DAVID FOSTER :
The World’s Greatest Axeman
© Marc Wickert 2004,
photos courtesy of
I’m a Lumberjack…
When people think of axeman they often picture burly Canadian lumberjacks, as depicted by Hollywood, who all seem to resemble Popeye’s bearded adversary Brutus, in their flannelette shirts and suspenders. But Tasmania’s David Foster is by far the greatest axeman the world has ever seen, having competed against the finest woodchoppers from Australia, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Spain and Wales.
With a career tally of 182 world titles, 175 national titles, and over 1400 championships, David became the first person in history to win 1000 championships in any given sport. To date he has earned over 3000 first places in competitive woodchopping, and has won the crosscut saw world title for 21 consecutive years.
Born March 20, 1957, in Hobart, Tasmania, David is a huge man by anybody’s measure, standing 6’4’’ and weighing in at 28 stone. And shaking hands with the BIG man is a unique experience. Rather than gripping hands as most people do, shaking hands with David Foster is more like trying the greeting procedure with a person wearing a boxer’s large focus mitt: You end up just rubbing palms.
Made of Tough Timber
Having grown up in Tasmania – home of the world’s greatest axemen – and being the son of a world champion woodchopper, it was no coincidence David took up the sport and continued the family tradition.
"I was a big kid at school – my nickname was Ton – and I did struggle at traditional school sports, I suppose, but I played Aussie rules football and cricket for a time. I then followed my father, George, into woodchopping when I was 16. His uncle, Jim Foster, was also a world champion, so I suppose I just followed their careers. George won around 40 world championships, and he and I won the world double-handed saw title in Sydney for 11years straight. Five and a half months prior to our eleventh win, my father had undergone a double heart bypass, so that was quite amazing," says David.
The Foster family members had tried to persuade George to retire from competition after his operation, but it was not in his nature, and winning the world championship again with his eldest son was one of the proudest moments in both George’s and David’s careers.
Climbing the Family Tree
Having achieved this amazing feat at the Sydney Show, in 1990 George elected to pass his position as David’s partner on to his second of three sons, Peter, so the world title could continue being defended by the Foster family.
This responsibility placed a heavy load on young Peter’s shoulders. And although the brothers were unable to duplicate the synchronized performance at this stage, that George and David had developed over the years, David and Peter did defeat their rivals, leaving them spluttering in a thunderous wake of sawdust and splinters.
But there was more to celebrate. "We are allowed a wedgeman who stands behind the log and forcibly inserts a wooden wedge into the saw cut once the blade has cut well below the surface; this is to prevent the cut from closing and squeezing the blade," says David. For this event George Foster had been David and Peter’s wedgeman.
Whilst Peter has never been as dedicated to the sport of woodchopping as his elder brother – choosing to watch David from the sideline rather than also competing – he did set his sights on future double-handed saw events, defending the title for eleven years with David. This meant the Foster family held the world title for a staggering twenty-one consecutive years.
Despite David Foster’s international dominance of the sawing events, he is best known throughout the world for his axemanship. And many people who don’t understand the action-packed sport have attributed David’s success to his enormous size and power. But there’s a lot more to woodchopping than meets the eye. His ‘gym’ is a fully fitted out training shed in the backyard, where the daily training sessions average between two and three hours of intense, explosive combat: huge man against huge logs.
The workouts consist of ferocious bursts of power, which last about sixty seconds. Woodchopping is a sprinter’s sport, so there’s no place for Marathon Man amongst the blazing axes. It’s also a sport incorporating dedication, accuracy and precision.
As David’s father-in-law and mentor, Henry Munday, states in Foster’s book The Power of Two, when comparing Foster to previous champions, "David is as precise as any of them were; he can split a match with an axe with a full blow. I’ve seen him do it; and he’s stronger than any of them were and, more importantly, has trained himself to be able to apply all of that power; and lastly he is at least as determined to win as any of them were. No, none of them would have matched David…" says Munday.
