Its nickname is the misery whip, and it’s fuelled by pain.
A six-foot cross-cut saw that resembles a broad sword, the misery whip is used to cut through a log of white pine. The best athletes in the world can slice through 16-to-19 inches of wood in around 10 seconds, provided they are willing to endure short-term torture.
This is Andrea Hand’s sport.
“It’s a full-body, horrible, horrible thing to do,” she says.
And yet Hand has become exceedingly good at this horrible thing in a short time. So good, in fact, that the Kaslo native is set to compete at the STIHL Timbersports Canadian Championship in Wasaga Beach, Ont., from July 19 to 22.
The 33 year old only started competing at Kaslo’s annual competition five years ago, and even then it was just for kicks. She didn’t have the right training or tools to make the jump from casual logger sports events to the professionally branded Timbersports. She also valued her limbs.
“It’s not something you just decide to do, because you can lose a foot,” says Hand, who slips on socks that look like they are made of chain mail before she chops a block. “The number of people who have missed a toe, don’t have a toe, have a really gnarly scar, is up there.”
But she has wood in her bones. Hand’s father was a logger and her parents still own a local mill. Her husband Buster has worked as a lumberjack for over two decades.
Her eight-year-old son Kachis also competes in logger sports, and four-year-old daughter Paris takes her pet tree Spikey for walks.
Logging, as it is for the rest of the community, is everything to the Hand family. “It’s our industry. It’s either you cut them down or you plant them. It’s the best way to support your family.”
Still, Hand didn’t consider logging a sport until five years ago when she started participating in the local event. Even then, without training or proper tools, she only toyed with it.
That changed in early 2016. On a lark, Hand responded to an ad she saw for pole-climb training. Her first attempt was slow, and also revealed her own fear of heights. “A deep, deep fear,” she says. “I’ve never been up that pole and said, ‘I’m so glad I’m up here.’”
But she stuck with it, and shortly after was approached at a competition in Powell River by Karl Bischoff.
Now 62, Bischoff has been competing in logger sports since 1978. He offered her an axe of her own and spent a day showing Hand how to chop a block. Bishoff said Hand’s first cuts weren’t very good, but that she’s made significant improvements over a short amount of time.
“She certainly has endurance, strength and determination,” he says. “She’ll go a long ways because she’s so young at the sport.”
In 2017, Hand chopped her first competition block at the Kaslo event. This year at June’s western qualifier in Port McNeil, Hand finished first in underhand chop with a time of 47.49 seconds — a full 10 seconds faster than the next athlete.
She went on to finish first and is one of three women from Western Canada going to the championships, with five more from the eastern qualifiers.
Hand will compete in three events at nationals.
Underhand chop requires athletes to stand on top of a block 11-to-12 inches in diameter and cut out V-shaped angles on either side in order to sever the wood in half for time. In stock saw, athletes use a chainsaw to make one precise cut down a log and then another up, also for time.
And then there’s the single buck, in which Hand will wield the aforementioned misery whip.
Preparing for these events requires a lot of work, and not just for Hand. On the day she spoke to a Star reporter, Hand’s husband Buster, who built all of her training equipment, left at 4:30 in the morning to bring in and prep a new load of chopping wood for her.
“He puts up with this, because he doesn’t compete,” she says. “He’s not competitive whatsoever and he puts up with this and he’s honestly my biggest fan.”
Hand trains at least three days a week using a custom axe made in New Zealand. Her collective time for all three events at the western qualifier was one minute 26 seconds, but at home, where setup, take down and tool maintenance is all on her, Hand will usually be working for an hour and a half.
She also takes her time, and may only chop one block of wood depending on its size.
“You don’t train for speed, you train for accuracy,” she says. “So I usually swing 10 times. I inspect what I’ve done, think about what I’m going to do, and then continue.”
Hand has already competed in four events this year, and will have travelled to 11 by the time the sport’s season ends in September. Any anxieties she had about the blades, the heights, the pain have been replaced with a drive to whip misery into medals.
“If you’re not aggressive,” she says, “it’s not the right sport for you.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Hand is one of 10 women from Western Canada going to nationals. The actual number is three.