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Abby Hoeschler reflects on rise of LOG ROLLING in California

Occasionally while working on our Key Log Rolling® business to grow the sport, I revert to my adolescent self-consciousness about participating in an unknown, non-traditional sport.  

Maybe it’s because I attended an East Coast boarding school and liberal arts college, and log rolling was always something I had to explain. (“Yes, it’s a legitimate sport; no you don’t have to be the size of Paul Bunyan; yes it’s safe; no it’s not in the Olympics.. yet.”)  I imagined that the admissions offices at my schools must have been happy to check off the diversity box marked: “world champion log roller from Wisconsin”.

Most people are sincerely interested to know more, sometimes they just smile politely and occasionally they laugh out loud as though I’ve just told a good joke. But since creating the Key Log®, I’ve learned to embrace the uniqueness of the sport which has, no doubt, contributed to the media attention we’ve received, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, ESPN and NPR.  

When we made our first official launch into the California market at the 2016 California Park and Recreation Conference, my adolescent self-consciousness resurfaced. I thought, “This is California! Even the Parks and Rec people are cool. How will they respond to log rolling?” But Southern Californians immediately saw log rolling the way we see it — as an athletic, fun, even thrilling water sport that can be recreational or competitive. They were open to all of its possibilities. 

As I looked out the window flying home from LAX, I felt enthused (and a little overwhelmed) by the huge potential for growth in the Golden State. There are pools everywhere with warm weather year-round, and everyone has an eye open for the next new trend. My husband who grew up in Houston often implores me, “I don’t think you understand, there are so many pools! We spent hours throwing a stupid nerf torpedo around  the pool; as kids we would have killed to have had a Key Log to entertain us.”  I’m starting to understand.  

Flash forward eighteen months — things are feeling different. Sales are still a lot of work but we’ve made positive inroads into California: ten communities now offer log rolling programming; there are twelve universities with Key Logs including UCLA and Stanford, more than any other state in the union; and kids are learning to log roll at dozens of summer camps from the northern Sierras down to San Diego. Still, there’s enormous room for growth with all those pools!

Last week as I took an early morning flight from MSP to LAX for a demo, I revisited my initial enthusiasm for California while sipping coffee.  But this time, it felt different.  We had a meeting scheduled with the Aquatics Supervisor of the entire Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department, organized by the Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles who we had met at a conference in Minneapolis, where incidentally she made her first Key Log ascent wearing blue jeans and a denim shirt.  Her laughter and natural leadership skills encouraged other fully clothed attendees to give it a try.  

The L.A. demo was held at Echo Park Pool, smack dab in the middle of downtown Los Angeles.  The pool is bare bones, without slides, mushroom waterfalls or lazy rivers, but it’s an incredible public resource. In aquatics lingo, it’s a ‘box of water’, which makes it a perfect candidate for a couple of Key Logs.  The nearby city of El Segundo (which was the inspiration for the hit TV show “Parks & Rec”) lent us their Key Log for the demo.  (Thanks, El Segundo, you’re Numero Uno in our book!)
The pool manager, a woman in her fifties, did not hesitate to give it a try in front of all of her supervisors and colleagues. She cajoled her two lifeguards into trying it as well. Long story short, if I hadn’t had to pull the Key Log out of the water to return to El Segundo, I think they might still be rolling!  The delight on their faces every time they stepped up was infectious, and they just wanted to keep improving. When I’m introducing new people to the sport, the most rewarding feeling is when they totally own it, like this is going to be their new thing. "It's positively addicting" is something we hear a lot. 

I was very young when I learned to log roll from my world champion mom, so I don’t remember the feeling of “getting it” for the first time. But I imagine it’s similar to the feeling I had when I caught my first wave surfing. It just feels so cool and any glimmer of success made me want to paddle out again and again (full disclosure: I’m a very novice surfer).


(I'm on the left, clearly a little late catching the wave!)

After the L.A. demo we headed to UC-Santa Barbara for the first-ever West Region tournament, part of the the Key Log Rolling Collegiate Tournament Series.  The ten students representing UCSB and Cal Poly San Louis Obispo were excited for their first competition yet very intentional and competitive. If ten contestants sounds like a small number, I can assure you, it’s an important start. As an elite level log roller, I’m lucky to go to a tournament with more than ten female competitors, most of them hailing from Wisconsin. And did I mention it was 80 degrees and sunny, with the foothills of the Los Padres National Forest and the Pacific Ocean flanking us on either side?  It felt like progress to me.

The response from the UCSB staff and competitors was encouraging. “This is the coolest tournament I’ve ever experienced,” Aquatics Director Rick Van Horn told me from the pool deck. Even the commentary from the local Santa Barbara news stations was inspiring, with one anchoring exclaiming,  "This is so cool, I could see this in pools across America….Mark Cuban, I’m calling you."  They also immediately recognized log rolling for its strong fitness value, saying“good balance! might be good for divers, gymnasts, and dancers.”

There are exciting points along the path of building a business when you think, “okay, we’ve arrived at a new level”.  This feels like one of those points.  Los Angeles is an aquatics mecca where the L.A. Swimming Stadium sits on the site of the 1932 Olympic Stadium, adjacent to the Memorial Coliseum which hosted the 1932 and 1984 Olympics. (For a girl on a mission to make log rolling an Olympic sport, this did not go unnoticed.)  The Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles is on the Olympic Legacy Planning Committee for 2028 and explained that they want to emphasize programs and activities in their legacy, and thought possibly log rolling would be a unique addition. We’ve thought that for a long time so it’s nice that our vision might be getting closer to reality.

And literally as I’m writing this, Joni Mitchell just came up on my Spotify playlist singing "California". As the saying goes, timing is everything.

UCSB log rolling tournament

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