Dawn Breaks and Hard Wares
In addition to David Foster’s grueling daily workouts, he is also regarded as a perfectionist in woodchopping circles. On the odd occasion when David has lost a major event, he’s been known to return home at night from a chopping tournament and demolish logs in his shed until sunrise, attempting to rectify any imperfections in his technique.
The type of axe and handle the choppers use can also be a deciding factor. And there’s a big difference between the axe purchased over the counter at the local hardware store and a woodchopper’s racing axe, which may cost around $400. This can make woodchopping an expensive sport to participate in when choppers often take more than a dozen of their prized tools to a competition.
"Our axes are much bigger, and the axes sold in a hardware store will not hold an edge. These axes that we use in racing hold an edge, and you can actually shave your face with them. So they're tempered and much harder."
There is also a big difference between the way an average person chops wood in his backyard and the technique employed by a competitive axeman. "We actually slice the wood off. And that’s how we guys are able to cut wood better than the average guy out there, because they are actually splitting wood off, whereas we are slicing it off. You have to cut at a forty-five degree angle, and both cuts have to meet up. When you finish cutting a block, sometimes it looks like it’s been lathed.
"I take a different number of axes to a show, depending on the event. For the Sydney Show I’ll probably take fifteen axes to an event. For the Melbourne Show, I’ll take six or seven. And the reason is because of the wood. The wood is much harder in Sydney," says David who has a collection of over forty racing axes.
American Hickory handles are the preferred handles used by the vast majority of athletes. David says they come as a basic billet and the axemen pare them down to suit their individual grips. The two main axe heads are the Tuatahi and the Keestle.
Large and Short Cuts
Although woodchopping is generally regarded as a non-contact sport, and most participants refrain from wearing mouth guards, wielding a potentially deadly weapon can have its consequences.
The 2004 Sydney Show Woodchop Programme recalled an incident at a competition in 1923, when axeman "Stan Appleby came to blows with his axe. As he turned on his block his trouser-leg was caught in the log clamp. When he took a swing he completely cut his right leg off."
Throughout his career, David Foster has been fortunate in only suffering what he regards as minor injuries. "Once I took half an inch off the bottom of my big toe in an underhand event at a Sydney Show, and on another occasion I drove my axe into a calf muscle while doing an exhibition. It actually didn’t hurt because the racing axes are so sharp."
Tiger Woods and other Lumber
As previously stated, there is a lot more to woodchopping than meets the eye, and axemen take their sport seriously. They will study timber in much the same way a professional golfer studies a green prior to putting.
Before an event starts, choppers will meticulously inspect their designated logs to ensure the circumferences of the logs conform to the legal measurements for the particular event. They will also check for knots in the timber, which can damage their axes and handicap their performances. Having assessed all variables, the woodchoppers then select the appropriate implements from their axe boxes.
The timber used at a particular event also varies depending largely on the local wood available. "If you go to the Melbourne Show, they generally cut Mountain Ash (David’s favourite wood to chop), and Sydney Show has always had Coastal Ash. Coastal Ash is a hard wood and I think that’s the reason why Sydney Show is so good: because of the hard wood. You have to be a really good woodchopper to win Sydney Show, and I think that’s the reason why I’ve dominated Sydney for as long as I have: because the Sydney Show is known to be the Wimbeldon of woodchopping."
Barking up the Wrong Tree
David incorporates aerobic exercise in his workouts (including sessions on the rowing machine and brisk walks), but he abstains from lifting weights. "I’ve never done weight training in my life. I jokingly tell people the only weight training I do is lifting myself out of bed every morning. I know guys who do a lot of weight training and they seem to get muscle-bound. It’s one of those things…I don’t think it helps."
When 28-stone Foster was asked to list his favourite food in the Sydney Show Woodchop Programme, his reply was: "All food." And his diet doesn’t change prior to competition. "I’ve never been on any special diet or supplements. I just drink a bit of VB (Victorian Bitter beer) mate."
The Family Tree Branches Out, Again!
David and Jan Foster’s son Stephen took up woodchopping at age six, and he is carrying on the Foster tradition in the sport. It is a dream of David’s to one day win the World Double-Handed Sawing Championship with Stephen. And Dad’s dream could become a reality in the foreseeable future.
