Jason Gerrish, local arborist and owner of Tree Huggers, based in Palmetto Bay, recently took first place at the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Florida Chapter’s Tree Climbing Championship.
The competition, held in Lakeland, consisted of five events: secured footlock, belayed speed climb, throw ball, work climb, and aerial rescue.
From these preliminary events, the field of 32 was narrowed down to four competitors who went on to the master challenge. Gerrish was the overall winner and was awarded $1,000 of tree trimming equipment and the opportunity to represent Florida at the International Tree Climbing Championship in Milwaukee, WI, on Aug. 2.
To train for the International Tree Climbing Championship in Milwaukee, Gerrish plans to compete in ISA competitions in North Carolina and Ohio, as well as to continue working. Most of the challenges are part of his day-to-day tree trimming life.
“Working keeps me in the best shape,” Gerrish said.
Gerrish was introduced to tree-climbing competitions in 2001 by Will Harden, his mentor and then president of the ISA’s Southern Chapter. Gerrish has competed five times, although the best he did prior to this year was a second place finish in 2002.
“I think I won this year because I’m a veteran industry professional, and because I got a little lucky… I went into the event as the underdog and come out on top. I was a little surprised,” Gerrish said.
In 1997, Gerrish established Tree Huggers, a residential and commercial tree care and landscaping business that specializes in tree pruning and dangerous tree removal. However, his tree-trimming career began in 1992 on the morning after Hurricane Andrew hit.
Gerrish borrowed a chainsaw to clean up his parent’s yard and got flagged down for what would be his first professional job.
Following this, he worked with numerous tree care services and traveled around the country, from frigid Colorado to California’s land of 200-foot trees. In California, Gerrish went against the common practice of spiking trees, and said he was ridiculed for using modern climbing gear to scale trees. He eventually returned to Miami, where he chased storms, contract climbed, became certified as an arborist, and settled into his trade.
“With all my storm chasing experience and pruning skills, and having climbed in eight states and three countries, I consider myself one of the most well-rounded tree care professionals in Florida and maybe the world,” Gerrish said.
Gerrish’s love of tree has given rise to Subtropical Hardwoods, an urban wood harvesting company that reclaims wood from the streets of Miami-Dade County. Subtropical Hardwoods mills logs into “incredible slabs unique in every way,” which can then be used for anything from small cutting boards to whole countertops. Slabs are available for purchase by homeowners, contractors, lumberyards and wood enthusiasts alike.
“Harvesting hardwoods right here in town has so many ecological and financial benefits to the community and the end user. It’s a natural extension for me — combining my love of trees and carpentry,” Gerrish said.