Finding Balance Through Log Rolling

Two people log rolling
Writer finds his balance on a log — one baby step at a time.
Blue Ox Log Rolling owner and instructor, Sarah Beron, helps writer Stuart Sudak get his lake legs.

Standing knee-deep in water on a warm August day, I ready myself to step out of my comfort zone and onto a log. Lured by a heart-pumping workout that tests stamina and grit, the throwback sport of log rolling is gaining in popularity among non-lumberjack types. I’m nervous. The closest I’ve been to log rolling is when, as a child, I crawled on my hands and knees across a fallen tree. Balance, sadly, has never been my strength.

My log rolling guide, Sarah Beron, assures me it’s like learning to ride a bicycle. As the owner and lead instructor of Blue Ox Log Rolling, Beron teaches people of all ages and levels about the sport in the backyard of her Victoria home on Lake Auburn. “I can’t tell you how many times people log rolling say, ‘One more time,’” she says. “And then it’s two hours later, and they’re still saying it.”

Footwork and core strength, Beron stresses, are crucial to excelling in a sport she touts as a mix between yoga and kickboxing. Staying atop a log for long stretches challenges legs, lungs, core and mind. “You don’t realize it when you’re on the log, but once you fall off, you’re so out of breath, you’re like, ‘What just happened?’” says Riley Histon, 16, of Shorewood, one of Beron’s students. “When you’re on the log, you’re so concentrated and focused, you don’t have time to think if you’re tired.”

For beginner log rollers like myself, three training fins—one in the middle and one on each end—help slow the rotation down on the synthetic logs Beron uses. Indeed, I need all three fins.

Log rolling

Beron tells me the number one rule to remember, while standing on the log, is to keep my feet moving up and down. Beginners learn barefoot, so they can get a “feel for the log,” she says. Once rollers advance their skills, water shoes are recommended. “Keep your core steady and tight, with one arm in front, one behind,” she says. “Then focus your eyes on the opposite side of the log.”

I test the buoyancy of the log by pushing down on it with my hand. Assured that it will hold my weight, I slowly climb aboard, stand up, then look around. My knees buckle. Splash! Down I go into the lake. The log’s motion is squirrelly, like walking on a wet, moving tightrope. I forget to move my feet. “Boy, that’s not easy,” I say to Beron. “You will be trying over and over again,” she says. “That’s how it works.”

She offers a few more tips. “Move your feet fast straight up and down,” she says. “Don’t try to rotate the log. Try to stay balanced on top.” I try again. The splash is inevitable but comes a little later than the first, then the second and the third. Baby steps, I tell myself.  

For most of her students, Beron says it doesn’t take long to improve. With practice and determination, a novice like myself could be rolling without training fins in a month or two. “You will see progress every time you step on the log,” she says. “You’re on the log for a minute now, and the last time you were on for only 30 seconds.”

Eventually, near the end of my lesson, my feet and head align, and I giddily march on the log for a good 10 seconds or so before I drop into the water. “That was awesome,” Beron says. “I can tell you felt it there. You felt how your body was affecting the log.”

I’m breathing hard. It’s a good workout. “You can keep going, or take a break?” she asks. “One more time,” I say. “Oh, there’s the classic one more time,” she says.

Log rolling

Life is a balancing act. Beron is a whiz at balance, on or off her feet. The 36-year-old Victoria resident’s adeptly juggles many roles: wife, mother, teacher and, more recently, business owner and avid log roller. “For me, it just fits together so seamlessly that it doesn’t feel like a matter of balance at all,” she says.

Beron says her teaching skills (she’s a math teacher at her alma mater, Minnetonka High School), her family (she and her husband, Nolan, have two daughters, Nora, 7, and Elsa, 6) and her favorite workout form the foundation for her business, Blue Ox Log Rolling. “Log rolling and being a small business owner fills me with so much joy. It makes me a better wife, mother and teacher,” she says.

As owner and lead instructor of Blue Ox, she’s been teaching people of all ages how to log roll for fun, exercise and sport since May 2016. She considers it a family business. Summer lessons take place in the Beron’s backyard on Lake Auburn, and Nolan, a building superintendent for Ryan Companies, also teaches lessons, designed the logo and serves as the all-around handyman.

Their daughters were the inspiration for starting Blue Ox. When Elsa was learning to walk, she loved to step on things. “I thought this girl could be an awesome log roller,” she says. “Let’s get a log in the lake.”

Whether the setting is a classroom or lake, teaching is Beron’s passion. During the summer, Beron offers classes and an adult league night, as well as log rolling-themed events like birthday or corporate parties. She also takes the logs and an inflatable pool on the road to breweries and the Minnesota State Fair.

The log rolling doesn’t end for her when the weather turns cold. Beron teaches the sport at Minnetonka Middle School West in Excelsior on most Saturdays from September to June through Minnetonka Community Education. And, she serves as the advisor for both the Minnetonka middle and high schools’ log rolling clubs.

“I love the look on people’s faces when they feel the log under their feet and get the physics of it,” says Beron. “And that translates into the classroom, the look on students’ faces when ‘Oh, that makes sense. I understand why something like the quadratic formula works.’”

She especially likes teaching adults something they’ve never done before. “It makes them feel like kids again,” she says.

Though always fascinated with log rolling, Beron didn’t step onto a log until January 2016, at an open demonstration hosted by Key Log Rolling, a Minnesota-based business that makes synthetic logs. After that, she was hooked. Abby Delaney, co-founder and president of Key Log, says Beron was a natural log roller from the start. “It’s really cool to see what she’s done and how many people in the Minnetonka area that she has introduced to the sport through her classes,” Delaney says.

Beron has always been athletic, a cross-country skier and runner at Minnetonka and St. Olaf College in Northfield. Running didn’t appeal to her after her daughters were born. Log rolling is how she now stays fit. “You have a smile on your face when you’re working out, and you can do it individually or against others,” she says. “It’s a very social sport. You can invite people to compete against you. Two people on a log is an enjoyable experience.”

The sport’s benefits go beyond exercise. Beron has seen families strengthen relationships while learning to roll. “It’s good for children to see their parents being vulnerable as they learn something new,” she says. “And failing at it, but continuing to try. It’s a good model for parents to model for their kids.”

Students also benefit. “You really get to focus your brain on the log,” she says. “It’s good practice for the classroom. I’ve seen a huge change in a lot of my students who I have introduced to log rolling.”

Minnesota Company is at the Forefront of Log Rolling Revolution

A sport that sprouted from the great river log drives of the late 1800s is gaining a foothold among weekend warriors. Log rolling—where a person tests their mettle and balance on a log either solo or against someone else—is gaining traction for its fitness benefits.

“You can do it as a recreational activity, or you can take it to its fullest in athletic competition and compete,” says Abby Delaney, co-founder and president of Minnesota-based Key Log Rolling and a champion log roller. “There’s really something for everyone.”

One reason for its popularity is the synthetic log Key Log Rolling has been selling since 2013. According to its website, Delaney’s favorite sport didn’t have modern equipment, so she made it herself. In the water, the synthetic logs have the same density and movements as a 500-pound cedar wood log. However, most of its weight is in water. Once drained, the synthetic logs weigh 65 pounds, making it easier to bring to a lake or pool.
Delaney hopes her logs can propel the sport into the Olympics someday. “We have the same type of equipment for everyone, so there is consistency, and that’s a big deal to make it into the Olympics,” she says.

Blue Ox Log Rolling
Facebook: @blueoxlogrolling
Instagram: @blueoxlogrolling 

Key Log Rolling
Facebook: Key Log Rolling
Twitter: @KeyLogRolling
Instagram: @keylogrolling