Wood you believe it? UNC hopes to popularize aquatic logrolling

When people say there’s logrolling going on at UNC-Chapel Hill, don’t assume they mean the School of Government’s involved or there’s any trading of political favors going on.

No, they might well mean logrolling of the traditional sort — standing on a floating log and stepping fancy while trying to stay on board.

The university’s Campus Recreation program recently acquired a synthetic “Key Log” sold by a Minnesota company, and has begun encouraging students to give it a try in the Bowman Gray Memorial Pool.

“It is a blast,” said Catherine Ayers, aquatics director, who added that students visiting the pool for other events have “been all over it” since the log’s debut.

She said the aquatics staff is making the log available for “open recreation” periods in the pool and also hopes club sports teams eventually start using it for competitions.

The Minnesota company, Key Log Rolling, makes its hollow logs using the same sort of plastics that go into making canoes and kayaks these days. As they come from the factory, they weigh about 65 pounds. But after being put in the pool, they’re filled with water and wind up weighing about 485 pounds.

The idea is that when full, it should perform under a roller’s feet “exactly like a Western Red Cedar would,” said Alex Beck, a company staffer who visited UNC Friday to teach Ayers and other Campus Rec staffers how to logroll.

To help the learning process, the company’s developed removable, paddlewheel-like “trainers” that wrap around the log and, by inducing water resistance, slow its spin for the benefit of beginners.

Syllabus-wise, teaching someone how to logroll is a matter first of identifying a person’s “dominant” foot — the one you lead with when you’re trying to balance yourself — and then showing them how to mount the log and stand up on it.

The techniques are similar to those of a well-known ocean sport. “You’re going to push and pop up, kind of like surfing,” Beck said as he explained the right way to stand up.

Once up, staying on is a matter of using “really small, fast steps” to remain centered, he said before having his charges practice the necessary footwork on the deck beside the pool.

On land, small-step footwork isn’t exactly natural. “I feel like I’m in a Monty Python movie,” one Campus Rec staffer said as he practiced it.

“Exactly, yes,” Beck answered by way of encouragement.

But on the log, it made more sense, although each attempt had an inevitable, splashy end.

“There’s no pressure to get it right the first time,” Ayers said after taking her turns atop the log. “You are going to go down.”

Ray Gronberg: 919-419-6648, @rcgronberg