He lives in Switzerland, is originally from Rheinland-Pfalz in Germany, loves butterflies, wanted to become an astronaut, is a trained electrician, kickboxing coach and switched to tree care in 2003. For over 15 years he has been involved as a Head Judge at tree climbing competitions, winning the “Spirit of the Competition” award at the 2022 World Cup for his outstanding performance as a referee. At Freeworker, we don’t think the visor of the Arbanksy helmet suits anyone better than him.
Who are we talking about? The head judge and dad of the Throwline stations Kai-Uwe – “The Kaihai” – Christ. Few can identify with the motif of the girl throwing the throwline with the throwing bag as he does. Because the Throwline discipline is all about that. Very briefly explained, the goal of the station is to throw two throwlines into the given marked branch forks within six minutes. Four different points can be awarded for each throwline: 9, 7, 5 or 3. Of course there are a few more rules to follow, but for the layman the principle of the station is explained.
We talked to Kai about his actual dream job, his career and what it means to him to be a Head Judge at championships.
Kai, we’re glad you have the time to answer a few questions for us. We know you currently live in Switzerland, but that’s not where you’re originally from. Where are your true roots?
My roots are in the beautiful Palatinate, more precisely in Neustadt an der Weinstraße, where I also grew up. In 1998 I followed love to Switzerland and that’s where I live and work.
Today you are an arborist or arboricultural specialist. Did you always want to go in this direction or was there another goal or dream job earlier?
I always wanted to be an astronaut. I really collected everything from the first space shuttle. After school, however, I trained as an electrician, completed the training and thus became an electrician.
Okay, a completely different direction. How then did the first contact with tree care come about?
For the first time I heard about or saw arboriculture in Switzerland. I was fascinated by the way the arborists climbed around in the trees, but that was just the first contact, the first spark in practice. But it took a few more years until it completely jumped over. It was not until a few years later that I was allowed to watch a few arborists again that it really got to me. I then went to the tree climbers and asked if there was any chance of getting a taste of the profession with them for a week. That’s how I ended up training as an arborist in Switzerland, and that’s how I stayed.
As an arborist, you naturally hear about the tree climbing championships, what was it like for you? When did you get in touch, especially with the ISA championships, where you are now Head Judge?
My first championship was when I was still an apprentice in Switzerland, so the first contact was relatively quick. At that time I was still a volunteer at the work climbing. The atmosphere, the people and the climbers just got me so carried away and excited that I kept going to championships. First only in Switzerland and then to others as well.
When were your first international championships (European & World)?
My first European Championship was here in Switzerland (Thun, 2013). Actually, I had signed up as a volunteer. Puk (a colleague) came to me at that time and asked me if I wanted to do Head Judge Throwline and even though I had been Head Judge at Foot Lock for several years before that, I was really excited. But it was also an incredibly nice feeling to be allowed to be Head Judge of the Throwline station. I remember that the station was on a small island at that time, and the only access to it was a bridge. So I was allowed to welcome every participant practically on my own island.
My first World Championship was then Copenhagen 2022. Two months before, Rip and Didj asked me at the European Championships in Brussels if I would also like to be Head Judge of the Throwline Station at the World Championships. That was insane. I was so excited and shaking because it was already a dream come true. I was so happy and I still am when I think back on it.
Before we go any further into the World Cup, you just mentioned Brussels. You handed out small wooden trees to participants and exhibitors at the 2022 European Championship in Belgium, how did this little gift actually come about?
I had the idea because it was the first championship after Corona and in my eyes all participants are winners. That’s why I thought everyone should get a small prize and that’s how the trees came about. Originally I had made only 90 pieces for Brussels, but I enjoyed it so much that in the end it became 170 little “Bäumlis”.
What did you make the little trees out of?
The trees were pre-milled from one piece of wood, so I had to cut them into slices and then sand them. Then I attached pieces of my old throwline to them, in keeping with the throwline station, and so a few materials became a souvenir for all the participants.
Then we would have solved the “mystery”. Back to the championships. You won the “Spirit of the Competition” award in Copenhagen. How did you feel and what went through your mind when you heard your own name?
For me, it was and still is the most wonderful thing I have experienced in my championship career as a judge. When I heard my name I had such weak knees and the walk to the front was overwhelming, so many cheering people, it gave me goose bumps and the feeling, hard to describe. Just beautiful. I mean, it was my first time as Head Judge at a World Championship and then to win this award directly, just unbelievable. I still get goosebumps today when I think back or talk about it. Thank you to everyone who made this possible. You are just great.
With so many championships, there must have been one moment that remains unforgettable for you, which one do you remember?
The double nine from Michal Macan. I was so happy for him when he threw the two nines and it was such an emotional moment afterwards, we were just so happy, I even had a few tears in my eyes as a head judge.
Showing emotion as an umpire is really unique with you. But do you feel the same today as you did before your first championship when you’re on site? Or before it starts?
Yes, I attend every championship and I’m always excited beforehand, but once it starts everything is good and the fun can begin.
What is the Throwline Station for you? It is obviously very important to you and you put your heart and soul into your job.
For me, the Throwline Station is simply a wonderful station. Sometimes you have a good throw and sometimes you don’t, it’s the same in life. The six minutes you have go by incredibly fast and for me it is important that every participant feels comfortable with me during that time. Thanks to the support of my crew, who really help out, it’s even more fun and when a participant leaves the station with a smile on their face, even though things may not have gone so well, it’s simply the best gift.
You’ve been to a lot of events, you’ve even been to a world championship, not everybody can say that. Has a lot changed over the years?
Yes. Of course the technology, the material, but that’s also due to the rapid development of new material. Many things have become faster, but also safer. Preparation has also changed, many climbers are incredibly well and precisely prepared for the championships. There is also special and precise training for it.
While we’re on the subject of change, would you like to see a bigger picture for European and/or World Championships? Say, less “work competition” and more “sport competition”?
Our profession is so beautiful. For me personally, it is a working competition and it should stay that way.
That’s a very nice wish, that investors and money don’t play the biggest role everywhere. Is there anything else you would like to say in conclusion about championships?
Yes, I am always grateful for my great team at championships. For me, Adolfo Grao is my best judge at the throwing station. He is simply a great person. But who is also very important at championships are the helpers, who you don’t see at all. Many are not seen at all and it is exactly these many helpers who make a championship possible and without whom nothing would run. And that is why I would like to say “thank you” once again and would like to give them a hug.
That’s true, without the many helpers there would be no such great experiences. Dear Kai, thank you for taking the time for us. And see you hopefully very soon at the next championship. Until then, climb up high and have fun with your Arbanksy visor!