Axe ManHe’s a lumberjack and he’s okay. Meet Matt Cogar, America’s top timbersports champion—four years running.
If you’ve never given any thought to becoming a professional lumberjack, then you obviously didn’t grow up in Matt Cogar’s family. The 29-year-old from West Virginia was born to chop, saw and axe his way to the top: His father (and at times, even his mother) have competed in timbersports, his cousin is currently on the pro circuit and his great uncle was one of the first competitors in the sport back when logging camps used to go up against each other in the 1930s.
Cogar clearly inherited all the right stuff and is now one of the country’s greatest competitors. He’s won the Stihl Timbersports U.S. Championship four years in a row, and this year he beat out his cousin Adren Cogar Jr. for first place. He won three of the contest’s six disciplines, including the underhand chop, the stock saw and the standing block chop—the latter of which finds him standing atop a narrow plank nine feet in the air while chopping at a vertical log. (You can see it all go down in October when the contest airs on ABC.)
Later this year, Cogar will head to Germany to represent the U.S. in the World Championship, with hopes of finally winning it after coming as achingly close as second place in the past. We talked with Cogar about his unusual career, worst-ever injuries and whether he’ll ever let his infant daughter near a saw.
RED BULLETIN: Do you remember the first time you picked up an axe?
Matt Cogar: Well, my mom has pictures of me cutting me teeth on an axe handle. My dad was out in the yard sharpening an axe with a stone. I’m in a little stroller thing, and I was chewing the handle. I was in diapers when I first started playing with axes.
Were your parents OK with that?
I actually cut myself with one of the axes. Not bad, just a little knick. But I sort of surprised them when I started getting into everything and they had to start watching me from that point on.
How did you do in your first competition?
They had an under-18 boys’ chop, and I remember going to dad and asking him if he would teach me how to chop so I could compete in that. I was maybe 12 or 13. I think out of eight of us, I came in eighth.
What made you keep going?
After a couple years of doing it and seeing progressive increments of getting better, I was like, “Yeah I think I can do something with this.” I started winning a little bit of cash and prizes. I was in a small local show and beat everybody and that was one of my first wins. And I kept on going from there. I started college, and I would buy books and gear with my prize money. I got better, and I thought I should do it while I’m young and try to do it as full-time as I can.
So can you make a decent living doing it?
If you want to make money you’re going have to win, which isn’t a guaranteed thing, so having a full or part-time job helps out tremendously. At the moment, I’m doing timbersports full-time and I’m a stay-at-home dad while my wife finishes up her schooling. Stihl and Ram are the major sponsors of the Stihl Timbersports Championships, but we’re allowed to have sponsors as well, which is a great way to make up travel costs—a big chunk of our costs—as well as buy more gear. I’m currently seeking sponsorship, so hopefully I can get a few on my competition jersey for next year.
What does it take to be a competitive lumberjack?
For every bit of endurance and strength that there is to it, there’s every bit of skill and technique. That’s kind of why I like the sport—it uses every aspect of athleticism to compete in timbersports. You’ve got to have the strength and have the endurance but you’ve also got to have the skill and the technique to compete very well. If just one of those things is out of synch your performance is going to be affected. You have to have everything lined up.
Why do you think you excel?
In high school, when I was playing football and track and field, people remarked about how coachable I am. I think that helped with wood chopping, too. I’m able to take all this information and apply it and see it work. My build is pretty much settled in for a timber sports athlete. I’m 6’3” and 240 pounds with broad shoulders. You need athletic ability, for sure, but you also need to analyze every aspect of the sport and try to improve on what you’re doing. And that’s been the mental aspect I’ve been able to do.
What’s been your worst injury?
Before I went to the world championships in 2014, I was training for the single buck event. I was about ready to put it away for the day, and I thought, “No, I’ll make one more cut and then I’ll be satisfied.” My hand slipped and I ended up cutting the tendon in my hand. I didn’t cut it with teeth but it was the 90-degree angle on the back of the saw. I punched it with the equivalent of a full boxing punch. So I had to get that stitched up, and I was out for six weeks. I had to skip the world championships since it was just a few days before. I was mad and disappointed because I felt really good getting ready to go and then not having that opportunity to compete, it was like, “Oh man, that sucks.” But then I came back with a mission last year: I really want to win the series.
Why do you think that injury happened?
It came from being exhausted. I was overtraining, and I let myself get out of the technique and everything fell apart from there.
What’s the worst mishap you’ve ever witnessed?
When I was doing a demo in Ohio around 2001, there was a guy doing a springboard cut. He cut through the log, and the axe kept coming. He cut right through his calf muscle and just sort of filleted it off. As soon as you see it happen you just think, “Oh God.”
What do you think about the lumbersexual movement?
It’s pretty cool. For people who don’t necessarily want to do timbersports stuff, it’s a great way to make that connection to the historical symbol of how our country was built. The look honors that history. As for me, I can’t really fit into skinny jeans.
Would you be OK with your baby daughter following in your footsteps?
Oh, absolutely. I won’t put any pressure on her to do it. I had to make the decision myself that I wanted to try competing in timbersports and give it a go. And that’s going to have to be the same decision she’s going to have to make. But if she wants to go into woodchopping, I will back her up fully.