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The art of cutting logs, in which the Basques have competition on the other side of the planet

BarcelonaIn 1976, thousands of Basques were left speechless after seeing how a group ofwith an ax locals lost a log-cutting contest against foreigners. “It was because of the axes”, explains Iker Vicente, one of the best log cutters today. In Euskal Herria, different sports deeply rooted in the land, known as a folk sports, where disciplines such as lifting stones, mowing and, of course, cutting logs are attached. The most popular version are the with an axwith their axes.

Its origin is in the woods and fields, where while working the young people decided to compete with each other to see who was the strongest. Tradition said that the young were in charge of felling the trees and the veterans finished clearing the trunks by removing the branches. Those duels, turned into a matter of honor, ended up being competitions with an audience at village festivals. The first reference is to a duel in Hernani in 1802. During the 19th century, people left the villages to find work in the factories, and the braua squares of the main Basque towns began to host ax contests of young men who they left their villages but brought the traditions to the cities.

With Franco’s death, Basque society reclaimed its traditions and experienced a golden age of traditional sports. So much so that in 1976 it was decided to organize an international log-cutting competition at the Anoeta Velodrome in Sant Sebastià. But competing in cutting logs is not an exclusive heritage of the Basques. Similar traditions existed in different corners of the planet. That year, then, the rules were agreed upon to organize a contest against the Australian champions.

It had to be decided how to compete, as there was a big difference: the Basque version is a cross-country sport, where it is about cutting the most logs the best in a specific period of time, usually 30 minutes. The Australian version was speed: the faster you cut a log, the better, with performances of two or three minutes. It was also necessary to agree on the type of wood and whether the trunk was in a horizontal or vertical position, since you can compete in these two versions. With the agreed rules, the Australians prevailed that day. “It was a very hard blow, but we quickly understood that they had more modern, better axes. A year later, a tournament was held again at the Atotxa Stadium in Sant Sebastià and the Basques were already carrying Australian axes. The brothers Arria and Mindeguía won easily”, explains Vicente, who shows me his axes. Made in Australia, of course.

Although initially the contests ofwith an ax they were held as a celebration in which it was a question of competing for honor and they took away as a prize only the hat that the champions of a tournament receive in Euskadi (in Basque, champion is precisely called champion in reference to this gesture), in recent years sponsors and institutions have made it possible to create a competition circuit that gathers thousands of people, such as the Urrezko Aizkora league.

Even today, Basques and Australians continue to face each other in international tournaments where Americans or Canadians also participate. More than once, with an ax Basques have competed in the Royal Easter Show in Sydney, a large agricultural and livestock fair with all kinds of competitions that has become a giant spectacle with rides, food stalls and fireworks. And more than once the Basques have defeated the Australians at home. However, Australian Laurence O’Toole has also won the International Aizkolaris Championship held in the Basque Country on several occasions. A very sharp rivalry.

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