What Tree Climbing Competitions Have Taught Me
Years ago a friend told me that some of their worst work habits were learned at tree climbing competitions.
At the time, I was completely obsessed with climbing comps and that statement blew my mind. He was one of the top climbers in the world (and probably still is) but the statement was just too much for me. Unfortunately I never had him fully explain what he was talking about other than him mentioning that chasing bells made for bad work habits… or something along those lines. At the time I didn't understand him.
This was years ago. Now that I’ve been doing tree work for 15 years and have competed for close to 10--I can start wrapping my head around what he was talking about. For myself, tree climbing comps opened my eyes up to the community that surrounds the event and lifestyle in the first place. If I had never competed in my first comp, I probably wouldn’t be writing this right now. I was working in a stagnant work environment that bred resentment for anyone that was trying to make the best of themselves professionally and personally. After that first comp, all I wanted to do was learn as much as possible to make myself into the best climber I could possibly be.
The second thing I can pull from those first years of going to climbing comps is a greater sense of safety and professionalism that I saw in the other climbers and the fact that I hadn’t seen that in myself before. After seeing these true professionals, I made a conscious effort to stop one handing a chainsaw which developed into completely abolishing it from my working altogether. This may seem strange but I had been trained to one hand the saw for all cuts and making that change was extremely difficult and mentally taxing to change such an ingrained habit. I also started using my lanyard and climb line any time I was going to be using that chainsaw (with 2 hands)! Again, this stuff may be commonplace where you work or with the workers that surround you but for myself, that wasn’t the case.
I also found that the more I learned, the more I was willing to share with those around me and hopefully form them into professionals as well. I was striving to be like these badasses that I met in different states and wanted to bring that back to the company I was at as well. I put in the time and became a Certified Arborist, a CTSP, as well as putting the time in to train a massive amount of people in new climbing techniques and aerial rescue. This all came around because I had met others that were putting this energy out at the comps and it flowed into me and into others. The residual effect of what these different climbers had on myself and then others and hopefully others after that is endless!
The thing I notice a lot lately that has always stuck with me from the work climb event in particular is a simple work habit, never stop moving. When chasing bells around a tree, your best bet is constant but efficient movement. You want to be able to move as efficiently as possible from one station to the next without really having to think about that next swing. If your body is capable of working out of pure habit instead of thinking for 5 minutes about what the next move is going to be, you’ll probably win the event. Now if we bring that back around into a large removal or a large dead wooding job, the best thing you can have is mega efficiency while working aloft. While the rigging line is being untied, you should already be moving to where the rope will be tied off next. Too many times I see climbers watching the ground workers untie the rigging line and stay in the same spot until the line is sent back up to them! That’s sooooo much wasted time at the end of the day which means the climber is in the tree longer, the job is going to take longer and we are all going to get home later than we wanted! Just because you watched the groundies untie the rigging line!
The point I want to end on and the one that really drives it home for me as to how I’ve benefited from climbing comps is this: climbing comps made being safe seem cool. I know that is a goofy statement but as I stated before, the people that I was working with were the typical macho dudes that worked harder than they had to and made plenty of unsafe decisions because that's what they were brought up to do. There was a ton of free climbing, one handing, no 2 points of attachment while cutting, awful rope angles and a good share of property damage. Once I had the chance to hang out with these climbers that excelled at being true professionals, it made me want to emulate what they were doing and it has helped form me into the climber, worker and business owner I am today. I want to thank all the climbers I’ve ever had the chance to work with throughout my career whether I learned good habits or bad from them, they all helped me take shape with my favorite thing in the world: working with trees.