"We came second this year at the Sydney Show after being beaten by half a second. I think Stephen is enjoying it. He’s twenty years of age and things are different today. But he’s got a lot of ability, and I think he’s a better woodchopper than I was at twenty."
Trees Just Not Green Enough
Unfortunately David does not expect woodchopping to become a Commonwealth or Olympic Games sport, despite woodchopping enjoying an increase in popularity: both in Australia and internationally.
"I don’t think it will happen. We just don’t have the infrastructure to run it. Four years ago, we had a great opportunity in Sydney to present woodchopping as an exhibition sport at the Olympics. And we had this beautiful stadium here to display the sport. But it was never shown. We had some lady say they wanted a clean, green image. And she didn’t classify woodchopping as having a clean, green image."
Woodchopping enthusiasts can, however, visit the Australian Axeman’s Hall of Fame at picturesque Bells Parade, Latrobe, Tasmania. On display is a history of the sport from when it officially commenced in 1870, as well as 12 modern-day Legends of Woodchopping. (To become a Legend of Woodchopping, these champions had to win at least eight World Titles at The Royal Easter Show).
The Hall of Fame also houses the unbelievable David Foster Experience, where visitors can observe this multiple World Champion Axeman’s collection of sashes and trophies – on display in 20 cabinets, or sit down and enjoy a David Foster Meal at the Gold Axe licensed Café and restaurant.
For more on David Foster or to purchase his book The Power of Two online: www.davidfoster.com.au
If there’s one thing all Tasmanians are proud of, it’s knowing their Apple Island is home to the Big Australian, David Foster. And with good reason: their larger-than-life hero has won more international titles and events than any other sports person in the world.
Driving towards the picturesque country town of Latrobe, one feels a little like Jack climbing the beanstalk, as road signs point you in the right direction for the Axeman’s Hall of Fame.
In case you get too caught up in the beauty of the autumn trees, the effervescence of the fresh flowing river, or the crispness of another glorious, rural morning, a statue of a yesteryear woodchopper and a final road sign let you know to take a sharp right.
The Mersey River leads you to the front door of this HUGE modern centre known as the Axeman’s Hall of Fame. And it seems appropriate that the home of the world’s greatest woodchopper is comfortably nestled at the foot of Kings Mountain.
Standing in the entrance, between two open doors, is the massive 28-stone, six-foot-two axeman himself. And there’s not much room for daylight to get past David Foster, as he welcomes visitors from all parts of Australia and the far reaches of the globe, who have come to pay homage to this legendary woodsman.
Once inside the centre, you become immediately aware of the need for such a large building: This is home to ALL of David’s prize-winning memorabilia – thus far. On show are 25 display cases containing trophies, cups and medals, a section where you can view footage of the many television appearances Foster has made, photos of the mightiest woodchopper of all time winning prestigious events, and one shot of David being presented with the Australian of the Year Award.
There’s even a large section where the entire ceiling is covered with sashes and ribbons won at woodchopping competitions, and a number of Golden Axes proudly displayed. "The Gold Axe is presented to the Champion of Champions at the Melbourne Show, and the award has been going for 18 years. The axeman who has earned the most points from all the events at the annual show is awarded the Golden Axe. I’ve won 14 of them," says Foster proudly.
Then there’s a licensed café in the corner, fittingly called The Gold Axe, where you can sit down for a coffee and a tasty bite to eat, whilst coming to terms with the realization that all these trophies, medals, sashes and other prizes have been awarded to just one person. That’s with the exception of cabinets David has dedicated to 11 other modern-day legends of the sport, including his brother Peter and their late father George.
On hearing news David Foster will be performing a woodchop for Knucklepit’s photo session, a crowd eagerly gathers round - and it’s only 9am! Chopping timber is an explosive sport, and in no time enormous chunks of Tassie’s finest Mountain Ash are screaming through the air. In fourteen metal-flashing seconds, Foster has sliced through, and the top half of the 12-inch log is lying on the ground.
