Competitors going out on a limb at Myrtle Beach-area tree climbing tourney

For Weekly SurgeFebruary 12, 2014 

The tree people are coming. The tree people are coming…

…to the Coastal Carolina University campus on Saturday for a Tree Climbing Championship organized by the Southern Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture, or ISA. The Myrtle Beach Convention Center will play host to the chapter this weekend for its 72nd Annual Conference and Trade Show.

Competitive tree climbing?

“This is the first time it’s been to Myrtle Beach,” says conference chair Lois Edwards, also with the South Carolina Forestry Commission. “It’s utilities, arborists, urban foresters – and there will probably be between 500 and 600 people with exhibitors and that kind of thing.” The mission of the ISA Southern Chapter, according to its Web site - www.isasouthern.org - is “to advance tree care knowledge and practices through research, education and professional development.”

The conference is for ISA members only, but the Tree Climbing Championship is open to the public and there’s no admission charge. The fact that this event is being held on the same day as the Myrtle Beach Marathon could be a good thing for folks who might want to branch out from watching people run in a straight line. “It’s the same day as the marathon which is a shame, but maybe people can come out afterwards or if they are in the Conway area. It’s an all-day event from morning to evening,” says Edwards.

But what exactly is on tap for this event? Weekly Surge also spoke with Perry Odom, chairman of the Championship Tree Climbing Committee and Utility Arborist with the City of Tallahassee’s (Florida) electric department.

“It is a competition between arborists and tree trimmers from all over the Southeast,” he says. “It not only is a competition of tree climbing – but it’s a competition of the use of the ropes and the techniques that they use in their everyday work.”

Several preliminary events take place, with compelling names like the Footlock, Throwline and Aerial Rescue – culminating in the final event, the Master’s Challenge, where the finalists compete head-to-head in one event. The winner of Saturday’s event advances to the International Tree Climbing Championship in Milwaukee in August.

The Footlock event has climbers scurrying straight up a rope about 50 feet in the air and ringing a bell at the top. The fastest one to the top wins.

“The Throwline is where they throw a small-diameter twine with a weight on the end of it,” says Odom. “They throw it up through a target that we create in the tree, and there are four targets on each side of the tree.” These targets are gradually higher, and the higher target they hit, the more points they get. “Once they get that throw line up through that target, they have to install a climbing rope up through that same target.”

The Aerial Challenge involves a dummy. “We call him A.R. Al - he is a life-size dummy that is fully clothed with a climbing gear on,” he says, adding that Al weighs approximately 160 pounds. “He is in the tree – hanging on his equipment from a rope and he has been injured. His partner, the contestant, who is on the ground – has to climb up into the tree, rescue him and bring him back down to the ground safely. There is a scenario that he has to follow.”

Odom says there is also a Work Climb, where they actually get up in the tree and move from one station to the other, simulating the work that they normally do every day. Spikes are never used because the point is to do no harm to the trees. “All of this work is done on their ropes. They climb up into the tree and move from one part of the tree to another on their rope. They are always tied in and always safe. Some of the events are timed, and some of them are for skill or accuracy.”

And finally the Master’s Challenge. “It’s usually a little bit tougher than the other events, simply because these [climbers] are the best of the best.”

The Tree Climbing Championship takes place at the Science Center on CCU’s East Campus, at 301 Allied Drive, Conway from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

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