Aizkolaritza [ais̻ˈkolaɾiˌts̻a] is the Basque name for a type of wood-chopping competition. They are a popular form of herri kirol (rural sport) in the Basque Country. Competitions are commonly held at most festivals, especially town festivals and usually involve at least two individuals or teams competing against each other.
The sport is called aizkolaritza in Basque, from aizkolari "wood-chopper" plus the noun-forming suffix -tza. It is also known as aizkol jokoa the "axe game". Spanish uses a loanword from Basque, aizcolari and in French the sport is called coupeurs de bûches.
The sections of trunk are usually beech without visible knots from the forests of Navarre. For competitions, the trunk sections closest to the roots or branches are used as they are of less value to the wood industry. The trunks are categorised according to their circumference using Basque inches (ontza), equivalent to 0.0254m. They commonly are used in the following sizes:
|36||oinbetekoa||one of a full foot|
|54||kanaerdikoa||one of half a kana|
|72||oinbikoa||one of two feet|
|108||kanakoa||one of one kana|
The oinbetekoa, 80 ontza, kanakoa and bigger ones are often used in wagers; the kanaerdikoa, 60 ontza and oinbikoa most commonly in bigger competitions and arranged in a row, each nailed to planks for stability.
The axes are between 2.4 and 2.8 kg heavy with a rounded blade and each aizkolari uses a number of them in a competition. The logs are between 0.5-0.8m long for competitions where one aizkolari stands on the log and between 0.8-1.2m long for competitions where two stand on it.
The competitions are usually a race for the finish by however many individual competitors there are but occasionally they are done txandetan, in relays, where two aizkolaris form a team and relieve the other once a trunk has been chopped through. The focus is more on stamina than speed compared to other wood-chopping events outside the Basque Country and most competitions last half an hour at the very least but normally more than an hour.
They can be held with each aizkolari having two helpers. The botilero (botillero in Spanish) holds the towel and brings new axes. The prestatzaile (enseñador in Spanish) checks the two halves are fully separated (they sometimes appear to have but are still connected), dictates the rhythm and indicates where best to hit next.
In a famous competition held in 1983 in Tolosa, two aizkolaris called Jose Mari Mendizabal and Mikel Mindegi had a wager to chop six 110 ontza trunks and 52 kanaerdikoa (a total of 100 kanaerdi) each in less than 5 hours. Mendizabal won the competition and 2 million pesetas taking just 4:12hrs, Mindegi 4:29hrs. But the most famous aizkolari was probably a man nicknamed Santa Ageda who competed in an epic event in the bullring of Azpeitia in 1903.
Many aizkolariak compete into high age. In 1900, Augustin Unanue who was aged 75 at the time, famously chopped a log of 1m diameter in 4 hours. Famous competitions often lead to the composition of bertsos in honour of the event.
The most important modern day competition is probably the Urrezko Aizkora, the "golden axe" competition where the best aizkolaris from all over the Basque Country compete against each other individually or in pairs. There are several categories, including two junior competitions for people under the age of 23 and 18. The competitions are held in different places in the Basque Country over a period of two months to establish a winner. Held since 1997, it has been held annually since. Other important competitions are the Donostiako Urrezko Kopako ("gold cup of San Sebastián"), the Euskal Herriko Lehen Maila ("premier league of the Basque Country") and the provincial competitions.
An annual nationwide event with the final taking place in Azpeitia. The winner or winning pair in the adult categories are given in bold.
|2001||Floren Nazabal & Joxemiel Peñagarikano|
|2002||Anjel Arrospidek & Xabier Orbegozo (Arria V) (19:12)|
Floren Nazabal & López Azpilikueta (20:07)
|2003||Donato Larretxea v Jose Mari Olasagasti||Mindegia & Donato Larretxea (16:29)|
Floren Nazabal & Jose Mari Olasagasti (16:49)
Joxemiel Peñagarikano & Anjel Arrospide (16:31)
|2004||Floren Nazabal||Mindegia & Donato Larretxea|
|2005||Donato Larretxea v Floren Nazabal|
|2006||Floren Nazabal v Jose Mari Olasagasti|
|2007||Floren Nazabal v Jose Mari Olasagasti||Floren Nazabal & Juan Jose Azpilikueta |
Donato Larretxea & Jose Juan Barberena
|2008||Floren Nazabal v Donato Larretxea||Donato Larretxea & Aitzol Atutxa (30:37) |
Anjel Arrospide & Aierbe II (32:38)
Euskal Herriko Txapelketa
The championship of the Basque Country where aizkolaris from all over the Basque Country compete.
|1996||Jose Mari Olasagasti|
|1998||Jose Mari Olasagasti|
|1999||Jose Mari Olasagasti|
|2001||Jose Mari Olasagasti|
The "open championship of Biscay".