For the performance, David explains to the crowd how he used a practice axe rather than one of his professional racing axes. "The ones I use in competition are razor-sharp. You can shave with them. I’ve had people come up and cut themselves at demonstrations after they’ve run their fingers along the axe while attempting to see just how sharp it was."
Many more camera bulbs flash as the jovial giant of a man agrees to pose with the tourists who have travelled from near and far to visit the famous woodchopper’s centre.
"The Axeman’s Hall of Fame came about through the death of my father, George Foster, actually. When he was alive, he said if we could win some money out of Tatt’s Lotto, we’d build a shed to put our trophies in. And the company I was working for at the time looked at Dad’s trophies and said, ‘Let’s see if we can do something.’ So that’s how it started, and the Hall’s been here since 2002," says David.
"We’re open from 9am until 6pm, seven days a week, but when the restaurant gets going, we’ll be open until much later." The extended trading hours will probably be necessary for anybody game enough to order a ‘David Foster Meal’ from the menu.
In David’s book, "The Power of Two", he talks about sparring with boxing-great Joe Bugner for a ‘bit of fun’, and explains that life is all about experiences. "We were both at this charity do, and I suggested we have a bit of a box. I told Joe he was a real wuss because he actually ran away from Muhammad Ali for 15 rounds. In turn, he told me my name wasn’t David Foster, it was David Tosser. But how many people can say they had a bit of fun with Joe Bugner, a man who went 15 rounds with Ali? Not too many people have done that."
Foster lists Muhammad Ali as one of his all-time favourite sporting heroes. Interestingly, scientific analysis in a laboratory measured David’s arm power speed to be three times faster than Muhammad Ali’s was when Ali was in his prime. And David’s 28-stone frame delivers a staggering 5597.68 lbs of force with his axe on impact.
At 47 years, David Foster is still the world’s greatest axeman. And there are no signs of the legendary woodchopper slowing up.
You can see this amazing athlete in action at the Brisbane Show in August and the Adelaide and Melbourne Shows in September. David will also be appearing at what he calls the ‘Wimbledon of Woodchopping’, Sydney’s Royal Easter Show, in 2005, when he will be competing in four world titles: single-handed sawing, double-handed sawing (with son Stephen), underhanded and the standing block.
For more on David Foster and the Axeman’s Hall of Fame:www.davidfoster.com.au
Ph: 03 642 620 99
Woodchopping’s Greatest Gladiator
photos © David Foster
On March 20, 2005, the world’s greatest ever axeman will have his sights set on yet another world title: the Single-Handed Sawing Championship.
Having won the double-handed sawing championship 11 times in succession with his father, George, and a further 10 times in succession with his brother, Peter, David Foster is no stranger to the ‘Wimbledon of Woodchopping’ – Sydney’s Royal Easter Show. In fact, David was the world’s first person to win over 1000 championships in any sport. And many of those victories were won at the Sydney Show.
Having captained Australia’s woodchopping team for 21 years and holding 175 Australian and 182 world titles, it’s hard to imagine a Sydney woodchop event without this BIG Australian in attendance. However, the lead up to 2005’s competition has been anything but smooth sawing for 28-stone Foster, after he suffered a recent back injury.
"And now I’ve just done something to my chest," says Foster, three weeks prior to the world titles. "I had two days in intensive care. They thought it was a heart attack at first, but now they’re telling me it wasn’t. It’s still not 100%, but the anti-inflammatories they gave me have played up with me as well. So it’s one of those things where you’ve got to be positive.
"I have no thoughts about retiring. At the Sydney Show this year I’m just going to try to do what I do, and I’ve been picked as a single-handed sawyer in the Australian team. I thought, the way I was training before I hurt my chest, that I could win the title, and I still have about 20 days before the world title, so hopefully, I can still get myself right in time."
For the event, current world title-holder Kerry Head is expected to be David’s main rival. Being the only man to have defeated Foster at the single-handed sawing contest in the last five years, Head is certain to provide some fierce competition. Another top-notch sawyer eager to vie for the crown is New Zealand’s Jason Wynyard.
"The Americans are also getting better. They’re using the peg-and-raker saws. And like all sports, the standard is just getting better and better. I suppose I lifted the bar and it’s bloody hard stopping there," says Foster.
