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Aizkolariak, Basque axemen competitions and bets, and more

Discussion in 'Axe, Tomahawk, & Hatchet Forum' started by Ugaldie, Jan 14, 2016.

  1. Ugaldie


    Feb 27, 2013
    I have seen people knows very little about them outside the Basque Country, so my intention is to bring a bit of light to this topic.

    One of the best known traditional Basque charasteristic has been our preference for competitions and bets. Spanish people has a byword I like about us, take in account the "txapela" is a traditional Basque costume, "Un Vasco una txapela, dos Vascos una apuesta". It can be translated as "Were you see one Basque there will be a Txapela, were you see two Basques there will be a bet". Both traditions are losing in today's globalized world but they still are valid.

    There have been all type of bets here, a cyclist vs a horseman, two oxen vs an elephant, a given time vs a fully loaded donkey walking backside, scyte bets, stone drilling competitions, stone lifting ones, bets about lifting high load weird elements to the top of the mountains, cob gathering competitions, pelotari competitions... And a lot more standard and crazy bets and competitions.

    But here I will speak about axemen bets and competitions. My time is limited so my posts could be sporadic and short, but I will do my best. First axemen bets were made at medieval times, all bets have been persecuted by the church for centuries, so till the end of the 19th century they weren't admited by the public authorities. As an example, in the 17th century the magistrate Pierre de Lancre recriminated Basques for their "fondness for these sports rivalries".

    I have chosen the last bet we have had as a starting point, it was between Donato Larretxea and Xabier Orbegozo also known as Arria 5th in 20 December 2015th,


    Each competing axeman had to cut 20 kanaerdi (54 inches in perimeter) beech logs as fast as possible. They bet 24.000€ each other, the competition was at the bullring of Tolosa,


    The contenders were, Donato Larretxea, 1.76 meters high 100Kg weight, Navarrean, 55 years old, three times champion of the Basque Country, clear example of a old school axeman. He is the man on the right,


    Xabier Orbegozo (Arria 5th), 1.90 meters high 90Kg weight, Gipuzkoan, 36 years old axeman at the peak of his phisical condition,


    The roots of this bet came after a axemen competition, those two men each with their friends met at the same restaurant that day. They started challenging each other till they finished betting each other 24.000€. This could be the last bet Larretxea will do and Arria lost his last bet against another axeman, so both of them have trained very hard for this competition. Nobody had any clear advantage, each axeman come from a saga of very good axemen and expectations were very high, so bets between fans of each axeman went very high. Some of them bet each other the earnings of a moth. Crazy? Some bets were higher...

    Contenders agreed each one would bring half of the logs, noone had any advantage in this concern. Both of them choosed very different types of wood. Larretxea choosed standard wood with the clear intention to cut them fast and take advantage of his superior technique. Arriya choosed well seasoned wood with the clear intention to make a harder competition and taking advantage of his superior fitness,


    2000 spectators reached to the bullring, high entry price (40€) didn't took back people. Atmosphere was great each axeman fans gave all they had,


    So the competition started,


    Don't continue reading and see this video if you first want to see the competition instead of reading about how it went,

    http://www.eitb.tv/es/video/herri-k.../106920/aizkora-larretxea---arria-v-desafioa/ I'm sorry EITB has taken out some axemen videos from their website this one included.

    I advised you, here comes the spoiler,

    Each axeman started cutting his logs, Larretxea took advantage due to the easier woods,


    But when they reached to the contender logs Arriya started reaching Larretxea.


    Both of them cut the logs in different ways, Arriya cut them like a machine he almost didn't took any break.


    Larretxea took advantage of his technique but he had to take more breaks due to his no so good fitness.


    Arriya advanced Larretxea, but when they reached the last 5 logs Arriya had to cut seasoned logs and Larretxea (showing clear signs of tireness) standard ones. Larretxea even tired, advanced Arriya, so this one played with a little strategy. While Larretxea was concentrated cutting his log he jumped one of his logs and started cutting the next one. His intention was to make Larretxea think Arriya had a big advantage over him and he has already lost the competition, this way Arriya thought Larretxea would slow down giving him the advantage he needed to win the competition.


    But Larretxea saw clearly what Arriya's intention and he endured,



    Untill he won the competition.


    It was a very good competition, all of the people enjoyed it.


    Larretxea admited Arriya is a very tough contender and Arriya admited Larretxea's superior technique. It was a great day for all but those who lost their bets.


    Here you have some more photos of the competition,

    https://www.facebook.com/xabier.tre...73741832.100000 193297141&type=3&pnref=story

    Here you have a little video about it,


    I hope you enjoyed it!
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2017
  2. Twindog

    Twindog Gold Member Gold Member

    Apr 6, 2004
    Thank you for that awesome post.

    The swells in those hafts look super functional.
  3. jdm61

    jdm61 itinerant metal pounder Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Aug 12, 2005
    Cool. I am guessing that is the local bullring? You Basque guys are crazy but in a good way. I thought that jai alai was nuts!!!!:D
  4. Skiv


    Feb 21, 2006
    +1! Amazing.

