. Even world class athletes are sometimes intimidated to try. But the challenge of learning to roll is not complicated, and it’s fun.
Science of the Log
Log rolling embodies Sir Isaac Newton’s basic, third law of motion: For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. When you step onto a floating log, if you’re not in perfect balance, the log will spin in the direction where your weight is focused. But, as you step quickly forward or backward, you regain balance.
With practice you will gain control of speed and direction. That’s where the fun begins. Soon you’ll be challenging your friends to friendly matches. Before you know it, you’ll be entering competitions popping up around the country.
A Little Instruction Rolls a Long Way
No one straps on a pair of skis for the first time and heads down a hill without flailing and falling. With log rolling, falling and getting wet are part of the game. Applying a few key tips, you’ll learn to spend more time above the waterline. These are: 1) Don’t look down at your feet, look down the length of the log; 2) Never stop moving your feet, keep them in constant motion; 3) If you start to fall, bend your knees and engage your core, still keeping your feet moving.
When you take your first log rolling lesson, you’ll quickly learn that the challenge becomes addictive. You’ll step up, you’ll fall off, all while laughing. You’ll step up again, making some adjustments to your footwork, and you’ll stay on a little longer. “One more time” is the mantra for log rollers. And soon you’ll have your “A-ha!” moment, where you put it all together. It’s a sense of accomplishment with immediate payback.
If you think log rolling is unsafe, or fear hurting yourself, you’re not alone. These are the most common misconceptions about the sport, most likely tied to the lumberjack stereotype. In fact, log rolling is a very safe sport causing rare and minor injuries. When you fall, it’s because your core is off balance, tipping forward or backward away from the center of the log. Compared to what you crash on or into, and from what heights, with many other sports, your water landing is akin to a short drop on pillows. You may occasionally fall on the log, but it’s a short distance with the buoyancy of the log on water absorbing much of the impact. Bruised egos are typically the worst casualties in the sport.
The sport has a high-perceived/low-actual-risk factor, which is part of the reason why it’s both exciting and safe, qualities athletes and parents love about the sport.
Low Impact, High Cardio Benefits.
Do you have a nagging sports injury from damage or overuse? Good news: log rollers rarely have them from log rolling. After all, log rolling is a postural sport. You’re constantly engaging and stabilizing your core, finding your center. No dangerous pivoting with minimal joint impact. Perfection!
When you try log rolling for the first time, you’ll notice how quickly your cardio system amps up. Think polka dancing up a hill. And the good news about falling is that you get to cool off while getting a breather. It’s a natural interval workout without the work.
A team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse studied elite log rollers to determine the relative exercise intensity and caloric expenditure of the sport. “Log rolling proved to be more taxing than we’d envisioned in terms of intensity and caloric expenditure,” explained Dr. John Porcari, Executive Director of the UW-L Clinical Exercise Physiology program.
Have Log, Will travel.
With irony, the equipment used in the sport for more than 125 years — lathe-turned red cedar logs — held the sport back. Five-hundred-pound logs, after all, are difficult to source, expensive to ship, and nearly impossible to move from place to place. Certainly nothing to put atop your car’s roof rack. While some log rolling schools in Wisconsin (Hayward, La Crosse, and Madison) have kept the sport alive, there was no true potential for growth.
In 2011, a family of world champion log rollers hired engineers from Winona State University to design a new log rolling log. (Full disclosure: This author is a member of that family.) The result was a synthetic, portable product called the Key Log® that allowed people around the world to buy a log online and get rolling within weeks.
Weighing in at a positively svelte 65 pounds, the Key Log® employs an internal foam baffle that, when filled with water, creates the buoyancy, spin, and rotation necessary for log rolling. Just drain the water and the log becomes portable to take to any body of water. To help newcomers to the sport, every Key Log comes equipped with three patented Training Fins to provide resistance and limit the spin of the log. They allow beginners to “catch their balance” and learn more quickly than ever before. As skills progress, the fins can be removed one at a time to decrease resistance and increase speed. They have revolutionized the sport as much as portability has.
Because of Key Log®, hundreds of colleges, camps, and aquatic centers have added log rolling classes to their program offerings. Individuals have been purchasing logs for their backyard pools and lake homes. Social log rolling clubs are forming in various cities, and the newly formed United States Aquatics Log Rolling Organization is creating a format for competitive growth. The goal? Olympic status one day. Finally, this exciting authentic silent sport has the potential future that it deserves. Check out all the activities at: www.usalogrolling.sportyhq.com
Bottom line: It’s silent, definitely a sport (solo or competitive), safe, supremely core-focused as well as aerobic and strength-driven, great for cross-training, uniquely new (after 125 years!) and interesting, and now affordable as well as portable. Most of all, it’s fun. That’s log rolling, my Silent Sports friends, and it’s calling for you. Check out: https://keylogrolling.com/