Nathan "Bucket" Waterfield makes woodchopping look easy. The STIHL Timbersports pro remembers growing up watching real-life Paul Bunyans on TV swing shiny axes, run giant modified chainsaws, and chop their way up a tree while standing on wooden boards. Now, he's one of them. And he's also the world's most patient coach—last summer he visited the Project Woodchips Woodsman Camp and spent hours helping us (attempt to) nail our chopping technique. Fresh off from competing in Australia, Nathan shared some words of woodchopping wisdom.
Project Woodchips: How did you first get into woodchopping and Timbersports?
Nathan "Bucket" Waterfield: There were no traditional teams at the forestry school I went to my sophomore year. Formerly a three-sport athlete in high school, I really missed athletics. A transfer student I talked to competed on the woodsmen's team at her previous school; I was like, "Like the stuff you see on TV?" We threw a team together and went to a competition, got our asses handed to us, and I was hooked. The real pivotal moment in my career was when I met my wife. She had been competing in college and semi-professionally for over a year before I met her and she really guided me through all the ins, outs, who, whats, and wheres. One of the biggest hurdles into the sport is knowing how to get started, and she made that easy for me.
PW: What was your journey to going pro like?
Bucket: Totally irresponsible and financially ridiculous! Seriously though, when I graduated college with a bachelors degree in forest management, my peers were starting their careers using their education. My complete professional focus was woodchopping and Timbersports! All summer long, I competed at every competition I could find and worked enough to get by. Mid-October that same year, I went to the Basque region of Spain and competed for 6 weeks, which was one of the greatest experiences of my woodchopping career. I was home for about two weeks and left for Down Under until late April. That following summer was my first year in the STIHL Timbersports Series, and I again was immersed in competition all summer and fall.
PW: What's your favorite event and why?
Bucket: Springboard. My stature and technique favor me in the event. It's the most technically difficult event we do, and I feed off excelling at something that others find to be very difficult or even nerve wracking.
PW: You've competed around the world. What would you say is the biggest difference between Timbersports in the U.S., and in places like Europe and Australia?
Bucket: Woodchopping and Timbersports are actually two very different things. Timbersports is an event marketed by STIHL and is a measure of overall ability in six events. Woodchopping or even lumberjack competitions are typically made up of 10 or more standalone events at one competition. Europe is similar to the U.S., but we have far more competition and a higher variety of it, from the little county fairs right up to the STIHL Timbersports events. In Australia, woodchopping is predominant (with very little sawing in comparison), and they have a very established handicap system that encourages athletes of all abilities to participate.
PW: What does training look like for you going into competition?
Bucket: Primarily event training and a lot of equipment maintenance, repair, and prep. Simulating the events you are about to compete in, including chopping the same size and species of wood is important to me.
PW: What do you think you'd be up if woodchopping and Timbersports hadn't come into your life in college?
Bucket: It's hard to say, but if it weren't for Timbersports, I would have been fighting wildfires out west. Honestly, it's the other way around; I actually missed a job offer for a hotshot crew based out of Mississippi. I was heartbroken too and had I been around to get the call it would completely changed my life.
PW: You're helping to organize STIHL's first-ever women's qualifier. What do you think the future holds for women in the sport?
Bucket: The women's side of the sport will continue to grow as long as the athletes grow with it. The more commitment female athletes have to the sport, the more you will see it grow.
PW: What advice would you give to someone who's picking up a racing axe for the first time?
Bucket: Woodchopping is all about form and technique. You need to get over the idea of trying to hit the block hard, especially if you are someone who has a strength training background. It's worthwhile to try and develop proper technique right from the start. Nearly every chopper I know will admit to having one bad habit they can't shake because that's how they first learned how to chop.
Want to learn how to chop, saw, climb, and throw with pros like Bucket? Claim your spot at this summer's Woodsman Camp in the Adirondacks.