What’s logrolling?

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Logrolling is a water sport where two people balance on a log and one rolls it while the other tries to keep up. It originated in North America in the lumber community and is now standardized for safety and fairness. Women also compete and it celebrates aspects of the logging industry.

Logrolling is a water sport in which two people balance on both ends of a log lying in the water and one of the contestants starts walking, rolling the log. The other contestant must keep up with the rolling log, or fall, ending the round. The sport originated in North America, particularly in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and Canada, although it has spread internationally, thanks to the work of advocacy organizations.

As you might guess from the fact that a log is involved, logrolling originated in the lumber community. Many logging communities took advantage of local rivers to transport logs for free, felling trees, cutting them, and then rolling them into the river and allowing them to float downstream to the mill pond, at which point they could be hauled out and processed. Periodically, it would require people to walk the logs to manipulate their disposition in the mill pond, and this evolved into a game where the lumberjacks would challenge each other to keep pace on a rolling log.

This sport is also known as birling. Historically, loggers have participated in all available logs, adding to the challenge and potential danger. In fact, bobbing could be quite dangerous in a crowded pond, as loggers ran the risk of being crushed between other logs in the pond if they fell. Modern logroll uses standardized logs that have been cut to length, and some competitions also involve synthetic logs.

The underlying goal of standardization is to make the sport fair for all competitors by ensuring that no one gains an unfair advantage with a particularly well-balanced roster or favorable structure. Standardization also makes sport safer than it otherwise might be. Racing logs are typically painted with bright stripes that make them easy to visualize in the water, and some include carpeting or other textured materials to make the log easier to grip.

For the most part, competitive logrolling is dominated by men, as are logsports in general. However, women can and do compete, and some of the best logrollers in the world are women. The American Midwest in particular seems to breed strong female athletes, and in some cases multiple generations compete together. As with other logging sports, logrolling celebrates aspects of the logging industry that would otherwise be lost, as few mills use rivers and ponds as a method of handling lumber today, and on-the-job logrolling would be considered a serious safety violation.

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