Among the 16 axemen and women chopping and sawing away in great haste at last weekend's Horowhenua AP&I Show were the Greig Family: father Peter who started it all in 1987, his wife Shirley and their two children Stuart and Diane.

Peter said woodchopping is a great individual sport and it is one where strength is important. By the look of them many axemen and women are rather formidable.

The Greigs travel around the central area of the country attending shows like the Horowhenua AP&I Show and operate as a team, meaning they give each other a bit of cheek at times and even a bit of grief to egg each other on.

Peter said when he first started he practised twice a week, but he hasn't done that for years. He doesn't even have a place where he can practice.

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"The more you do it the better you get at it and newbies need to practice twice a week, but should be ready to compete in two to three weeks." The Greigs regularly appear in Gisborne, Taihape, New Plymouth and in Levin and a few places in between.

Woodchopping has been called a heritage sport. It started way back in the 1870s, when millions of trees were logged around New Zealand. Some would even consider it the original "extreme" sport. Athleticism and technique play an important role, as does timing. It all happens in a matter of seconds.

"I didn't play any sport when I was younger, so got into woodchopping," said Peter. As the family travelled with him they gradually took up the challenge too.

"They just followed me around and eventually in my footsteps. They've had a few wins over the years, meaning a bit of prize money, but it is not a sport that will make you rich," he said.

In fact the equipment they use is rather expensive. Axes vary in price from $450 to $750 and the saw they were using last weekend cost them close to $3000. They last them for quite a while, unless you break them. "That can happen on the first chop," said Peter.

The axes and saws are made for each individual chopper and sawer by Tuatahi Axes Ltd in Masterton. It is important to keep the axes and saws rust free and they need to be polished with either WD40 or CRC as they compete.

Diane and Stuart Greig on the saw during the Horowhenua AP&I Show wood sawing competition.
Diane and Stuart Greig on the saw during the Horowhenua AP&I Show wood sawing competition.

Health and Safety rules do not make life easy for the axemen, Peter said. "For example, getting access to trees on private property is hard because of health and safety." And while 20 years ago 60 competitors turned out for the AP&I Show in Levin now there were less than 20.

The axemen and women do a number of different categories in each competition, such as underhand chopping, standing block chopping, treefelling, single and double handed sawing, and axe throwing.

Nearly all races are run using a handicapping system whereby the better axeman give a head start to their less experienced competitors. Each axeman is given a "mark" which denotes the number of seconds he has to wait before he can start.

Novice axemen start on a mark of 3 and are said to be "the front markers". In contrast the "back markers" describe the better axemen who start much later with some starting 40 or more seconds behind the front marker. Generally speaking, an axeman's mark increases each time he wins or places in a race.

In some races handicapping doesn't apply. These are said to be "championship" races and are usually competed for by those axeman with the highest marks on the day.

The Ōtaki Axemen Club would be more than happy to teach any male or female the art of woodchopping.

"They have an arena where they can practice," said Peter Greig. The Ōtaki Axemen can be contact via email: Rasmaccontractors@icloud.com.