You’ve probably seen the sport on late night cable. Sometimes during a holiday between seasons, you’ll be treated to 24-hours of beefy guys wielding axes and souped up chainsaws. Timbersports are an interesting spectacle to average Americans. However, the Cogar family of Webster County has become the first family of the sport in the United States.
Arden Cogar Jr. and his cousin recently returned from the World Championships in Lillehammer, Norway. Arden finished fourth in the individual completion after winning the US Championships last summer.
“It is a very difficult event because there are 26 countries that compete,” said Cogar on a recent edition of Ram Trucks West Virginia Outdoors. “They seed the first five, plus the host country. The remaining 19 countries have to qualify for the remaining five slots.”
Cogar says while most Americans look at the event with curiosity, Europeans look at it as life and death.
“When we got to the finals there were 5,000 people there screaming their heads off,” said Arden. “They’re very, very serious about their Timbersports in Europe. I liken it to a drunken soccer match.”
Cogar is hoping to entice the World Championships to West Virginia in the years to come. He says Snowshoe Mountain Resort would be a perfect venue.
The competition uses three tools. A “speed ax” which is a scientifically engineered and razor sharp precision instrument. The “hot saw” which is a high powered chainsaw built for speed. They also implore events using machined and meticulously sharpened cross cut saws.
“I’m not big on the chain saw events. I do them because I have too,” said Cogar. “I excel at the chopping events. With the type of work I do, I’m a lawyer. Given the mental side of my game that I have to do 10 to 12 hours a day, there’s nothing more rewarding than coming home a beating the crap out of something that can’t hit me back.”
Cogar’s stress release has made him one of the sports premier participants, but it was Arden Cogar Sr. who really got the family tradition started.
“My father worked at Cherry River logging company back in the 50’s. That’s how he learned about these events,” explained Cogar Jr. “Some of the guys who worked for the company were going to the Forest Festival to compete. He said, ‘I can beat you guys, maybe I should go.’ That’s how it started.”
Ever since, there’s been a running rivalry between the Webster and Randolph County woodchoppers who compete in various events throughout the year. The competitions at the Mountain State Forest Festival and the Webster County Wood Chopping Festival are among the biggest in West Virginia.
While the Cogar’s foray into the sport started in the 1950’s, the roots of the sport are deep in the high mountains of Appalachia where men spent years in remote logging camps. During a rare off day, they would cut wood for fun. Soon bets were placed and challenges made to see who was best at common tasks. There was splitting, chopping, felling trees, and even the precarious springboard competition. Participants must cut a notch to hold a thin board–which becomes a platform on which they stand to cut the next notch to move up the tree.
“In the old days when the trees were big, the roots were large. The loggers would basically build themselves makeshift scaffolding to get above those root systems,” said Cogar Jr.
The Cogar tradition in timbersports continues. Although Cogar Sr. at 78 still competes with the vigor of a man half his age, his son is world class in the sport. Junior’s wife, daughter, and cousin are all coming along strong. It’s a tough family to match when it comes to cutting wood.
“We’ve been very blessed,” Cogar said.