NORTH FORK — Nate Hodges has wanted to be a lumberjack since he was four or five years old.
“I was a little mountain boy. When I was a kid, you couldn’t get me inside,” says the North Fork native. “My grandpa bought me my first axe when I was four and I was always out in the woods chopping something down.”
Now 35 years old and a rising superstar in the increasingly popular arena of “timber sports,” Hodges is ranked No. 3 in the world in the axe throwing event. During his burgeoning professional career, he’s made well over $100,000 competing in lumberjack competitions around the globe.
His skills will be on full display next month at North Fork’s annual Loggers Jamboree, where Hodges has earned the title of Top Logger ten times.
He says locals sometimes call him Paul Bunyan. “They joke around and ask me where’s my blue ox?”
But Hodges says he doesn’t really like being compared to the legendary lumberjack.
“What we do in timber sports competition is way more technical and evolved than just chopping down trees,” he says while packing up his box of wickedly sharp axes and heading to a competition in Roseburg, Oregon.
He demonstrates just how sharp the axes are by neatly shaving hairs off his burly forearms without even touching the skin. Pointing to an eight-inch scar on one of his calves, he adds, “that’s what happens when you make a mistake.”
The father of three young girls, Hodges lives in Cascadel and, when he’s not notching tree trunks or busting out the throwing axes, he operates his own construction company. He’s built more than 50 houses in the area including his own and also does tree trimming work.
At this year’s upcoming 60th-annual Loggers Jamboree, to be held Saturday and Sunday, July 6-7 at the North Fork Recreation Center, Hodges plans to defend his Top Logger title.
He first competed in the event when he was 18 years old and was Top Logger four years in a row from 2005 to 2008 — and then again in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2018.
One of his sport’s most charismatic and popular competitors, Hodges is helping to spread the timber sports gospel throughout the area.
He’s been training Minarets High School’s recently organized Precision Axe Throw Team and is also planning to open up his own axe throwing club in Oakhurst later this year.
“I remember watching the Jamboree every year as a kid,” Hodges says. “It’s an awesome event, actually older than the Super Bowl.”
“Watching as a kid, I used to think ‘I’ll never be as strong as these guys.’ When I entered the first time, the only event I did was the axe throw. I was too intimidated and nervous to try anything else.”
Hodges ended up tying for first in his inaugural appearance at the Jamboree — and then won the event in a “throw off.”
“From that point on, I was absolutely hooked,” he says.
Hodges, whose main sponsor is Oakhurst’s ArborWorks, competes in about eight events a year.
Stihl Timbersports World Championships
On June 1, he finished as the Western Region’s top qualifier for his sport’s marquee event, the Stihl Timbersports World Championships, which will be held November 1-2 in Tucson and broadcast live on ESPN.
“Axe throwing is one of the fastest-growing sports in the country right now,” he says. “But it’s actually a lot bigger back east for some reason.”
“Here in California, we have some of the best timber in the country,” he adds. “But our timber sports are still lacking. I’m not sure why.”
Plans for a new axe-throwing club
Hodges says his new club in Oakhurst will be off Highway 41 just across the street from the town’s three new hotels under construction. He signed a lease last week and says he expects to be open sometime this fall.
“It’ll mainly be axe throwing,” he says. “We’ll have six throwing lanes which people can rent by the hour, sort of like a bowling alley. We’ll have ping pong and pool tables and activities for kids too.”
Hodges says he will be on hand at the new club when his schedule permits to offer personal instruction and lessons.
“It’s going to be really cool.”
60th annual North Fork Loggers Jamboree
The North Fork Boosters Club organizes the Loggers Jamboree, which is town’s signature summer event. The competition is open to both men and women, amateurs and professionals. Events include axe throw, hand chopping, tree falling, springboard and log rolling.
On its website, the Booster Club calls the competition “a tribute to loggers of times past” and says event participants “help us appreciate and honor the loggers’ craft and hard work, while keeping us entertained.”
All proceeds from the Jamboree go into the Booster Club’s General Fund, which supports local facilities, programs and events.