“Throw it like you mean it,” Ashleigh Gadd urges in regard to the axe in my hand. “I don’t know who you have to picture at that target, but . . .”
I’m at a demo for Lumberjaxe, an axe-throwing place opening in Charlotte. Gadd, a co-owner and coach, has taught me different ways to hurl an axe through the air. We settle on a two-fisted grab that might coax some power from my skinny arms.
Now all I have to do is lift the blade over my head and sail it toward a destination 14 feet away. Did I mention the last time I did something with an axe was never?
Thwack! Somehow my axe strikes the wooden target, far from the bull’s-eye. Although it needed to stick in the target to garner any points, I’m secretly happy. Maybe there are logical reasons people find this crazy sport so appealing.
Indoor axe throwing has invaded the United States. Since the first facilities opened in Philadelphia and Chicago last fall, new spots have debuted or are under construction from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., including a few less tourist-heavy spots, such as Dallas and Oklahoma City. Their growing presence makes the venues suitable for a rainy day on vacation or the next time you just want to pitch something potentially lethal while drinking a beer.
Axe throwing has been around since at least the 5th century as part of combat. The contemporary sport, however, originated in Canadian backyards. Former Toronto bartender and actor Matt Wilson began what’s credited as the first commercial indoor arena in 2011 after so many people liked hanging out in his backyard to throw. The Backyard Axe Throwing League, or BATL, started with competition play and expanded to include walk-ins, parties, and team-building events. Wilson’s locations spread to nine in Canada plus Nashville, with more planned in the United States.
Bad Axe Throwing, a competing Canadian company, already has multiple U.S. outposts. While the sport is undeniably trendy, it can be tricky to sell here. “When we opened in Canada, people had done it before, and it was just cool they could do it in a city near them,” says Melanie St.-Amour of Bad Axe, whose U.S. locales include Atlanta and Denver. “When we went to the States, people were like, ‘What? You can throw axes? This is a thing?’”
Videos on YouTube and social media helped confirm its thinginess, especially one with Jason Momoa, better known as Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones, landing a bull’s-eye between swigs of beer. Yes, these spots allow you to BYOB (not hard liquor, though). Some sell brews on site. If you’re thinking, “Beer and axes? What could go wrong?” know that coaches are monitoring players’ behavior along with their newly honed skills.
The scoring varies slightly among venues—depending upon which of two international leagues your venue has joined—but overall, here’s what to expect. You’ll compete against another player in two lanes with protective wiring on the sides. Coaches teach three throws: one-handed, two-handed, and underhand, ideal for those who fear brandishing a hatchet above their scalp.
Under National Axe Throwing Federation rules, a match includes three rounds of five throws per round. Points depend on proximity to the bull’s-eye, although you’ll earn the most if you hit one of the dots on top of the target with your final throw. Whoever wins two of three rounds claims victory.
Some venues allow children as young as nine to participate if they have adequate strength to control the axe. Others limit the adventure to adults. Beyond that, everyone is welcome, athletic or not. Players I’ve seen include a couple on date night, with him in skinny tie and her in off-the-shoulder blouse, followed by a bearded guy wearing a kilt that ended above his leg tattoo. “Anyone can do it,” says Lily Cope, axe master general of Urban Axes in Philadelphia. “My mother, who’s 75, is coming for the first time on Tuesday. . . . We’ve had people in wheelchairs here.”
Intrigued? The walk-in fee is typically $20 per hour. Check websites and social media for walk-in hours at your venue of choice.
The primeval appeal isn’t limited to guys, either. Sixty percent of Bad Axe’s clients are women, and some come in cheerful hordes for girls’ night out or bachelorette parties. Stress reduction is part of the attraction. St.-Amour remembers one time when a woman hosted a post-divorce bash and pinned her wedding dress to the target. Her friends and their axes took care of the rest.