“Pitter patter! Pitter patter!” Tina Scheer called out, reminding the teenager to move his feet constantly up and down as he walked across the floating log.
Standing chest deep in the warm water of the Bangor YMCA Means pool, Scheer grasped the end of the 600-pound log in both hands, keeping it steady for the novice logroller.
“Arms out and look down here,” she said, pointing to the end of the log, which was covered with dents and gashes from countless lumberjack shows and competitions.
Scheer — known almost exclusively as “Timber Tina” — has spent her whole life promoting logging sports and working in the lumberjack entertainment business. For the past 20 years, she has run the Timber Tina’s Great Maine Lumberjack Show, a nightly display of traditional lumberjack sports in Trenton that draws crowds of tourists from nearby Mount Desert Island.
Recently, in an effort to get more people involved in logging sports, Scheer contacted the Bangor Y to pitch the idea of community logrolling classes for children, teens and adults. Logrolling, also known as birling, is a sport in which two people stand on a large, floating log and try to maintain balance as it spins and bobs in the water. The objective is simple: Remain on the log the longest and you win. Fall in the water first, you lose. This game was once practiced by river drivers who steered logs as they floated down streams and rivers to lumber mills.
“We were all over it,” Bangor Y CEO Diane Dickerson said. “That’s exactly the type of thing we’re looking for — things that are unique and different and can expose the Bangor community to something out of ordinary.”
Logrolling lessons, led by Scheer, began this week and will run in two series through April 14. Lessons for children ages 6-12 are 6:30-7:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays; and lessons for teens and adults are at the same time Tuesdays and Thursdays. The cost for one series is $50 for Bangor Y members and $80 for nonmembers.
“It teaches balance and coordination,” Scheer said. “It’s great for your core muscles. You really have to move, so it’s great for fitness. But it really gets fun after about six or eight lessons when you start to pick it up and can start competing against one another.”
On Tuesday, a line of teenagers lined up for a chance on the log.
“Keep your feet moving,” Scheer reminded Steven Johnston, 15, of Hermon. He picked up the pace, keeping his feet flat and taking small quick steps on the waterlogged carpet wrapped around the log. Today, logrolling logs are often wrapped in thin carpet so that people who aren’t wearing the traditional metal-spiked boots of a lumberjack can still logroll safely. The carpet protects feet from splinters and offers more grip.
Scheer released the end of the log, and the young man was on his own. The log started to spin, and he ran in place, struggling to keep balance. After a few seconds, he was thrown into the water, but he’d lasted just a bit longer than he had on his previous turn. He was starting to get a hang of it.
“Guys, when you get it, it’s super fun,” Scheer said enthusiastically.
As the lesson wound down, Scheer chatted with Steven about his progress, then offered for him to come to her show venue in Trenton sometime to learn about speed climbing — another logging sport.
“My goal is just to get kids logrolling,” Scheer said. “Just like it was an opportunity for me, [I’d like] to get some of these kids an opportunity as well.”
Scheer, 55, grew up in Hayward, Wisconsin, home of the Lumberjack World Championships, an annual competition that includes events such as logrolling, chopping, boom running, pole climbing (also known as speed climbing) and sawing. All of the sports incorporate skills required in traditional logging practices.
Scheer began logrolling when she was 7 years old. She and three of her siblings signed up for lessons offered by a man in their community, and all four of them still logroll today.
“My sister Judy has grandchildren who are logrolling,” she said. “It’s like it’s in our blood.”
Lumberjack competitions and shows have led Scheer to travel the world. She has toured for a month in South Africa, traveled to Germany with ESPN, and has performed in Australia 10 times and Alaska at least 15 times.
In North America, logging sports athletes often come from Wisconsin and Nova Scotia, but Scheer would like to see more lumberjacks and lumberjills trained in Maine, a state with a rich history of log drives and lumber operations.
Logging was a major industry in Maine that grew throughout the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries and employed thousands of people, including surveyors, lumbermen to cut timber, teamsters and draft animals to haul logs, scalers to measure the timber’s worth and river drivers to float logs to the mills. Up until the 1970s, when log drives were banned because of the pollution they caused, logs were floated down streams and rivers in the major river valleys of the state — the Saco, St. John, Androscoggin, Kennebec and Penobscot, according to the Maine Historical Society.
“The Penobscot [River] is a couple of blocks away, and that’s where they were doing it for a living,” Scheer said. “We’re inside, in a warm pool. They were outside in the freezing water with wool clothes on, with spiked boots and taking big long pike poles and riding logs down the river.”
“To me, it’s a piece of history we’re bringing back to The Y,” Dickerson said. “We want to make it a regular thing, without question. This is just the first session, and I really think it’s going to take a few sessions to get people on board.”
“It’s my hope some day to get some kids from Bangor or the surrounding areas, to get some kids from Maine to go logroll in the world championships,” Scheer said.
Scheer also envisions eventually hosting a logrolling contest in Bangor, which, after all, stakes its claim as the birthplace of the most famous lumberjack of American folklore, Paul Bunyan.
Logrolling is just one of several new classes being offered at the Bangor Y this year. Synchronized swimming lessons, pilates and new fitness classes are all on tap for 2016. For information about Bangor Y programs, visit bangory.org or call 941-2808.