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Stihl Lumberjack Festival

Buzz of a Thousand Chainsaws

by Andy Davis / Images by Saskia Swanepoel / 18.04.2012

It was a Sunday and the buzz of a thousand chainsaws could be heard whining it’s way down the valley. Ageing city hipsters, finally got to feel legit in their plaid shirts and heavy leather boots as they swilled beer and smoked badly hand-rolled cigarettes on the lawn. Harnessed children swung from a massive tree rope, or tried their hand at throwing axes. There was a dodgy floating pallet run, a huge tree to climb and lots of fun with chainsaws. Sweat and sawdust.

Stihl Lumberjack Festival

How serial t-shirt entrepreneur and freedom of speech crusader, Justin Nurse, got from printing provocative t-shirts to cutting up wood on his father in-law’s wine farm with high powered German chainsaws is anyone’s guess. I mean, anyone who knows the dude can attest to the fact that he watches a lot of sport on TV. So you can only imagine him kicking around in his boxers and stokies one night, channel surfing, and suddenly he comes across ESPN’s coverage of lumberjacking… or whatever they call what those yahoos do to big pieces of wood, with chainsaws and crampons and leather straps and worn denim and flannel in the name of sport. And you can almost see the gears turning as he, we imagine, looks out the window across the field towards the last little bit of forest that has not yet been hacked down to create space for more vinyards and thinks, hmmm lumberjacking hey. A bit of googling shows him that the sport is big in other, uh, commonwealth countries and all of sudden he’s scheming to bring the world to the farm to chop wood. Which kind of ties in neatly with what he knows about Buddhism. A few well placed conversations with a chainsaw brand and the Stihl Lumberjack Festival becomes a reality.

Stihl Lumberjack Festival

And so it came to pass that on a weekend in early April, some few hundred of Cape Town’s citizens came to a winefarm in Stellenbosch in search of something new to do while they pursued the baseline staples of tasty food you can eat out of one hand and plastic pints of micro-brewed beer of the old school, pre-hipster variety (thanks Forresters). If you’ve ever wanted to have a go on a chainsaw, this was your chance, the friendly experts showed many how to slice a pine log, like a big petrol-powered knife through hot butter. However the actual chainsaw carving and sculpturing was reserved for the steadier, more experienced hands. The tree swing and the axe throwing drew enthusiastic participants. “What would you ever use a double headed axe for?” I asked the guy standing next to me. He shrugged and raised my question with a statement. “Imagine your average car guard had one of those.”
“You’d pay upfront.” Said his friend.

There was a little enthusiasm for the mixed-doubles bandsaw competition and much enthusiasm for the pallet run over the water and back; a more humane replacement for that rolling log thing you see on ESPN, in which the fleet-footed pre-pubescent kids showed up the older, heftier men and women, many of whom ended up taking an impromptu slip into the drink.

Stihl Lumberjack Festival

As things wound down at the Lumberjack games, the attention shifted back to the patch of grass, close to the beer and wine, as Bateleur kicked things off with their psychedelic instrumental musing. “This is the first time we’ve been the soundtrack for a jumping castle,” said a bemused guitarist Adam Bertscher. And so they serenaded the kids on the big bright plastic inflatable toy across the way, with some groovy instrumentalism and melodic holwing, while the elders slukked wine and chatted in the sun. Next up the 3 piece Natasha Meister band impressed with a mix of covers and originals. Obviously the covers, including a ripping version of “Rolling in the Deep”, customised by her husky voice, got the most traction from the crowd. Finally they handed out some prizes. Justin was given a ceremonial Stihl leafblower, while some kid who skipped across the floating pallets got a chainsaw… if you had to choose between a leafblower and a chainsaw… I’m just saying. Eventually Valiant Swart stepped behind the mic and unleashed his unique brand of boere-blues to a setting sun and entrenched crowd. The Forrester’s was as cold and plentiful as the schwarmas tasty. And fresh pine sawdust is not only comfortable to lie on, it smells pretty sweet too.

Stihl Lumberjack Festival

*All images © Saskia Swanepoel.

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