"I’m just playing it by ear at this stage with the other events. If I don’t feel like chopping, I won’t chop. It’s as simple as that and I don’t want to hurt myself. I will be sawing for the Australian team because you’ve got to make the most of whatever opportunities come your way. And the Australian team will be sawing on Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Easter Monday."
David says that three weeks prior to his chest injury he believed he was feeling better sawing than he had for years. " My back felt good, and to look after my back, I’d purposely done nothing for three months …But I think, as you get older your body changes, and what could mend in 24 hours seems to take three months now. I’m going on 48 and I just think it takes so much longer to recover. Life changes."
In previous years David also ran the David Foster Stall where fans of this man-mountain could purchase his merchandise and see a sample of the many, many awards and trophies he has won over his long career. But this year he has decided not to have the stall: partly because so many people are choosing to inspect his entire collection of memorabilia at the Axeman’s Hall of Fame in Latrobe, Tasmania; and also so David can give his full concentration to competing.
"I’ve been operating the shop at the Sydney Show since ’89, and I’ve decided I want to put all my effort into chopping. I thought, you can’t do everything, and I’m getting to the end of my sporting career at that very elite level, so I’ve decided I’m going to put all my effort and energy into chopping at the Show."
David, will your son Stephen be competing in the double-handed sawing with you again this year?
"No. Stephen has said to me that he’d like a break, and I have never forced my kids to do anything. They’ve got to want to do it themselves. He’s a better woodchopper at 21 than I was at his age. But things change. When I was growing up, my father was just George, and he was just ‘Dad’. Whereas Stephen has become the son of David Foster – ‘the most successful athlete in the world’. And everybody has said to him, ‘Oh, you’ll never beat your dad’, or ‘You won’t be as successful as your dad’. It’s just a lot of pressure on him."
You were one of six people to be nominated for the Australian of theYear award in 1989, and one of eight to be nominated for the award again in 2005. Did you get a better reception from Prime Minister Howard than from the then Prime Minister Hawke?
"I did get a much better response from John than I did from Bob Hawke."
See, I did read your book: The Power of Two - David Foster Story.
"Yes you did. That’s very good."
Now that you won’t be competing in many of the woodchopping events at this upcoming Easter Show, is there anybody you’d recommend people watch out for?
"I think the reason the Sydney Easter Show is so popular is because the best woodchoppers in the world always go to Sydney, so whoever lines up for the finals of the world championship, you’ll know they are the best eight woodchoppers in the world. It makes no difference who you go to watch, they’ll all be top athletes. You’ll be seeing the best of the best."
And for the entire woodchopping and sawing competition, how many athletes will be in attendance?
"There’ll be a field of approximately 140 competitors."
Although you won’t have your stall there this year, can people still come up to say hello?
"I would be very disappointed if… I will still be making myself available for autographs, photos…And I would be very disappointed if people thought they couldn’t sing out to me, and come and talk. Because I won’t have the shop there, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to associate with people who have supported me and my sport. Please treat me the same. And that’s one thing that I love about the sport: the comradeship and stuff."
David, is there anything you’d like to add?
"Yes, only that people have asked me why I don’t retire. The reason that I don’t retire is because we’re all given a chance in life to do something. And if we live to be 100, it’s still not long. I know for a fact I’m having a bit of a bad trot at the moment, through injury. But I also know that I can go out, and even if I can’t win the world title, I know I can make the final. And to make the final eight in the world championship is something, isn’t it?
"And when I retire, that’s it. I’m not going to come back. And at the moment I’m still focused. The reason I became the best woodchopper in the world is because of self-belief. I believe in myself. I know that things pop up in your life: This is a hurdle that I’ve got to get through. And even if I don’t do well this year, I would like to think I could go back next year. You’ve got to follow a dream and I’d love to win another world title in Sydney. I know I can do it, but I’ve got to get my body right.
"How many people in the world would love the opportunity to compete in the greatest event in the world – whatever sport that they do? And I think this is one of the greatest sports in the world. I just love woodchopping. It’s another reason why I’ve been very successful at it: because I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. And it’s hard to walk away from something that you’ve enjoyed."
