By Abigail Loop
Professional arborists will visit Waco this weekend to find out who is the best tree climber in Texas.
The Texas Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture will have their Master Challenge Tree Climbing Competition at 8:30 a.m. Saturday in Pecan Bottoms, located in Cameron Park.
The event, which is free to observe, will consist of four competitors climbing to qualify for the International Tree Climbing Competition next March in Tampa, Fla.
Guy LeBlanc, head judge for the competition, said participants for this challenge were selected from a competition in New Braunfels earlier this year.
“We have pre-qualified contestants who were the top five in the last competition,” LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc said everyone who is competing is involved with the International Society of Arboriculture. The competition will have participants climbing a pecan tree in Cameron Park, where ropes will be installed and ascended.
Once competitors climb the rope, they will be judged on their efficiency of climbing the tree and getting to certain sections of the tree. There will be different tree maintenance activities to do at each section.
According to the Texas Chapter ISA’s website, the competition is made up of events such as speed climbing, footlock, where competitors climb up a rope with no knots, aerial rescue, where climbers must assess a safety situation, and a work climb, where climbers will have to work on getting to different sections of the tree and performing certain tasks.
“This is a chance for the public to see how tree care is performed and for those competing, it’s a chance to go into the international competition,” Leblanc said. “I’ve been in the tree care business for 30 years and this is sort of a natural outgrowth of my involvement in the tree industry.”
Kevin Bassett, chairperson for the competition, said event goers will not be disappointed.
“It’s impressive to see these guys work a tree,” Bassett said. “It’s different from what you’d expect. Everybody loved the competition in New Braunfels.”
Arborist Jeremy Prichard participated in the New Braunfels event and has qualified for this weekend’s competition. While he’s never won first place in past tree climbing competitions, he’s hopeful this is the year.
“I’m excited to have a good time,” Prichard said. “In the earlier competition this year, I got fourth place and this will be my seventh Master Challenge. I’ve been a consistent competitor.”
Prichard said that the competition is all about poise, confidence and how climbers set up a workplace in the tree their climbing.
“The competition is timed and after 25 to 30 minutes, you start getting points deducted,” Prichard said. “I think this competition makes you a better arborist.”
John Giedraitis, executive director of the Texas chapter of ISA, said Prichard the other competitors are in the category of extreme sport athletes.
“They have to demonstrate their skills, speed and stay within the time,” Giedraitis said. “It really is an intense competition and it’s a lot of fun.”