The sport of log rolling developed from the North American river log drives, when lumberjacks floated logs from the forests downriver to the sawmill towns. The log drivers would run back and forth across the river of logs, guiding them down river, trying to prevent the logs from jamming up. When you step on a floating log, it spins...fast! The log drivers quickly learned to step atop the spinning logs, avoiding the icy water and the oncoming floating lumber. They realized it was pretty fun and challenged one another to matches. The sport of log rolling was born!
The history that
led us here
The first unofficial log rolling world championship was held on September 10th in The Lagoon of the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha, NE, as part of Lumbermen’s Day, sponsored by the Lumbermen’s Association of America. Various lumber companies fielded their best log rollers. The winner was Tommy Fleming of Eau Claire, WI.
When Key Log Rolling’s founder Judy Scheer (Hoeschler) started log rolling classes at twelve-years-old, she was hooked for life. The classes were held at Lumberjack Bowl, a 3000-seat log rolling arena in Hayward, WI. This was the first full-time log rolling program for children and was taught by the Pied Piper of log rolling, eighteen-year-old Marlys Hodd. Hodd developed teaching methods that are still used today. She was especially influential in teaching her young female log rollers to compete fearlessly.
Sixteen-year-old Judy Scheer (Hoeschler) wins first of seven World Log Rolling Championships. She is pictured here with Tony Wise, the innovative sports promoter who invited ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” to televise the annual World Log Rolling Championships, bringing modern log rolling coverage to millions of people worldwide.
It’s not everyday that a college student brings a 13-foot long, 400 pound cedar log to college. But in 1974, world champion Judy Scheer was determined to share her love for the traditional sport. She approached the director of the brand new CU Rec Center Pool and convinced him to purchase a log and ship it across the country. Spiked-shoes were not allowed in the pool, so students had to learn to log roll on the slippery bare wood. It was less than ideal for traction but people did manage to learn the sport. The idea for the carpet traction surface took ten more years to percolate to the top.
When Judy Scheer Hoeschler walked into the YWCA in La Crosse, WI and offered to start a log rolling program, the enthusiastic aquatics director was undaunted by hauling a 500-pound cedar log down a flight of stairs to the pool. The model for indoor log rolling programs was created at the La Crosse Y, and many hundreds of people learned to log roll there including Hoeschler’s own children: Katie, Lizzie, Abby and William.
Necessity is the mother of invention and the need for good traction on logs spawned the most important development in the history of the sport… carpeted logs. Traditional spiked shoes were not feasible in pools because they literally chewed up the logs and clogged the filters with wood chips. And bare wood logs were too slippery. Key Log Rolling experimented with numerous types of carpets for traction surface, landing on Olefin, a Nobel-prize winning fiber, known for its moisture wicking properties. We just tacked it around the log and away we rolled. Eventually, the International Log Rolling Association adopted its use. Access to the sport increased exponentially, and the destruction of rare and expensive cedar logs decreased.
Katie Hoeschler brings log rolling to Middlebury College. Her younger sisters Elizabeth and Abby followed in her fast footsteps, helping Middlebury become the first college to offer a P.E. credit in log rolling.
Key Log Rolling hosted the first elite pro tournament using traction surface logs (without spiked shoes), launching a new era of increased tournament development. Many tournaments followed suit.
A labor of love. As president of the International Log Rolling Association, Jay Hoeschler, husband to a world champion log roller and father of four log rolling children, reorganized the governing body to be in compliance with Olympic standards. The United States Log Rolling Association was officially chartered.
It didn’t take a lot of persuading for the mayor of Épinal, France to approve the first-ever European log rolling youth program. He saw it as a perfect fit with the goal of creating cultural and sports exchanges with its La Crosse, WI Sister City Cultural Exchange Program. But the idea fell flat on its face due to agricultural shipping restrictions and the expense of shipping 400-pound cedar logs across the Atlantic Ocean. In a moment of utter frustration, Judy and Jay Hoeschler set a goal to design and manufacture a portable synthetic rolling product and Voila, the idea for the Key Log was born!
