Fifty-one year old man mountain Dale Ryan says woodchopping is “like a drug, it’s addictive”.
That might explain why the Katoomba man has been throwing an axe “since I was two” and competing professionally for 43 years, spurred on by his father, Glen, now aged 77, who only recently retired from the sport.
Ryan heads to the Gold Coast this weekend to compete in the national titles of this extreme sport of woodchopping. His son, Jack, 7, who is one year away from competing himself, will be by his side, as will the rest of the Ryan clan, to cheer on Dad.
The Stihl Timbersports Australian Championships is on September 15 and 16 and Ryan will face tough competition with every ounce of his power to do well in the six compulsory axe and sawing events.
If successful Ryan will earn one of five places on the national ‘Chopperoos’ team to take on the world’s best at the 2018 world championships in England in October.
But he will face stiff competition from reigning Australian champion and four-time world title winner, 39-year-old Brad De Losa from Lithgow (his apprentice who has learned much from him), as well as 22-year-old Brayden Meyer from Victoria, who won the 2016 Champions Trophy in Austria and holds the current world record for the fastest underhand chop (a lightning speed of 12.39 seconds to chop through a 32cm diameter log) and Mitchell Argent, who “is in his twenties and is cutting well” Ryan says.
Athletes compete against each other and the clock in a variety of logging disciplines – springboard, underhand chop and standing block chop in the axe discipline and single buck (single-man cross-cut saw), stock saw (standard chainsaw) and hot saw (customised chainsaw with up to 80 horsepower) in the sawing discipline.
At the height of his talent in the 1990s, Ryan was named national and world champion in the sport. He has travelled around the world with his axe – the axe the Gazette photographed him with has earned him $250,000 in prize money, and he is regarded as one of the best all-round and most travelled axemen in Australia.
The sport has its roots in the timber industry. Workers would hold competitions to determine who was fastest in a range of chopping and sawing events that closely simulated their everyday work.
Some of the events look terrifying – the axe landing centimetres from the athletes' feet, but they will wear compulsory wire mesh over their shoes during this competition.
Championships event director Lee Gooch said the event showcases “the tremendous athleticism, strength, precision and power of the country’s best Stihl Timbersports athletes”.