BEMIDJI-A few dozen people tried their hand-or, more accurately, their sense of balance-at a log rolling exhibition and demonstration Tuesday, and most tumbled back into the pool after a few wobbly seconds on one of two synthetic logs.
One exception was Abby Hoeschler, a longtime log roller who ran the demonstrations at BSU and is president of Key Log Rolling, a Minneapolis-based company that hopes to expand the sport and make it more accessible.
"You can splash water in someone's eyes," Hoeschler said as she smiled and casually balanced on one end of a log. She kicked some pool water at an imaginary opponent on the other end.
The university recently purchased from Hoeschler's company a pair of "Key Logs," which are special synthetic logs that mimic "competition-approved" logs. University staff hope to start an intramural log rolling competition this spring, and the two logs are set to be available for use at the Gillett Wellness Center pool in the winter and at the lake in the summer.
The synthetic logs, Hoeschler said, can make log rolling more accessible because they're lighter and easier to transport than the 500-pound behemoths used in competition. The two her company sold to BSU include removable finned rings-training wheels, in a sense-that help stabilize each log as new rollers find their balance.
The sport itself is a total body workout, Hoeschler said, and the challenge and fun overrides log rollers' fatigue.
Competitions are usually one-one-one, first-to-hit-the-water affairs. The first roller to win three of five rounds is declared the winner, and competition can be tense.
"Sort of like boxing, you're on the line, you're really close to your competitor. You can hear them breathing," Hoeschler said. "But at the end of the day, it's safe. It's non-violent. You just fall into the water, and everyone's having fun and cheering."
Hoeschler is the U.S. Log Rolling Association's fifth-ranked women's competitor and its top-ranked "boom run" competitor. Her mom is Judy Scheer Hoeschler, a champion log roller from Wisconsin who has founded log rolling programs across the country at universities, parks and rec departments, summer camps, and so on.
"I don't even remember ever learning how to log roll," Abby Hoeschler said. "I can remember learning how to ride a bike, but I don't remember learning how to log roll."
She said her company hopes to make log rolling an olympic sport, and that Minnesota could be "ground zero" for that effort.
Hoeschler and Mark Morrissey, BSU's assistant director of campus recreation, met at an outdoor recreation conference in Minneapolis.
"She said, 'Bemidji?' and I said, 'log rolling," Morrissey recalled as two rollers shrieked with laughter and toppled into the pool behind him. "With the history of the area, people will love it."
Other Minnesota schools with programs similar to the nascent one at BSU include the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities and Morris campuses.