Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Betcha never log rolled before...

Early one summer morning, after a healthy dose of blueberry pancakes drenched in maple syrup, my dad announced that he had a "surprise" for us. My dad's surprises were the best because they involved one or more of the following elements: athletic ability, being outdoors, animals, nature, water or snow and COMPETITION.

On this day we were in for a brand new adventure...log rolling.
Log rolling is a crazy combination of balance, strategy and endurance. Born in log camps, it was probably derived from the art of moving log booms..booms are basically a circle of logs chained together which surround a group of floating logs destined for either the lumber mill or paper mill downstream.

(log boom 1903)

My dad ran booms as a kid to condition himself and improve his balance for hockey and lacrosse. He told us that if you slipped off the log into the free floating logs it was tough to get back to the surface.

Log rolling "equipment" consisted of a bathing suit and a log half submerged in the water..either free floating or attached to a dock by a long chain.
The ends of the log were painted with thin stripes which encircled the logs..these lines served as a focal point...if you can kept your eyes on the end of the log, you had more control. The center of the log was also marked, and each "roller" had to stay on his or her own end of the log during competition (aka a roleo).

You wore water shoes, or chose to go barefoot. I always preferred to have contact with the log and liked rolling barefoot.
Old timers used a long pike pole to help with balance, or to help navigate on the log, but we elected not to use this technique.
NOTE: REAL lumberjacks wore work pants, boots, and suspenders rather than bathing suits.

Our first introduction to the log was watching my dad's childhood friend Bill Fontana and his DOGS demonstrate how to logroll.. Peppy a retired dalmation had been Bill's first birling partner, and together they had gone on the road promoting the sport and Bill's houseboat business. My dad guided some for Fontana so we would often be there visiting with the dogs and our Uncle Willy while my dad cleaned fish for the tourists.


Lesson one: BALANCE..you had to get the "feel" of the log..my Dad steadied one end of the the log as one by one we took turns running out onto its slippery surface. We were instructed to focus on the end of the log rather than our feet, bend our knees, keep our torso erect and stretch our arms out to the side. Then we scampered back to the safety of the dock, unless of course we slipped into the lake. Rainy Lake is a large body of water, so a little added "chop" from waves was not uncommon..making balance all that more difficult.

Lesson two: SPINNING..in this lesson, you first achieved balance..then gave Dad the thumbs up, whereupon he released his grip on the log. Immediately the log began to move in the water..and depending on how well you had mastered lesson one you either stayed on the log or went for a swim. This lesson resulted in NUMEROUS bruises until we learned to throw ourselves away from the log during the "dismount". My dad often scored dismounts and was as ruthless as the Russian judges. He of course added back flips to his dismounts, making the judges squeal with delight.

Lesson three: RUNNING and CHANGING DIRECTION..in this lesson, you mastered "control" of the log..you could run in place on the log, or stop the log by redistributing your weight, and bending your knees more deeply.
Changing directions was more difficult, because it required a little "balance beam" style hop on the log, to reverse the spin direction.

Lesson four: BRING ON THE COMPETITION...in this lesson, the element of competition was introduced. Two rollers positioned themselves on opposite ends of the log. The object was to control the spinning of the log and thereby roll your competition into the cold lake.

Lesson five: DAD GOES FOR A SWIM..my Dad was a fierce competitor who never believed in "allowing kids to win" merely because they were kids. If you beat my dad in ANY competition, believe me you earned it honestly. I practiced hard, wore my bruises with pride and then one day..I sent my dad into Rainy Lake with my fancy footwork. I think I bragged for the rest of the summer..which was always too short.

Years later in college, I met a woman who was a log rolling champion..I challenged her to a roll and let her know that Rainy Lake rollers RULE!!

Thanks Dad for teaching me to log roll. Thank you for teaching me the importance of balance in my life, and to NEVER give up. I sure hope you're practicing in heaven so you can take back your title..I love and miss you Dad

(my dad)


  1. I love reading your stories. Your tales make me feel like I am right there with you, my feet scampering on a log. They are so vived and a joy to read.

  2. That was a wonderful tribute to your dad. WOW, a log roller! How unique! And the video was so fun.
    Thanks for visiting my blog or I would never have found you.