Freeworker in mourning – On the death of Hubert Kowalewski

End of June we received the sad news that Hubert Kowalewski, mastermind of ART, has passed away. Many in the tree climbing community already knew that the revolutionist of tree climbing had been suffering from severe depression for a long time. The news of Hubert’s suicide causes Freeworker deep sorrow. For many years we have been closely connected with the tinkerer and inventor.

The inventor of the LockJack and many other groundbreaking tree climbing equipment was only 57 years old and leaves a huge gap in the tree climbing scene. Our thoughts are with Hubert’s family, to whom we wish much strength in these days of loss.

“I have known Hubert since 1997 and we have been closely connected ever since, both professionally and personally. Together we lived through many ups and downs. We planned and pondered together and exchanged ideas. We wrestled with each other for details and at the same time supported each other to the best of our ability. Together we made progress. We always focused on helping to shape and progress the world of tree climbing.

I am filled with great sorrow not only because I have lost an important friend and partner, but also because I was unable to help him. He always wanted to decide things for himself. I want to respect his decision, even if I cannot understand it. The grief in me remains. My heartfelt condolences go out to his relatives.”

Johannes Bilharz


Hubert Kowalewski – A unique inventor

Hubert Kowalewski, the man behind the well-known ART brand, has a place in the history of tree climbing. With the invention of the LockJack rope device in 1998, he fundamentally changed tree climbing technology. It was a spectacular throw, a success at that time. David against Goliath. Hubert, the unknown arborist from a small village near Hannover (Germany), on his own against the big names in the industry. Not least against a large number of tree climbers. They saw their freedom threatened in their use of non-certifiable climbing hitches. These objections drove him in his work until the end.

With the SpiderJack he has set new standards for the second time in terms of ergonomics, smoothness, efficiency and reduced effort. With the spectacular SpiderJack video by Australian world-class climber Joe Harris, he achieved the long-awaited worldwide breakthrough and recognition from the world’s best climbers.

Prior to his career as a manufacturer, he had been climbing as an arborist for seven years, sometimes with material he’d design himself. Hubert was always a “do-it-yourselfer” who not only worked on his material all night long, but also taught himself how to climb trees.

The initial impulse for the LockJack was given at the German ISA tree climbing championships in Minden in 1995. Here, he recognized the possibilities of the doubled rope technique, which at that time was still done with the friction-intensive climbing hitches due to a lack of alternatives. Many people still know the “Body Thrust” technique, which is as exhausting as it sounds. Two weeks after the championships, the first idea was born. Hubert worked on ideas and materials for another three years and tried out solutions and functional principles, until the patented and certified LockJack T1/T2 was ready for the market in 1998. This year marked the beginning of the close partnership with Johannes Bilharz and later with Freeworker.

“Have the courage to make use of your own mind.”

Hubert Kowalewski was born with a curiosity for technology and creativity. His father was an enthusiastic inventor and he encouraged his son early on to think about things himself, to look for solutions and to consider materials, tools and work processes. At first the fatherly example led to modified bicycle models and later to Hubert’s motto “Have the courage to make use of your own mind” (“Habe den Mut, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen.”). Listening, watching, learning, reflecting and improving were the driving forces for Hubert Kowalewski throughout his life. The advertising slogan “advantage through technology” (“Vorsprung durch Technik”) also inspired him in his statement.

After finishing school, he completed an apprenticeship as a forest worker, before he later obtained his A-levels and studied history, sport and philosophy. He financed his university studies by working in a motor vehicle repair shop. Even many years later, he always repaired his own cars. Forest and climbing, however, were more tempting and after two years he quit his studies. He then continued to work as a freelance arborist and began to tinker on his climbing equipment. At the same time, Hubert started working for the professional fire brigade in Hannover. Helping nature and people, sport and technology, these were his sources of motivation.

Advanced Ropeclimbing Technology – ART

When the LockJack went into serial production, he founded his own company, whose name became known all over the world in the climbing scene and stood for exciting innovations, and continues to do so. With the LockJack and ART, the inventor and tinkerer became the engineer Hubert Kowalewski. His expectations of his own products were extremely high. For the professional tree climber as well as for the beginner, and no matter what skills and habits the user brought along, he should experience an enrichment with every ART product.

With this maxim he worked obsessively in the following years on new equipment, each of which caused a sensation in the tree climbing world. He never wanted to just copy but rather find his own new solutions. Countless patents bear witness to this. LockJack T1 and T2 became LockJack Twin and LockJack Sport. Even a small device such as the ingenious snap carabiner Trapeze also went through several metamorphoses up to today’s version. Inspired by his own observations and suggestions from the tree climbing scene, he developed ideas and sought solutions, at first in his own world. His claim was not to copy anything, to have ideas of his own and only to pursue things that are new and offer added value.

In almost all his developments Hubert Kowalewski has achieved something unique that lived up to his claim. Be it the small Trapeze, the RopeGuide, the Cocoon, the SpiderJack or any other of his many developments, they are all unique and full of fascinating and thoughtful details. They all brought the added value for the climber that Hubert had determined for himself. Once he found a better idea and solution, he went on working until the solutions could be retrofitted for existing equipment wherever possible. Users of older devices should use innovations without having to buy a new device.

For Hubert, the focus was not on business but on user recognition. The devices and products should be convincing, both functionally and sustainably. He always attached great importance to the modular design of the devices. One of his trademarks: wearing parts are replaceable. He was one of the first to dare to approve PPE with a life-time of ten years. A high risk for a small manufacturer.

Striving for continuous improvement

Hubert Kowalewski knew that the perfect device didn’t exist. Nevertheless, he wanted to approach perfection with his ideas and set new standards. His own, ambitious goal was to merge dynamics, effectiveness, efficiency, sustainability and ergonomics. At the same time, he was careful in his designs to further improve the devices at any time by exchanging individual parts.

With Hubert Kowalewski, a pioneer and revolutionary leaves the tree climbing technique in a tragic and deeply saddening way. He secured the future of ART Enterprise GmbH beyond his death and for quite some time had entrusted the fate of his company to his successors. Until the end, he provided them with advice and inexhaustible expertise.

Hubert Kowalewski will be sorely missed. But his name and his contribution to tree climbing will remain. With his inventions he has built himself a lasting monument in tree climbing techniques. Hubert Kowalewski can be forever sure of a deeply felt recognition and the great respect of many tree climbers and arborists and of Freeworker.

In memory of

Hubert Kowalewski

* 07.11.1961, † 26.06.2019

Gilching, 01.07.2019


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