Inside Events: Axe Women Loggers of Maine
21 Dec, 2020By: Mary Helen Sprecher
An Interview with Alissa R. Wetherbee, Founder
Axe Women Loggers of Maine, an organization of competitive logging sports professionals, was formed in 2010 in response to a need for designated competitions and events for “lumberjills.” Disciplines include competitive chopping, sawing and logrolling, with competitors appearing in events nationwide, as well as performances to showcase the various disciplines.
Sports Destination Management: We have previously featured STIHL TIMBERSPORTS but have not been able to study women’s competitions as much. Did you see a need for Axe Women immediately?
Alissa Wetherbee: It’s funny – I grew up here in Maine, cutting firewood with my dad and when I eventually found out it was a sport, I realized that all the events that were being featured were things I already knew how to do. When I was in my twenties, I started to go to local competitions, and I keep meeting more and more women who were involved in this. Many of them had been traveling around and working in lumberjack shows. We realized there were always men out there doing that for entertainment – why not women? Whenever we went to competitions, people were super-interested in the women’s events. I wanted to have it be more than just a women’s day or a few women’s events.
SDM: Was there a certain image of logging sports that you wanted to change?
Wetherbee: People always think of big burly guys logrolling and wearing flannel and Carhartt jeans.
SDM: What has the growth been like?
Wetherbee: It has grown just hugely. In the first few years, we might have 30 women at best, and it was always the same 30. Now we have more.
SDM: What do you think contributes to that?
Wetherbee: Well, there are a lot more colleges with woodsmen clubs and teams and we’re seeing some amazing ladies coming out of those colleges. Now, I’m seeing pictures of competitions and championships and I am not able to recognize a lot of the women.
SDM: Is there an age demographic?
Wetherbee: People might think it’s just a young woman’s sport but it’s not; we’re seeing women competing well into their sixties.
SDM: What is the format of the events you put on?
Wetherbee: We bring in a team of ladies and all our equipment and put on mini-competitions. We can also do entertainment performances. We’ve done pregame performances at sports, between baseball innings, at rodeos, fairs, festivals and markets – we’ve really seen some growth.
SDM: Do you think events like STIHL TIMBERSPORTS help raise awareness?
Wetherbee: I think it does help grow the sport. They offered their first women’s division a few years ago and it was the first time for these events to have major sponsors. People are now telling us they’ve seen the sport on TV, which is good. Sometimes, they’ll also tell us their grandfather or great-grandfather was a lumberjack, or they grew up cutting wood – that’s something that really interests us because it means you have amateurs who might want to try their hand at it.
SDM: There has been a spike of axe-throwing bars and venues recently.
Wetherbee: A lot of sports are riding the coattails of timber sports! Something most people don’t know is that there is a difference between an axe and a hatchet. Hatchets are what you’re mainly throwing in bars because they are considerably smaller; it’s mainly due to space and safety. An axe has a two-foot handle, and it weighs a lot more than a hatchet. So whereas most bars say they have axe throwing, it’s actually hatchet throwing.
SDM: Is log rolling something people want to try?
Wetherbee: Yes, that’s another skill – we can get anyone log rolling. The worst thing that can happen is you fall off and get wet; there’s no real injury risk there. We have had elementary schools call us and we will set up something for them so that the kids can try new things. They love doing the big giant belly flop when they fall and since the water is only up to their knees, they’re not going to drown.
SDM: So you bring a log with you?
Wetherbee: We used to – we had a 600-pound red cedar log, and we needed a forklift to haul it around. A couple years ago, a woman log rolling champion developed a synthetic log that was the exact same size and shape – and it weighs only 65 pounds so one person can carry it. You pop open the plug on it and fill it with water and go. We can even put fins on it for training while people learn to get their balance.
SDM: So you can basically log roll anywhere.
Wetherbee: Yes – last summer, my husband and I were driving back from an event and we stopped to have lunch at a restaurant overlooking the Mississippi River. He looked down and said, “Do you think you could get across that?” It took a year’s worth of planning and permits but I ultimately became the first person to ever do it.
SDM: Did you publicize it in advance?
Wetherbee: We actually kept it really quiet beforehand before we didn’t want other people trying it if they didn’t know what they were doing. The day before, we put it out on Facebook. We had news crew, drones, you name it. There were spectators on both sides of the river.
SDM: What is your typical season?
Wetherbee: Well, this has been a different year for everyone. Normally, we’re working out butts off all spring, summer and fall, then in the winter, we catch our breath. I’d say we’re on the road most weeks between June and November.