I gave myself the name Ragnar. Joining me for my first experience with the nascent “sport” of axe throwing was Maple, Axe Bomber, and Hoss Funk. Before we were to train with the hefty and sharp projectiles, we had to choose “lumberjack” pseudonyms to get in the mood and spirit.
I fantasized more of a Viking motif, as I could never imagine myself Paul Bunyan. Our enthusiastic coach and guide, Marty Parker, the brainchild of Columbus’ Urban Axe Throwing, reminded us this is a vital part of the evening, as it gives us each a new identity and a chance “to step completely out of our comfort zones.”
Deep within an empty indoor sports complex among the ruins of a decaying Continent, Parker leads us into the league’s headquarters. It’s a makeshift lodge with cozy couches and barstools overlooking the cages—bullseyes on plywood targets already egging on our crew. Parker’s hoping the trend will catch on as it has in Canadian households, where it was established and “urbanized” over the past decade.
“People get bored of bowling,” says Parker. “Eventually there was a guy in Toronto who took his love of axe throwing into the bar.”
In conception it’s much like darts—there’s actual strategy involved once you can competently throw—only a pound and a half heavier and with an inherent element of danger. Of course the danger is a main attraction, rules must be heeded (“No passing of the axe to another competitor”) and waivers must be signed just in case Hoss Funk loses his ring finger. The first several throws by each of us bounces off the target and lands inches from our feet. On this night, Parker says drinking is encouraged.
“Should I be worried?” says Maple, looking down at her open-toed sandals.
“I’ve seen women in heels who have never picked up an axe do this,” replies our animated host.
Technically there is a learning curve to axe throwing. It’s more about using your body rather than arms to hurl the axe, and more about where you let go, then where you initially aim. A few beers and a few screaming bullseyes later and we’re hooked; experts cheering each other on in our temporary hardscrabble identities. As Ragnar, it was an instant obsession—playing through games of Timber and Tic Tac Toe while yelling “Truss!” (a word that means nothing more than “two things smashing into each other”) at the top of my lungs, all accumulated in a final battle.
Mentally, there was science behind the buzz in my head.
“What you’re doing tonight is modeled after ‘active entertainment,’ so it’s supposed to release dopamine and endorphins and make you work together to overcome a challenge,” says Parker. “Really, you can adapt that to anything.”
As an entrepreneur of “active entertainment,” Parker has also hosted color runs, mud ninja races, massive tomato fights, and the infamous and now ubiquitous “escape room” night out. While all of those encourage some sort of camaraderie and team building, the intimate and competitive nature of an axe throwing session takes just as much effort from you physically as it does from your brain. Certainly the “sport” will attract those in bohemia who already have the “lumberjack” look, or those who may have been on the Woodsman team at a campus in Vermont—weekly leagues of beards and muscles are already forming. But with a little luck, Parker hopes for it to be something for everyone.
With the ability to develop such a rad, raw skill in such a quick, entertaining lesson, the idea of regular axe throwing (especially in lieu of bowling) is invigorating. Even if you don’t take to it, Parker insists it’s at least “a cool story for the water cooler.” Ragnar approves.