Justin Tamez didn’t mean to become a woodsman, but it’s a good thing he did. Since first coming across timber sports as a high school senior scouting out colleges, he’s become a focused competitor on the Paul Smith’s Woodsmen Team, and is one of the most patient coaches we’ve ever met—trust us: he spent hours helping us improve our bow saw technique, and still talks to us.
Project Woodchips: To paraphrase Holden Caulfield, what’s your Davy Crockett story?
Justin Tamez: I’m from a relatively small town in New York, called Ghent. This spring I will be finishing my degree in Forestry with a concentration in Biology. My plans after graduation are up in the air—hopefully I figure it out sooner than later—but I know that I’d like to continue competing in timber sports.
PW: How did you first become involved with timber sports?
JT: When I was 17, I happened to meet Brett McLeod during an open house at Paul Smith’s College. He mentioned something about a program at the school where you get to learn the history of the Adirondacks and how it led to timber sports. That’s all it took—I was signed up.
In the summer of 2011, I attended one week of the Paul Smith’s Woodsmen School, where I learned so much and had so much fun. The next summer I spent three weeks at the Woodsmen School, and made the Woodsmen Team in the fall.
PW: What's your favorite event?
JT: My favorite event is bow sawing. It was one of the first events I learned and has been my favorite since. Recently I’ve taken a liking to singlebuck. I’d say that I prefer sawing to the more popular, chopping events. Fire building also deserves an honorable mention as my favorite doubles event.
PW: How do people react when you tell them you compete in timber sports?
JT: Usually you see one of two responses—one, ‘cutting wood is not a sport,’ or two, you get an awed look of disbelief followed by "that’s awesome!"
PW: What’s the most useful thing you’ve learned as a member of the Woodsmen Team?
JT: How to help others—whether they’re your teammates or a fellow athlete that you may not yet know. A couple years ago I met another collegiate competitor at Alfred State. We were both doing an event called super swede (four cuts with a bow saw). Usually you have someone who sprays WD-40 or some other lubricant onto the saw as you cut. But he didn’t have one present, and I offered to spray. It was just simple thing to do for someone else. Since then, he's been one of the most helpful people I’ve met. A simple favor has been given back tenfold. Timber sports seems to have created an incredibly helpful group of athletes where everyone is willing to put a helping hand in.
PW: How would you describe your coaching style?
JT: While I don’t know if I have a style, I do my best to coach like I’ve been coached at Paul Smith’s. I find that coaching through repetition, until the trainee has a firmer grasp on the basic concepts of an event, is really effective. I also find it helpful to coach people in small groups to give them the opportunity to listen and ask questions.
PW: What's your favorite part of competing?
JT: Seeing and meeting the different people in the sport—it’s a thriving ecosystem of people of all different ages. When I played soccer you didn’t see professional leagues with people in their 50s (and older) competing like you do in timber sports. Last summer a few friends and I headed down to New York City to see the Stihl Timbersports U.S. Championships. Watching Mel Lentz competing was pretty inspiring. Seeing a professional competitor in his fifties still competing was a real eye opener to how long you can stay in this sport.
I also love the variety in events you can do. From chopping and sawing to events like pole climb and boom run, being on a collegiate team allows us to try on different events that require different skills. Not many sports allow you to do an event where you’re running across a body of water on logs and later building a fire for time at the same meet.
PW: What advice do you have for someone's who new to the sport?
JT: If someone is new to timber sports and needs a place to start, the New York State Lumberjack Association (NYSLA) is a great place to check out. It's a group filled with plenty of people who are willing to help.
This last summer, I got talked into doing my first NYSLA-hosted competition, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. They did an awesome job of being supportive and making me feel welcomed, and I'm plenty excited for the upcoming summer's competitions.
Want to get all the skills you need to become a woodsman like Justin? Claim your spot at the Project Woodchips Getaway happening this July at Paul Smith's College.