Pursuits: On a Roll

logrollerIn the late 1800s, when the demand for lumber was at its peak, loggers used rivers to transport timber from the woods to sawmills. It was not uncommon for logs to jam, which forced workers to hop between logs to break the congestion. Staying dry and on the log the longest quickly grew into a game, and soon enough lumber companies sponsored their own logrollingcontests. Now, a century later, Wisconsin native and logroller extraordinaire Abby Hoeschler ’10 is on a mission to revitalize the northern-woods tradition and bring it to an international arena.

Abby was born into a logrolling dynasty. As soon as she learned how to swim, at age four, she learned to logroll from her mother, Judy, a seven-time world champion. Judy taught classes at a local YWCA and often toted Abby and her three siblings to the pool, so much so that Abby barely remembers a day without it. Starting in the six-and-under division, Abby flew up the competitive logrolling circuit, going elite by age 14. She worked hard to maintain her top-three logrolling spot and her three-time boom-running world title. (Boom running is a timed event in which competitors race across logs attached to one another in the water. )

Rather than attend summer soccer camp, Abby would logroll along with the rest of her family. (That’s what it took for the Hoeschler clan to win 16 world titles and counting.) “It’s always been something that defines us,” Abby says. “And we like to keep the wins in the family.”
When Abby’s older sister, Katie ’04, packed her bags for Middlebury, she didn’t think twice about bringing a log to college. It wasn’t just for training—Katie began to teach other students the sport in what became a J-term class staple, with teaching duties handed down from sister to sister. Over the next decade of Hoeschlers, logrolling became a physical education credit at Middlebury. The sport grew so popular, in fact, that Abby established a January logrolling tournament.

Upon her graduation, Abby’s parents proposed an idea they had been throwing around for years: to create a synthetic log. A ban on shipping untreated cedar wood out of the country was hindering the sport’s potential globalization, and as staunch promoters of this northern-woods tradition, the Hoeschlers felt it was their duty to find a way around this obstacle. As the strongest advocate (and natural teacher) in the family, Abby was the perfect person to take on the project.

While cross-country skiing with her father one winter afternoon, Abby serendipitously ran into two of the best tinkering engineers around, Mike Cichanowski, founder of Wenonah Canoes, and Jeff Van Fossen, cofounder of the synthetic violin-bow company CodaBow. One makes a recreational product that floats in the water and the other makes a synthetic product that imitates wood, thought Abby. All she needed was to combine the two skills and she would have her log! Jeff put her in touch with two student engineers at Winona State University, who helped create a prototype that imitates the cellular makeup of a tree. Using a combination of fiberglass, wood, and foam, the team created the first viable synthetic log, a 60-pound cylinder built of high-density polyethylene that fills up with water and floats, spins, and reacts just like a cedar log. Key Log Rolling, the Hoeschlers’ dream company, was born.

Now that Abby has an easily transportable synthetic log in production, she’s working on the other half of the equation: growing the sport. “When people asked if there’s a market for logrolling, I never knew how to respond,” says Abby. “Then I realized, we’re creating the market. That’s where we want to be.” So far, the summer camp industry has been highly receptive: Key Log will supply more than 40 camps across the U.S. with a log this season, along with the first international camp in Switzerland and a summer school in Mexico.

Already, five colleges and universities—a market Abby has yet to explore—have logrolling clubs, and every day she receives inquiries from schools as far away as Australia that want to start their own groups.

No other company is promoting the sport as much as Key Log is—not even the U.S. Log Rolling Association. “We didn’t set out to create this synthetic product just to sell it,” Abby says. “We want to grow the sport and make it more accessible to people because they love it as much as we do.”

Madison Kahn is the assistant managing editor at Boston magazine and a freelance writer.

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