Axeman: King of the woodchoppers at 78

BEN STRANG
Last updated 05:00 27/02/2014
Rex Spencer
MARK TAYLOR/Fairfax NZ
TOP CHOP: Rex Spencer is still competing in wood chopping events at 78-years-old.

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You'd be forgiven for thinking Rex Spencer is heading to bowls when you see him with the whites on.

The 78-year-old Te Kuiti man admits people mistake him for a cricketer or bowler when he throws his white pants on and heads to wood chopping events.

Since 1962 Spencer has been hooked on the sport, and that love has him still attending regular meets and competing in open grade competition.

In fact, the old timer is even capable of winning the occasional ribbon and prize money, as he did three weekends ago in Paeroa.

"I do chop as many blocks as I can," he said. "I do it more for the fitness, and I believe it's served me very well.

"I've mainly just got slower. It's a bit more painful now, but I absolutely love it. When I started it was like a bloody cancer, and I've never been able to get rid of it."

That so called cancer started growing in 1962, when Spencer was helping develop a property at Kawhia for Maori Affairs.

Two young men were chopping down trees on the site and training for an event. "I remember thinking, ‘they're bloody mugs, we could beat them', so we went and trained and got an axe or two, and I won."

From there the love of wood chopping grew, and led Spencer to becoming good friends with Kiwi wood chopping legend Sonny Bolstad.

Bolstad put Spencer through his paces, not too impressed with his early efforts with axe in hand, but helped turn him into a handy axeman.

The pair travelled to wood chopping events throughout the country, and also travelled to Australia for several events throughout the years.

When Bolstad died, his young son David Bolstad started chopping, and in helping coach the youngster Spencer's love for the sport was rejuvenated.

"David Bolstad came along when his father was killed, and I was just about ready to give up.

"We were at a big wood chopping event, and David wasn't doing any good at all, so I said ‘you want to borrow one of my axes Dave?' "He said, ‘well I've got nothing to lose'. He picked it up, chopped the block, and came up to me and said, ‘that's the fastest block you'll ever see cut in an underhand radiata. That axe is a freak'."

Bolstad went on to win more than $1 million in prize money in wood chopping overseas, but died in 2011, collapsing after an event in Waiuku.

'The Freak', as it came to be named, still lies among the 30-odd axes in Spencer's shed, and he plans to prepare it for David Bolstad's nine-year-old son when he takes up the sport.

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By the time the boy takes up wood chopping, he may have some pretty stiff competition, with Spencer unlikely to be giving the sport up anytime soon.

He gets a week off this weekend after events in Pukekohe, Paeroa and Putaruru the past three weeks.

The wins come less frequently these days, but he did pick up two top prizes in Paeroa, and gives those younger choppers a run for their money in the handicap competitions.

The key to success is simple according to Spencer, and he has his ideas on keeping fit later in life, too.

"There's no substitute for bloody hard work," he said.

"The wood chopping has kept me very fit, but I've taken a bit of selenium each day since about 1993, and I reckon that's been good for me."

- Waikato Times

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