Axe throw­ing of­fers unique kind of fun

Vis­i­tors to Ur­ban Axes can try out this sport that was pop­u­lar­ized in Canada

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LOCAL NEWS - Bill Ret­tew Small Talk

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 bill­ret­tew@gmail.com.

BILL RET­TEW JR. — FOR DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Ur­ban Axes co-owner Stu­art Jones gets a closer look at the tar­get af­ter throw­ing an axe.

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