With an art history degree in her hand, Abby Hoeschler, the youngest daughter, accepted an offer she couldn’t refuse… to take her mother’s Key Log vision from an idea to a reality. She had many credentials to do a great job, but her greatest asset was something she inherited from her dad: a love for checking off items on a very large to-do list.
With the help of some enterprising entrepreneurs, Abby Hoeschler found two ready and willing composite engineering students at the University of Minnesota, Winona. Calvin Skeim and Austin Erdenberger put their calculating minds to the test and proved that our idea for a lighter rolling log was mathematically possible. They spent months hand-building the first prototype with wood, fiberglass, styrofoam, and glue. When Abby hopped up for initial launch, it was clear that Key Log was on a roll!
Good ideas and successful prototypes are one thing; finding a creative and experienced manufacturer is quite another. We didn’t have to look far. Just up the Mississippi River from us, in a little river town, Wenonah Canoe has been designing and manufacturing the best high performance canoes in the country for over 40 years. Mike Cichanowski, founder of Wenonah Canoe, has the know-how (and the equipment) to turn out Key Logs by the truckload. Maybe he got it from his Polish immigrant ancestors who worked in the Mississippi River lumber mills.
After months of testing materials and building prototypes, Team Key Log Rolling, decided it was time to test the market at the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City. Hailed as the next big thing, it was good to see others share our excitement about making log rolling accessible to a wider audience.
By nature, log rolling logs are fast and we wanted to find a way to slow the Key Log down enough to give people time to figure out the fancy foot work. The old expression “it’s as easy as falling off a log” lost much of its steam when we created the Key Log Training Wheel. We knew we were on to something big when Jay Hoeschler tested the prototype wearing his waders and stayed on longer than he ever has without them! Big wheels keep on turnin', log rollers keep on learnin’.
The three Hoeschler sisters, Katie, Elizabeth, and Abby, each played a part in introducing log rolling to Middlebury College. When their brother William did the same at Skidmore College, it was time to the test the competiive waters. Middlebury faculty advisor, Danielle Rougeau, helped organize the first event and made the trophies of cut log slices. The test was successful as dozens of students experienced the thrill of log rolling competition for the first time and were hooked.
We can see the forest from the trees! After years of conceiving, planning, testing, retesting, prototyping, Key Log was finally ready for prime time. Thanks to the efforts of student engineers, Calvin Skeim and Austin Erdenberger; Mike Chicanowski and his team at Wenonah Canoe, and our own Key Log team, we were finally ready to ship the first Key Logs to summer camps and individuals. Mission accomplished!
We had a burning desire to see if we could transport a Key Log on an airplane as a piece of sporting equipment. At 12 feet, it's not much longer than surfboard and it only weighs 65 pounds. We called numerous airlines and after jumping through a few small hoops, the Key Log was in the cargo hold of a United plane bound for Cancun! We've taken it to swimming pools, ocean-front lagoons, and even, cenotes. Have Key Log, Will Travel!
We were shocked, amazed and thoroughly thrilled when Outside Magazine editor Sam Moulton and a photographer walked up to our booth at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market and informed us the Key Log was receiving their "Gear of the Show" award. Out of hundreds of top brands and thousands of products, Key Log caught their attention. That was a proud day.
Nine years after the idea for Key Log was born, we returned to Epinal, France to complete the circle. Imagine our joy at seeing all the same people who had welcomed our idea in 2005, and the school children who jumped right in to try the new French sport! We have a long way to go to see our Olympic vision come true, but we're on the right path. To read more about our trip to Epinal, click here.
Minnesota is the birthplace of the mighty lumberjack Paul Bunyan, you would think this place would be a hotbed of log rolling! Unfortunately, Paul's favorite sport has languished in the backwaters of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. No more! It took a few years of development by Key Log Rolling instructors but now a solid group of fun-loving sports enthusiasts have banded to together to form the first Minneapolis Log Rolling Club! Spiked-boots and water-logged wood logs are making way for the new kids in town.