Wintec qualification helps arborist scale international heights

Wintec graduate and arborist  James Kirkpatrick won the Men’s International Tree Climbing Championship
Champion climber and Wintec graduate James Kilpatrick says competitions have changed the way he works as an arborist.

It’s been a big year for James Kilpatrick. The 33-year-old arborist from Tauranga has won his third consecutive Men’s International Tree Climbing Championship, beating 48 competitors from more than 20 countries.

Kirkpatrick, now based in Germany, completed a Diploma in Arboriculture (Level 6) at Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec) this year, and says that while it has accelerated his career, it also ignited a passion for competitive climbing.  

He was encouraged to give competitive climbing a go by Wintec tutor Andrew Harrison, who has won three New Zealand Tree Climbing Championships and competed at the International Tree Climbing Championship four times.

“He spoke about the benefits of competing and I thought ‘why not?’”

He admits he made “all sorts of mistakes” in his first competition but enjoyed the camaraderie, something that holds true to this day.

“It’s like meeting up with 50 friends all at once. We are all professional arborists, often with similar interests and a common passion for climbing.”

The International Tree Climbing Championship is broken down into five preliminary events, covering skills such as speed, safety, control and creativity.

Kilpatrick typically finds the Aerial Rescue, a timed event that tests a competitor’s ability to climb to, and safely lower a climber who is unable to descend without assistance, the most challenging. This year, however, he was placed first.

“It’s highly technical and communication is extremely important, so there’s a lot of multi-tasking, which is not really my strong suit.”

After the preliminary events, the top competitors are chosen to compete in the Masters’ Challenge. Competitors are judged and scored on their knowledge and ability to demonstrate mastery of different climbing techniques, use of equipment, poise in the tree, and safe working practice. The winner of the Masters’ Challenge walks away with the title.

“This year I was the most relaxed I have ever been. I had nothing to prove and was happy to simply go about my business in the tree,” says Kilpatrick.

“Competitions have changed the way I work in trees by giving me the opportunity to test the limits, and watch others test the limits of what can be done.

“I like having a chance to swing around a tree without having to carry a chainsaw. I enjoy the competitive side of it as well; when the pressure is on it really tests your ability and resilience.”

He also finds that the competitions help to optimise the passion and skills needed for his day job.

“I found that working day-in, day-out, my productivity and passion for climbing would tend to plateau. After a competition as soon as I was back working again – after removing the protective tape from my handsaw blade – it felt like I jumped up a level and I was as happy as ever to be back at work.”

His passion for climbing, first inspired him to study the New Zealand Certificate in Horticulture Services (Level 4) at Wintec before completing the Diploma in Arboriculture.

The Diploma is aimed at those looking to progress into management roles, like Kilpatrick, who now operates his own arboriculture company. They benefit form real-world work experience, mentoring from industry professionals and develop their practical, interpersonal skills.

Kilpatrick says Wintec provided him with a great depth of knowledge about trees, climbing and the general industry, something that has certainly come in handy when competing.

 “Taking part in tree climbing competitions has made a huge impact on my career as an arborist, but climbing, and climbing competitions, have shaped my life to such an extent that I can’t imagine how life would be otherwise.”

Find out more about studying arboriculture at Wintec.

Read more:

Pioneer sows the seeds at Wintec for New Zealand arboriculture training

Trainee arborists give trees a going over

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