Professionals prepare for log rolling tournament

Three Rivers Roleo begins July 8

This region is known for its logging history, using rivers to transport lumber. Now over a century later, a unique sport in our area keeps the tradition rolling.

The tenth annual Three Rivers Roleo starts Saturday at the new Great River Landing in Onalaska, and the free event is expected to bring in at least a thousand spectators.

Tournament director Katie Rick said the event has grown every year, and for the first time this year, there will be a vendor village offering food and drinks. There will also be lumberjack demonstrations, and a chance for anyone to try out log-rolling.

Area professionals have been practicing off the Great River Landing in preparation.

“I train down here almost every day,” roller Garrick Birdsong said.

Now a professional, Garrick Birdsong’s parents signed him up for log rolling classes when he was seven.

“I’ve just been doing it ever since,” he said.

“It’s like sparring with your feet,” Rick said.

Two rollers stand on one log, and the aim of the game is to get your opponent in the water without touching them.

“I have to direct my focus onto my opponents’ feet,” Birdsong said. “Don’t flail around too much. Always keep my feet moving.”

Birdsong won the Three Rivers Roleo professional competition last year, and has been training in the river about two hours every day for this year’s.

“It helps build balance, focus, endurance,” he said.

“There’s great camaraderie in the sport,” Rick said. “We’re tenacious competitors when we’re competing against one another, but we do get along well.”

Rick said 15 men and 15 women will compete, including former world champions, all traveling to Onalaska from across the country.

“This is actually a traditional logging site, there were five sawmills in this general area, which is what the Onalaska, La Crosse area was founded on,” she said.

Rick explained log rolling began over a century ago.

“As you can imagine, we all have that competitive instinct and drive in us, so as lumberjacks would sit around campfires, they would say, ‘I’m better than you are,’ and have challenges,” she said.

Now the tradition rolls over into the modern-day sport.

“Just try it,” Birdsong said. “Nobody’s good at first. Worst case scenario is you fall down.”

Birdsong is hoping for another win.

“It’s great just knowing you’ve gone out and gone against the best and come out on top,” he said.

The tournament will be broadcasted on Fox Sports North and Fox Sports Wisconsin

The Three Rivers Roleo starts Saturday at 11 a.m. with the Professional Tournament and goes until about 5 p.m.

The Amateur Competition starts at the same time Sunday.