When Tauranga arborist James Kilpatrick scales a 20-metre tree his head might be in the clouds but his feet, figuratively at least, are firmly on the ground.
The 27-year-old is preparing to take on the world at the International Society of Arboriculture's 36th annual International Tree Climbing Championships (ITCC) in Portland, Oregon, this weekend.
This will be his third time at the competition and he's using his experience to hold his nerves in check ahead of the event, which will see 61 of the world's best tree climbers from 16 countries compete.
"There is a bit of speed involved but it's based on safety and technique rather than speed," Kilpatrick said.
"It's fast, exhilarating and it's fun."
Kilpatrick, formerly of Tauranga Boys' College, is one of the world's best tree climbers and proved his worth at the Asia-Pacific Tree Climbing Championships in Tasmania in May. He won the competition and is the Asia-Pacific champion.
He said the tree climbing competitions were extremely competitive and as well as aiming for the title, the event was good for networking with other like-minded people.
Climbing trees was one of his favourite past-times and he remembered the first one he scaled was a plum tree.
"I can't remember how old I was ... but it was a plum tree that fruited around Christmas time. I can remember climbing to pick the first plums, and as you know, the big ripe ones were always right at the ends of the branches so that's where I would go," he said.
He got into the sport of tree climbing while studying arboriculture at Waikato Institute of Technology in Hamilton. His tutor, Andy Harrison, encouraged the class to enter regional competitions for fun and training purposes.
For the past five years, Kilpatrick has split his time between New Zealand and Europe where he's worked as an arborist.
"The industry is really strong over there and it's given me many more opportunities to work and really hone my skills." Working was the best way to train for the competition but Kilpatrick put in extra miles alongside former New Zealand champion Paul Kenny to "sharpen up a bit on a few technical techniques" ahead of the weekend's competition.
"Training usually involves practicing every event of the competition individually.
"It can get to be too much after working all day so sometimes it's important just to get in the tree and have fun climbing without a chainsaw for a change," he said.
At the competition, male and female competitors will perform five events during the preliminary round. Arborists with the highest scores after the first day will be invited to compete in the Master's Challenge competition on Sunday.
International Society of Arboriculture executive director Jim Skiera said each event would test a competitor's ability to professionally and safely manoeuvre in a tree while performing work-related tree-care tasks efficiently.
Kilpatrick said people were genuinely surprised to hear there was such things as tree climbing competitions and often confused it with logging competitions.