Log Drivers and River Pigs

Log rolling, as a sport, began in the late 1800’s during the great logging era.
America was growing and lumber was needed to build the cities.  Timber grew in remote areas with few roads. The immense river system in America provided a natural transportation system to “drive” logs to sawmill towns. 

Thousands of logs floating down rivers, frequently jammed, so men were hired to prevent the jams.  They would work the river, stepping on the floating logs as they worked from bank to bank.  As soon the men stepped onto the logs, the logs would spin, dumping them into the water. (It’s as easy as falling off a log!)  In order to stay dry (and alive), the river men had to learn to roll the logs.   Naturally, loggers would challenge one another to see who could stay on the longest.  In the summer time, competing lumber companies would sponsor log rolling contests, each sending their best rollers.  The first unofficial log rolling world championship took place in 1898 in Omaha, Nebraska. Tom Fleming of Eau Claire, WI was the champion.

When the river drives ended at the turn of the century, log rolling was kept alive by men who passed their skills on to their sons and their daughters.  Log rolling was as popular for its entertainment value then, as it is now.  Troupes of log rollers crossed the country, exhibiting the “favorite sport of the American Lumberjack”.

In 1926, the International Log Rolling Association was organized in Washburn, Wisconsin, to oversee competition rules and sanction the annual World Log Rolling Championships. 

Today, log rolling programs are active in YMCA’s, Park and Rec programs, and through private instructors.  The International Log Rolling Association continues its work as the international governing body of the sport.  The United States Log Rolling Association was incorporated in 2004, as the first nation member of the ILRA. US Log Rolling is working to grow the sport of log rolling in America and create a model for other countries.  The Olympics are the ultimate goal for the ILRA and US Log Rolling. 

Historically, logs for competition were made of pine or fir.  As the sport progressed, competitors looked for faster, more buoyant wood. Red cedar proved to spin fast and float high with two adults standing on a log. All logs were lathe-turned, to diameter and length specifications of the International Log Rolling Association.

Until 1981, people rolled on wood logs with spiked shoes for traction.  Spikes give fantastic grip but they destroy the log like a chain saw.  Without spikes, however, the lathe-turned log is like a greased pig.

The necessity of spiked shoes has hindered the growth of the sport on three fronts: 1) few people could find a continuous supply of lathe-turned cedar, let alone afford them, 2) spiked logs were not allowed in pools so youth programs were restricted to lakes and ponds, and 3) parents didn’t want their children wearing spiked footwear.

In 1981, Judy Scheer-Hoeschler, a seven-time world champion, was promoting a teaching program at the La Crosse YMCA and came up with a simple idea—to carpet the logs to create a grippy surface and to eliminate the wood chip problem.  Through trial and error, a carpet type was selected that worked very well. While there were some traditionalists who were opposed to the idea, it became evident very quickly that it would revolutionize the sport by giving more people access.  And rather than a dangerous $100 spiked shoe, kids and adults could now use a canvas, rubber-soled shoe. 

This innovation has changed the sport.  Log rolling classes, training sessions, and competitions can now take place in any body of water, anywhere in the world.  The favorite sport of the American lumberjack can now become the favorite sport of people everywhere.