Axe throwing offers unique kind of fun
Visitors to Urban Axes can try out this sport that was popularized in Canada
THUNK! Went the thrown axe. I had stuck it into the wall about 20 feet away.
I clearly missed the bullseye, but nevertheless, hit the target on just my fifth try.
Axe Master General, Lily Cope, at new business, Urban Axes, in the East Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, talked about successfully chucking an axe.
“It’s a very satisfying feeling — not about violence or aggression,” she said. “When the axe sticks in the wood, it’s an incredible feeling.”
Urban Axes co-owner Stuart Jones runs one of the only indoor axe throwing business in the United States. His goal is for newcomers to split the wood within their first five tries.
“That satisfying thunk in the board gets people hooked,” he said. “Once you’ve stuck it in the board for the first time, it’s like, I can do this.” Cope would agree. “It’s totally unique and speaks to this primal thing within all of us. Anyone can do it.”
Successful axe throwing is big on technique.
“People don’t have to throw it hard — it’s like golfing, or anything you do over and over,” Cope said.
Jones discovered the business model four years ago while in Toronto visiting friends.
About 10 years ago, the first of five Canadian indoor axe throwing businesses opened to the public. They are overseen by the National Axe Throwing Federation
Until recently, Jones had never considered throwing axes.
“Somebody said, ‘Let’s get some beers and throw axes?’” he said.
“What are you talking about, that doesn’t sound legal?” Jones then asked.
After more trips to Canada, Jones said he wondered why somebody else hadn’t already set up axe-throwing venues in the city and the U.S. Urban Axes
opened Sept. 13.
“I kind of kept on thinking, someone’s bound to open this sort of facility in the U.S.,” Jones said. “Let’s pull a business plan together. It’s such a fun, elegant concept.
“I was kind of bemused that nobody had done it.”
Jones will probably be the first to admit that he didn’t reinvent the wheel.
“Throwing axes at an object is nothing new. People have been throwing axes at things for thousands of years.”
Jones walked me through the process. I was told that strength has little to do with success and to gently grip the axe with both hands. He showed me how to grip the axe with one thumb loosely covering the other.
After my first three throws clanged to the floor, I was told to move a couple feet closer and work on following through, not unlike an Arnold Palmer golf swing.
“It’s not technically hard, it’s just hard to be consistent,” Jones said. “Some are very gentle and some try to throw the axe through the back of the board.
“You’re not trying to throw the axe using your
arms, but to rotate it with a clean opening of the hands … using a gentle swing motion.” Safety is stressed. No open-toed shows are allowed and axe throwers must be at least 21 years old.
There are four arenas in East Kensington, with 16 lanes. Two competitors throw side by side. Axes may not be retrieved prior to an opponent’s throw.
When transferring an axe between throwers, an axe is never passed from hand to hand, but instead must first be placed on a slab.
On my visit Thursday night, three dozen or so mostly young professionals (half were women) were throwing as part of a public eight-week long tournament.
They brought and placed beer and food in a refrigerator, while easily chatting among themselves. The venue is BYOB and BYOF. Everybody was clearly having a blast.
The business hosts regular tournaments, bachelorette, bachelor, birthday and corporate parties.
The action takes place in an old warehouse, not far from the Market-Frankford El. Most recently, bulk vintage clothing was sold from the site which at one time was a brush factory.
Any axe weighing as little as one and a quarter pounds, but no more than one and three quarter pounds, works. Urban Axes
sells hatchets for $20.
For head-to-head play, axes are thrown at a four foot wide bulls-eye. Five points are awarded for hitting the center, three for striking within the second circle and one point for sticking the axe within the third ring.
Each competitor is given five throws per round. Seven points are earned for hitting “the clutch” but only on the final throw and only after first declaring that you’re aiming at it. The highest possible total for five throws is 27 points.
So what about all that splintered wood?
Five pieces of pine costing $15 each are within striking distance. The center target and bullseye are most often replaced, on busy days sometimes twice, or up to 60 total times per week.
Jones said that the “used” wood might make crate furniture, be used by artists or even become fuel for a fire pit.
I’m hooked. Sharpen your axes. There’s a new sport in Philadelphia. That thunk is addictive.
Walk-in hour-long introductory sessions with an instructor are available for $20. For more information call 267-585-2937 or go to www.urbanaxes.com.
Bill Rettew Jr. is a Chester County native and weekly columnist. At first, he too, wondered if axe throwing was legal. He may be contacted at email@example.com.
Urban Axes co-owner Stuart Jones gets a closer look at the target after throwing an axe.