THE FIRST TIME RYAN Vencer tried axe throwing, he thought he’d be great.
“I thought I was going to kick everyone’s ass. But I went there and I sucked,” says the 27-year-old from Toronto. But Vencer was hooked; in fact, he had such a fun time watching his friends that he applied for a position at Bad Axe Throwing (badaxethrowing. com) on a whim. “I just wanted a fun, part-time job. I didn’t think I would love the sport,” he says.
More commonly associated with lumberjacks, Vikings and Paul Bunyan, axe throwing isn’t a new sport—competitions have taken place in Canada for years. However, it’s only recently that this pastime has made its way into cities across Canada and the United States. And urban axe throwing has taken off: According to the National Axe Federation (nationalaxe.com), established in 2016, over 20 million axes have been thrown worldwide. While the idea of hurling sharp objects at a target may seem wacky, it’s become the new way to celebrate birthdays or spend a night out with friends. Companies also book venues for team-building events.
“Axe throwing is sort of primal, sort of dangerous. It’s thrilling and physical. People are so disconnected from things that are natural right now, and they want to connect to that type of experience,” says Ginger Flesher-Sonnier, founder of Kick Axe Throwing (kickaxe.com), which opened in Brooklyn in 2017 and has new locations in the works. There is something really satisfying about sticking the blade into the target—thud!
“It makes you feel powerful and badass,” says Savannah DesOrmeaux, 25, an instructor at Kick Axe. “It’s really cool to be part of an environment where people are having a good time and learning a new skill.”
What the Axe?
Think of axe throwing as being like darts. Your goal: Hit the wooden target located several feet away. While each venue may have slightly different rules for scoring, you generally earn points depending on where your axe lands—the bull’s eye or the concentric circles surrounding it; hit one of the blue dots on either side of the board for extra points. Some venues mix it up by designing games for participants, like first to 50 points, 21 (where you have to earn 21 points exactly), and Moose (the axe-throwing equivalent of H-O-R-S-E).
Don’t worry about being accidentally scalped. Your group will be assigned a specific lane or range, as in bowling, and an instructor will walk you through the safety protocol and proper technique (see below) before you begin tossing hatchets.
The sport has team-based and individual aspects, says Vencer, who’s now operations manager at Bad Axe (which has more than 20 locations in the US and Canada). After you throw, there’s downtime to socialize and cheer on your team. And despite the sport’s origins, these facilities aren’t rustic: Many have a lounge and bar onsite while others are BYOB. Most require advanced reservations and a minimum number of guests in your group. However, some venues do have space for walk-ins, too. To help standardize the rules of the rapidly growing sport, organizations like the National Axe Federation and the World Axe Throwing League (worldaxethrowingleague.com) have emerged in recent years. They offer guidelines on everything from league rules and scoring to safety protocols to throwing techniques, and also facilitate communication between member organizations.
The Perfect Throw
Axe throwing seems straightforward in theory—Take an axe and throw it at a target. But in practice, it’s not so easy. That may explain part of the sport’s addictive appeal for many people.
“When you pick up a hatchet, you can envision in your head getting that one full rotation and having it stick in the wood. Then, you throw it and it bounces off the target but you can’t understand why, so you try again,” says Armando DiRienzo, owner of Stumpy’s Hatchet House (stumpyshh. com) in Fairfield, New Jersey.
“It’s a full-body throw and requires most major muscle groups to do it. The hatchets aren’t heavy, but with a lot of repetitions, you can get pretty tired,” DiRienzo adds. “The two-handed throw, if done correctly, is more of a core exercise than one-handed.” And the key to a good throw? A straight arm and a stiff wrist.
A League of Axe’s Own
For those who want to take their throwing to the next level, many venues host leagues that typically run one to two times a week for eight weeks. At the end of the season, there’s a tournament or playoffs to crown a season winner.
In addition, there are some regional and national competitions—like The World Axe Throwing League’s US Open and the National Axe Throwing League’s National Axe Throwing Championship—as well as skills competitions where you can show off your trick shots.
The best part? Anyone can heave an axe. You don’t need athletic ability or previous training or skills.
“My favorite part of the sport is how inclusive it is. Everyone has an equal chance of winning,” says Vencer. He adds that at Bad Axe, “we have a general league. There’s no men’s and women’s leagues.” There aren’t age-based leagues, either. Vencer says that last season, a 15-year-old girl won her league’s championship. “She blew everyone out of the water.”
How to Throw an Axe
Despite what you think, you don’t need to be built like a lumberjack to throw an axe well. “You’ve got to get the technique first. If you don’t have the form, you’re not going to stick it,” says DesOrmeaux of Kick Axe. “You want the blade to rotate just one time before it hits the board.”
- Firmly hold the axe with your dominant hand and place your non-dominant hand over your dominant hand.
- If you’re right-handed, step your right foot back (left foot in front). If you’re left-handed, step your left foot back (right foot in front).
- Rock your weight on to your back foot as you bring the axe directly over your head. The axe blade should come between your shoulder blades—not over one shoulder like you’re throwing a baseball or football. The blade should be straight, not turned to one side.
- Rock your weight onto your front foot as you bring the axe forward with straight arms and locked wrists. Don’t throw when someone is in front of or near the target!
- Release the axe when the handle is perpendicular to the floor (straight up and down) and follow through.
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