Woodchopping has such a history to it. You don’t have trouble tracing it back, do you?
"I don’t know what Captain Cook did when he first settled in Australia, but he would have put a flag pole up. Now did he bring a flag pole with him, or did he fell a tree and hoist a flag? It’s probably the first thing they ever did when they set foot in Australia."
David Foster, the greatest ever gladiator of woodchopping, will be competing in the axemen’s coliseum of world woodchopping, on March 20, 2005 (Ssshh! This will also be David’s 48th Birthday), at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. And he will be sawing with the Australian team on Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Easter Monday. David will know if he is competing in any of the axemen’s events as the meeting gets closer.
This will be a wonderful opportunity for people to witness a true living legend in action, and to show their support for a man who has given everything to his sport and his many fans worldwide.
For more on David Foster: www.davidfoster.com.au
DAVID FOSTER Part 4
What a Cracker!
© Marc Wickert
Lorraine Wickert photography
Right from the very start, 2005’s Royal Easter Show was destined to be a cracker. The event’s unofficial opening took place when six men using bolt cutters broke into a stadium at Homebush Bay, Sydney, in the wee hours before the first day of trade, and borrowing one of the ground’s own on-site forklifts, loaded two automatic teller machines onto the back of a stolen truck. The torched vehicle was later located in a surrounding suburb. Unfortunately the large booty of cash was not.
However, the daring theft did little to steal the show from some of the world’s most elite axemen and sawyers competing at the "Wimbledon of Woodchopping" event, including David Foster, Phil Campbell, Kerry Head, Jason Wynyard and Justin Beckett. And with Foster’s 48th birthday falling on the same day he won the 375mm World Sawing Championship, David had a lot to celebrate.
"I probably went a little bit better than I expected, to be honest. It makes you quite humble. You come home and you realise that, due to injuries, you haven’t trained for seven weeks. There were doubts about even going to the Sydney Show. And then all of a sudden you’ve come out and won the world title where you’ve beaten these guys who have all trained for the event. So it’s pretty good," says Foster.
David looked to have the goods when he cut through the coastal ash (ironbark) log in his qualifying heat at a blistering pace. He then took out the final in just 18.1 seconds - a time he was pleased with.
"It was a winning cut and I won it by over 1.5 seconds. I improved by more than half a second from the heat to the final, so that’s always good. I must admit I went flat out in the heat. I knew I didn’t have much up my sleeve going into the final, and I realised that the other heat times were a lot slower than mine, so I knew that those guys were going to be flat out as well."
Coming second in the final - which included contestants from Australia, USA and New Zealand - was Kiwi sawyer Jason Wynyard, with Justin Beckett of New South Wales taking third place. And although Foster elected to rest his injuries and his axes, rather than competing in the woodchopping, he also scored a third place with Kerry Head in the men’s double-handed sawing, and a first place with his cousin Cathy Munday in the Jack and Jill Championship Sawing Contest (double handed).
Each year the crowds continue to grow for this world-championship woodchopping and sawing event. And during the 10-day competition, it is becoming harder to find a spare seat at any time on any given day. Perhaps Adam and Eve created the Jack and Jill sawing event whilst trying to grab out-of-reach apples, but in 2005, what is one of the world’s oldest physical activities is attracting more and more spectators and competitors from both genders and all age groups.
And whilst David says the athlete who stood out in his mind as the in-form axeman of the entire show was Danny Staib, Foster – the most successful woodchopper in history - remained the crowd favourite as he entered the open-air stadium with his M-tooth cross-cut saw. At 6 foot in length and approximately 8 inches in depth, the saw appeared small in the hands of 400-lb Foster.
Now back in Tasmania, David says he is recovering nicely from his injuries and is training for the Nambour Show in June and the Brisbane Show in August, where he will be competing again in both woodchopping and sawing events.
Readers wishing to know more about David Foster, his Axeman’s Hall of Fame, and his itinerary for 2005, can visit www.davidfoster.com.au.