Log rolling is more than just a sport, hobby or potentially soggy competition. Its history began as a way to keep logs transported by river from getting stuck. But adept historical loggers were also known to challenge each other along the way. At the Shelton Family YMCA, newly installed log rolling equipment breathes new life into this age-old, all ages—inevitably competitive—activity.
Katy Toohey, the aquatics coordinator at the Shelton Family YMCA, says they built this program around the donation of equipment and logs. The log rolling program and equipment at the Y is sponsored by Windermere Real Estate/Himlie, Inc. “This is a dynamite project for Shelton,” says Andy Conklin, who is a broker and realtor at Windermere as well as volunteer on the Y’s Advisory Board says, “It’s a big part of our community.”
To test it out, they recently hosted a day where staff could give it a spin, and “it’s harder than it looks,” Toohey laughingly admits. “It’s an all or nothing thing but the kids will go crazy on it.”
Log rolling isn’t for lumberjacks anymore, anyone has the chance to test their balance during regular Rec Swim hours. “We’re trying to get kids excited so we can maybe start competitions in January,” says Toohey. “We’re thinking that in warmer weather we can have a lot of fun with it.”
The technique may seem simple but requires know-how. Online instructors advise participants never to look at their own feet, instead looking into the distance or the opposite end of the log: “It may feel awkward to keep your feet in constant motion, especially if the Key Log is not spinning fast, but it is essential to successful log rolling. The more touches you make with your feet on the log, the more control you have over the speed and direction. Try to imagine you are lifting each foot one inch above the log on each step. Quick, light footwork is crucial to staying on top.”
There’s no age limit to try log rolling at the Shelton Family YMCA’s pool. If you’re new to the sport, your initial attempts will likely be very short – beginners practice one at a time on the log. After a few tries, if they’re up for the challenge, two opposite-facing opponents try to spin each other off while maintaining their own balance.
And don’t worry, log rolling is safe. “As you begin to lose balance you will fall either forward or backward into the water with your body weight leading the way,” says Toohey. “In many cases, the roller simply steps off of the log as you lose balance.”
Celebrating History While Having Fun
Historians explain that: “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 summertime, 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.”
Conklin explains that local recreational areas and lakes used to have a log boom that kids always tried to walk. They even had unofficial log wrestling matches during long summer days. “When the opportunity came to donate these items,” he says, it was a perfect fit. “I’m really looking forward to watching and the logs are ready to roll! It’s a huge amount of fun.”
South Sound YMCA hopes to bring in professional log rollers for an exhibition to build excitement for this activity. With Shelton’s long history of hosting the downtown Timber Days festival and annually crowning Forest Festival Royalty like Timber the Axe Man, the Princesses of Cedar and Hemlock, Paul Bunyan, and the Queen of the Forest, it’s an ideal match.
You can find video of kids trying out the new log on Facebook. There you can also track upcoming events and activities, updates and holiday or weather schedule changes or closures. Looking for log rolling 101 information? Visit the Shelton YMCA’s online class schedule. Once there simply choose their location and the class name Open Roll for times and dates. A YMCA membership is available to everyone and includes access to all three local branches. Thanks to the support and generosity of donors, the Y offers financial aid and scholarships so everyone has access to the Y regardless of their ability to pay.
Cowboys have rodeos, nimble-footed lumberjacks have the roleo, according to sport historians. You may never dive into the deep end of competition, but why not give it a roll? Cuff the log to start rolling, snub to stop the spin and reverse directions, and try to avoid the wetting of being knocked in first. It’s good exercise, great fun and the chance to re-live history.