Growing up near Houston and later as a Stanford student, Masaru Oka, ’10, never so much as caught a television glimpse of logrolling. But in 2013, a couple of years after moving to Madison, Wis., he chanced upon some people setting up for the sport at a local park.
They were offering cheap lessons; he was new in town; and the sport—which requires dueling competitors to stay upright on a floating log—seemed to capitalize on the leg strength and stamina he’d built up as a runner. He signed up. Early indicators weren’t auspicious. “We always say that your goal in the first class is just to be able to stay up for five seconds,” he says. “By the end of my first summer, I was still struggling to do that.”
‘You can’t think about how your day at work sucked. As a beginner, you can’t really concentrate on anything besides how well you’re moving your feet and adjusting your body.’
But there was a pleasure, he says, in how completely the sport expelled thoughts of the outside world and put him in a kind of flow state. “You can’t think about how your day at work sucked,” says Oka, a technical expert in electronic medical records. “As a beginner, you can’t really concentrate on anything besides how well you’re moving your feet and adjusting your body.”
Logrolling has roots in the 19th-century timber industry. As flotillas of cut logs floated downriver, workers were hired to keep them from jamming. To stay dry—and alive—the log drivers became deft at crisscrossing the rolling timber. By 1898, a national logrolling contest was held in Nebraska and won, aptly, by someone from Wisconsin, the epicenter of the sport today.
Not exactly your stereotypical lumberjack—he’s 5'5" and about 135 pounds—Oka generally doesn’t have the purchase on the logs to aggressively command the back-and-forth of the roll. Instead, that runner’s stamina has paid off: “I can just be on a log for a long time without getting tired.” Oka began competing in 2014, progressing to semipro podium finishes, such as second place at the 2021 Lumberjack World Championships and first at the 2022 Midwest Logrolling Championships.
This year, he graduated to the professional level, which in theory makes him eligible to win prize money. In reality, he says, he’ll be happy to win just one “fall” in each best-of-five contest. He’s got other Nerd Nation cred, though: In 2020, when COVID-19 forced the shutdown of events, he entered an online trick contest. One minute and 29 seconds, and an uncountable number of log rotations later, he’d solved a Rubik’s Cube on a windy Wisconsin lake. Roll Cardinal!
Sam Scott is a senior writer at Stanford. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.