Until this week, I was in the dark about urban axe throwing.
I didn’t know it was a thing, much less a legitimate sport with global tournaments, standardized rules and even its own holiday — International Axe Throwing Day on June 13. But then I found out about Bad Axe Throwing, a Canadian-based company that teaches people how to throw axes.
I learned not only does that exist, but the company was opening a facility here in Atlanta. Days after this new information entered my brain, I pulled up to an unassuming warehouse on the Westside for my session with Chief Axe Thrower Nick Jahr (last name pronounced “like a pirate,” he said helpfully).
Jahr, in town for the opening from the Indiannapolis location, showed me around the refreshingly barebones facility. No sleek bells and whistles, no flatscreens vying for your attention; just four lanes comprised of wood target boards between chainlink fences, a couple of couches and quirky graffiti-style murals on the walls. Unique to Atlanta, there’s also a designated practice lane for those who aren’t quite nailing it right away. (“Those” such as myself, as we’ll see.)
The concept of throwing a wood-chopping tool at something with an Instagram icon spraypainted on it could be considered hipster fodder, and Jahr, with ear gauges, arm tattoos and a relaxed smile, doesn’t look out of place. I followed him to a lane and learned how to grip the axe, position my feet and hold the blade just so behind my head.
Jahr expertly demonstrated what a throw should look like upon release, the axe completing one full rotation before it sticks somewhere in the circular target with a loud, reverbarating thud. He makes it look easy.
I tried to mimic him, but my weapon spinned lazily through space before hitting the wall and clanging to the floor.
My instructor was unfazed, enthusiatically encouraging me that it was a great throw — If only I’d [insert advice here], it would’ve hit. This process repeated itself many times over the lesson, with him adjusting his tips as I got closer or farther from hitting my mark. Tips such as:
-Let go of the handle earlier.
-Let go of the handle later.
-If you can see either side of the blade when you hold it in front of your face, it’s not straight.
-Try a couple throws with a small hatchet to shake things up.
-Lean forward less.
-Put some power behind it. Like you’re throwing an axe.
-Don’t overanalyze everything I’ve just told you.
I missed what felt like a couple dozen attempts.
But then... I nailed one.
And it quite irrationally felt like I’d just — I don’t know — defeated the apocolypse or something.
Jahr believes one of the reasons people are into the activity is because it’s a good stress reliever. He is not wrong.
That feeling is presumably what CEO Mario Zelaya was after when he founded the company in 2014. The stated mission is to “bring the thrill of a traditional Canadian backyard pastime to urban communities.” Those communities include cities in Chicago, Denver, Indianapolis, Oklahoma, San Francisco, Washington, DC, and now 1356 English St., Atlanta.
Bad Axe Throwing also spearheaded the creation of the World Axe Throwing League, a professional associaton companies can join to legitimize “their axe throwing business with the global standards of the sport.”
The business model is intended for group gatherings. In Atlanta, the cost is $35 per person for group bookings, or $30 per person if the group is larger than 35 people. Individual walk-ins will pay $20 per hour.
But you can try it for free during this weekend’s open house, which runs from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
And don’t worry if you don’t land your throws at first. Despite my pretty pathetic first-time performance, I plan to come back, keep practicing and be able to throw two axes at once in no time.
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