    There's an old boy up north of me that used to compete a lot. I hear at age about 75 he's still competing. One of his sidelines is selling axes he's reconditioned and hafted his way. His way includes either a "hook" at the end of the handle or a triangular shaped swell that really flares out at the end like those do. Neighbour of mine has one and that gave me the idea.

    I've seen a number of competition axes and of the ones that the choppers hafted themselves, the majority have that swell. I like the hook style myself and work that into almost every SB haft I do. I also work DB hafts with a ring or flange at the bottom like a baseball bat. All for the same reason: keep the axe in my hands no matter what.

    The other thing I see in competition axe handles is that they generally look a little shorter than one a homeowner would buy. Took part in a competition last year (instructing crosscut technique for the "audience participation" Jack-and-Jill event). The choppers were using Tuatahi heads on handles only about the length of my arm.
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2016
  5. Steve Tall

    Steve Tall

    Aug 28, 2010
    Thanks Ugaldie for the great writeup!
  6. Square_peg


    Feb 1, 2012
    That's so cool! I wish we had competitions like that here. I love that each man had to cut 10 logs.
  7. Square_peg


    Feb 1, 2012

    I've been preaching 'large abrupt swell' on these forums for several years. A number of other forum members are making swells like this or reconditioning vintage hafts that were made this way. I don't understand why handle makers gave this up.

    "keep the axe in my hands no matter what"

    Why would you use any other type of haft?
  8. TexAg


    Jan 4, 2016

    Now I'm going to have to waste an hour at work reading about these competitions...
  9. rjdankert


    Mar 10, 2011
    What's the job of the guy to the right with the stick?


    Sometimes it seems that the axeman chops where he points, but not always. He also flicks the chips out of the way.

    I did, very much. :thumbup: Thanks for the post.

  10. rjdankert


    Mar 10, 2011
    Yes, they cut 10 logs twice in a little over 47 minutes. :)


  11. 300Six


    Aug 29, 2013
    Thank you very much! The insightful background information you provide makes that video considerably more meaningful. Chopping through various types of logs might not be as exciting as watching cars being chopped in half but it is a more realistic portrayal of what can be expected of a competent axeman.
  12. booted


    Jan 8, 2016
    Thanks . Intersting . Used an axe myself enough to know they are masters at chopping .
  13. BG_Farmer


    Mar 13, 2014
    Thanks, and your narration made it even more interesting. I like the ability to choose wood by each competitor, much closer to reality.
  14. vcbvcbvcb

    vcbvcbvcb Basic Member Basic Member

    Aug 1, 2012
    That was great.
  15. JayGoliath

    JayGoliath Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 27, 2010
    I supposed those axes are Tuatahi customs then?
  16. Ugaldie


    Feb 27, 2013
    Thank you all for your comments!

    Those competition axes have local made competition handles. I very like them, they are very comfortable and make the axe more accurate. In comparison the 2Kg Velvicut felling axe fells cumbersome to me. They don't sell them by internet but here is very easy to get them. Sometimes people uses to hang non racing axes with racing handles, even the taper fit ones,


    Yes jdm61, that's the bullring of Tolosa, I have commented it in the text. We use bullrings for this type of sports more than for bullfights, the people who goes to each type of event is different.

    About Jai Alai, the real name of the sport is pilotaritza or simply pilota. Jai Alai is the most common name of the building it is played in, frontoia. Here the actually prefered playing style is the original one, barehand,


    But I think the most known style abroad Basque Country is the zesta-punta,


    Square_peg, each axeman cuts 20 logs. Each log is cut once by each axeman, this is done to make the competition more fair,

    rjdankert, the man with the stick helps to the axeman by taking appart already cut wood pieces and suggesting him were to point the next stroke. He helps the axeman to be focused.

    JayGoliath, they use Keech axes. They import crude heads and they grind and hang them here.

    Those days the best axemen are competing for the binakako urrezko aizkora, the golden axe competed by couples in Euskera. Some people has already joked asking me if I'm refering to this, so I'll do the joke by myself,


    "Urrezko aizkora " is the elite competition of the Basque axemen. This time they compete in pairs, this competition started as we know it today and with this name in the year 1998. This year an Austrailan axeman will take part in it, Lawrence O'Toole will compete as the couple of a young aizkolari I like a lot, Iker Vicente.


    I prefer old timer competitions were the axeman doesn't have to take any break, but you can never say no to any axe competition. They count the time consumed cutting all the logs and the couple who has cut them in lower time wins. There have already been three competitions, here you have them,


    Tomorrow will be the next binakako urrezko aizkora competition at the town of Leitza, I'll share the video when the the public TV uploads it to internet.
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2016
  17. Ugaldie


    Feb 27, 2013
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2016
  18. Big_jack


    Aug 29, 2015
    cool stuff. I love seeing how some things are the same everywhere you go.
  19. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    Wonderful cultural insight, as always. I'd watch that over commonly televised sports any day.
  20. rjdankert


    Mar 10, 2011

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