The axeman cometh: Brad De Losa, 36, woodchopper
First-generation woodchopper Brad De Losa, of Lithgow in New South Wales, began competing as a teenager. Last year he was crowned world champion. This month he competes in the Sydney Royal Easter Show, his favourite event.
Richard Cooke We know a bit about competition woodchopping, but how do you train?
Brad De Losa I think actually imitating the sport that you do is the best training, so I chop a lot of logs underhand, and standing block. I also do weight training and a lot of swimming.
RC Until recently, woodchopping and darts were the only sports where people with paunches still competed.
BDL In times gone by, probably woodchoppers haven’t been as conscious of diet, but it’s a lot more professional now. The athletes are sort of … It’s an overall body type of arrangement and your diet is very important. The gut goes and the abs sort of start to appear.
RC Woodchopping is really more than one sport – and there are different disciplines in timber sports that the competitors really seem to love and hate.
BDL Throughout Australia and New Zealand the chopping disciplines are probably where we excel, and the sawing events are probably not as strong. One of the sawing events is called the “hot saw event”, in which we run 300cc snowmobile or motorcycle engines that have been changed into chainsaws. That’s probably my least favourite event, because it’s pretty unpredictable. You rely on machinery quite a bit.
RC Attaching a motorcycle engine to a chainsaw sounds like a terrible idea.
BDL That’s right. They’re all custom built, so it sort of opens the door up to a whole range of problems and issues. They’re a pretty spectacular thing to watch when they’re running good, and when everything goes right it’s an adrenalin rush to get a good cut. But in-between times it’s a bit of a headache to have to deal with.
RC They’re not much fun when the chain pops.
BDL The worst injury I’ve sustained throughout my chopping career is when a chain came off the hot saw and actually came back and hit me in the leg. I did have all the protective equipment on but it certainly gave me a fair whack and I’ve got a bit of a nasty scar there now.
RC It’s not a sport where you want to be injured.
BDL I’ve been sort of quite lucky really throughout my career. I haven’t had any really nasty cuts. I had a little bit of bicep tendon injury in the shoulder, and other than that I’ve had a pretty good run – touch wood, that’ll continue.
RC You’ve been world champion a couple of times, but still say winning at the Royal Easter Show is your career highlight.
BDL Yeah, closely followed by the Timbersports World Championships that I won in Europe last year. It was a very spectacular event to win over in Europe – 10,000 people in a big stadium and certainly a great atmosphere. But as a chopper growing up, all the legends were at Sydney Show and that was the biggest and the best. It was the Wimbledon of woodchopping, so for me to start out as a junior and watch all of the great guys compete and win there, then to actually come out and win … It was certainly a great highlight of my career.
RC It might have been professionalised, but are there still characters in woodchopping?
BDL Yeah, you get different people from all different aspects of life and you get off the beaten track quite a bit. A lot of the lumberjack competitions throughout Canada and the USA, you go to a lot of small lumberjack-type towns where the timber industry and the forest industry has been a major part of that town. You get to see a lot of diverse people and locations throughout the world.
RC You must know a lot about wood.
BDL It’s a fairly long apprenticeship to learn all the tricks of the trade. You’ve got to have a pretty good knowledge of wood, and usually that is passed down through the generations. A lot of guys have their grandfathers or fathers or whoever to explain and teach them. I didn’t have those advantages so I had to sort of learn all that myself. There’s a big advantage being able to read the timber. I enjoy probably the harder type of wood that we cut in Australia, the eucalypt. The majority in the USA and Canada is white pine and then in Europe it’s poplar – it’s softer. I prefer to cut the harder wood.
RC And when you’re not chopping?
BDL We’ve got a family farm, just a small acreage, so
I enjoy spending time down there and I’ve got two kids now, a little girl and a little boy. I spend as much time as I can with them. The little boy’s got a little toy chainsaw and he’s shown quite a bit of interest in that. But he’s only about 16 months, so I’ll try to keep him away from the axe for a little bit longer.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 12, 2014 as "The axeman cometh". Subscribe here.