EUREKA, Calif. — It wasn't what she was used to, and it had nothing to do with the fact that she was a woman in a male-dominated sport.
Stephanie Brana had always been one of the only women in wood chopping competitions; it had been that way since she started at age 13. It was something else that was bothering her as she marked her wood before the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Collegiate Series Western Conclave presented by Carhartt.
"It's very different," said Brana, a junior at the University of Nevada. "This is my third year, and I'm still getting used to the rules and how everything is regulated."
Brana's father, Juan Brana, stood behind her and knew exactly what she was talking about. He was even a little proud of the fact that even though she grew chopping up in the U.S., the American style of lumberjack competitions was something new to her.
Juan Brana grew up in the Basque Country of Spain where wood chopping is a part of the culture.
It has been a profession in Spain since medieval times when it was important to the local ship-building industry. Large groups of men that lived in the woods did most the chopping and eventually, they started holding competitions to see who was the strongest and the fastest.
The events are similar to the current STIHL TIMBERSPORTS competitions in that it is a race against time, but while American lumberjack sports focus more on strength and technique, one log at a time, the Basque events are more a test of endurance, chopping up to as many as 20 logs at a time in competitions that can last hours. There are all different sizes of logs, some as thick as 80 inches in diameter.
"The only time you're not chopping is when you're going from one log to the next," said Juan Brana, who has traveled both Spain and the U.S. as a professional Basque lumberjack. "Some guys stop to get a drink, but a lot of guys take no drink at all."
Stephanie Brana showed interest in the sport when she was 10 years old, but her father made her wait to start training until she was 13.
"We go to Basque festivals here in the western states, and I had been growing up around that because it's the only culture we have around here," said Brana, who was born in Reno, Nev. "I'm half Basque. It's in me, so of course I'm going to want to be involved in my culture. It's pretty cool."
After eight years of chopping logs a certain way, it's been hard for Brana to adjust to the subtleties of the American style in the three years she's been at the University of Nevada-Reno.
Brana marked a log for footholds, which they don't have in Basque competitions, as her dad shook his head.
"If you put both feet here in the middle, there's better angles," Juan Brana said.
Everything he said was with a hint of pride — pride in his heritage and in his daughter.
"I'm real excited," Jaun Brana said. "She's the only Basque girl competing against these colleges, and I'm really proud of her."
Brana competed in all four events at the Western Conclave. She was happy with some performances and frustrated with others, but she finished them all. Any disappointment she felt was in her own performance, not in her finishing place.
"When we go to the Basque events, they'll sometimes bring in professionals and then they'll ask me to compete with them," she said. "So I'm pretty used to thinking, 'I'm just going to do this for myself and not worry about a race.'
"I'm a girl chopping, and I'm just going to get through it as fast as I can."