The championship of Gipuzkoa, a province level championship held annually.
|2008||Iñaki Azurmendi (33:19)||Joxemari Olasagasti (34:35)|
The championship of Navarre, a province level championship held annually.
Donostiako Urrezko Kopa
The "golden cup of San Sebastián", held annually with 5 finalists competing in the final event. To date, the best time is held by Donato Larretxea who completed the task in a record 25 minutes 17 seconds.
|1989||Donato Larretxea (35:09)|
|1990||Joxemari Olasagasti (31:41)|
|1991||Anjel Arrospide (28:20)|
|1992||Anjel Arrospide (27:39)|
|1993||Anjel Arrospide (27:53)|
|1994||Anjel Arrospide (28:34)|
|1995||Donato Larretxea (27:17)|
|1996||Anjel Arrospide (29:11)|
|1997||Donato Larretxea (29:22)|
|1998||Antonio Senosiain (30:00)|
|1999||Joxemari Olasagasti (27:39)||Joxemiel Peñagarikano (30:08)|
|2000||Joxemiel Peñagarikano (29:04)||Floren Nazabal (30:53)|
|2001||Joxemiel Peñagarikano (27:34)||Donato Larretxea (27:56)|
|2002||Donato Larretxea (29:03)||Joxemiel Peñagarikano (31:10)|
|2003||Joxemiel Peñagarikano (37:01)||Floren Nazabal (37:23)|
|2004||Floren Nazabal (35:28)||Joxemiel Peñagarikano (36:12)|
|2005||Floren Nazabal (38:52)||Joxemari Olasagasti (41:48)|
|2006||Floren Nazabal (31:47)||Joxemari Olasagasti (36:16)|
|2007||Joxemari Olasagasti (31:34)||Luis Txapartegi (32:57)|
Normally the aizkolaris stand on the trunk sections but there are variations where they are required to chop a vertical tree from the top called zutiko enborra or "upright trunk". This is achieved by chopping notches into the trunk into which the aizkolari inserts a plank. He then stands on the plank to reach higher up, working his way around the trunk in a spiral until he can chop the top section. The trunks are up to 6m tall and usually no safety equipment is used up to that height.
There is another variation combining the chopping competition with a race.
Women and aizkolaritza
Traditionally a male dominated sport, women have begun to take part in aizkolari competitions in recent years as they have in other traditional Basque sports, for example Itziar Goenaga, Kristina Saralegi and Lucia Unceta
Wood-chopping as a profession has a long tradition in the Basque Country and has been recorded since medieval times when the profession was important to the local shipbuilding and charcoal burning industry which later also fed the metal-working industry. This work was carried out by small, itinerant groups of men living in the woods, the youngest and strongest usually felling the trees and the older preparing the felled trees and building the txondorra, the mound for burning charcoal. In these communities, competitions were common to establish who the strongest and fastest aizkolariak were.
The use of large quantities of charcoal as fuel for the many foundries in the Basque Country in the 18th century together with the use of wood for shipbuilding led to large areas of woodland being cut down. In time, those country towns and valleys that were famed for their top wood-cutters turned out to be those that have safeguarded the wealth of their forests.
As popular competitions they were not recorded until the 19th century. The names of the competitors were not recorded but referred to by their place of origin or group, for example "one of Beizama", "the son of the house of Gorrizu", "the group from Nuarbe" or "the one from Beunza farm". To outsiders, the early competitions were known as fiestas Euskaras "Basque fiestas".
- Department of Culture (in Basque and Spanish)
- Etxegoien, J. Orhipean, Xamar 1996
Aizkolariak (some information about Basque axemen challenges)