The art of riding trees


Growing up at 110 Flamingo Street for seven years, my three brothers, sister, and I had summers filled with adventures and misadventures.

The adventures were a lot more fun than misadventures, and a lot less painful. Some of these led to doctor visits, a few sent us to the hospital and some were downright too crazy to even to try once, much less continue to do for an entire summer.

Such was the art of riding trees.

Warning to all my younger readers out there: do not for any reason try this in your backyard, your neighbors’ backyard, or any yard for that matter. Looking back now, I don’t know how we didn’t break an arm, leg or even worse.

Older Brother Richard assured us no one would get hurt. That’s when the little voice in my head screamed for me not to try it.

Whenever Richard said no one would get hurt, someone always did. And that person was usually one of his younger brothers. I hadn’t been hurt for a while so I figured it was my turn.

But I must admit, as a 7-year-old, the idea of riding trees sounded really fun. After all, what could possible go wrong? How could you get hurt just climbing a tree?

Richard said, “Pick out a sweet gum or oak tree about the size of your leg and climb to the top. Hold on really tight with your hands and then throw your legs out as far as you can. The tree will bend over, and you ride it slowly down to the ground. Let go and it’ll spring back up.”

In theory, this works really well. Reality for a 7-year-old is something different.

I’ve found when you follow instructions on how to do something, things usually turn out okay. It’s only when you deviate from said instructions that things go awry.
First, I learned what happens when you climbed a tree too small. It bends over and doesn’t stop until you slam into the ground. Then your brothers laugh at you.

Second, I learned what happens when you climb a tree that’s too big. When you throw your legs away from the trunk, it also bends over. It stops when you’re still hanging 20 feet above the ground.

For the next 10 minutes, my brothers laughed and threw sticks at me as I swung hand-over-hand down the tree to the ground.

Lastly, I found out why you don’t want to use a pine tree when riding trees. Here are some facts about pine trees.

First, the sap from a pine tree will not come off your skin; it has to wear off. I think I still have a few spots on my hands. At least I think they’re sap spots.
Second, chunks of bark from a pine tree can easily be pulled away from the trunk and hurled at your brothers standing below.

Third, and the most important fact, a pine tree doesn’t bend all the way to the ground. It will (and in my case, did) break as it bends about halfway, then, like the tree that’s too small, will slam you into the ground.

The same brothers who you laughed at as you pelted them with pine bark will be the same brothers laughing at you as they watch you plow into the ground.
Now, you may ask where the “art” comes in when learning how to ride trees. Well, here’s how.

When the right size hardwood is chosen, when it’s climbed to the right height and legs thrown are away from the trunk with the right force, and it’s slowly ridden down to the ground — at the moment your feet touch — the true art is in letting go.

The tree will rebound high up into the air and, if you’re lucky, knock one of your brothers who has been laughing at you all afternoon upside the head.

Not that I’m admitting anything, mind you.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for over 26 years and a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is His book is available at]