Axe-throwing on the cutting edge of entertainment | Crain's

Axe-throwing on the cutting edge of entertainment

  • An axe is retrieved from a target at the Backyard Axe Throwing League in Toronto. The BATL offers an urban venue to experience the thrill of indoor axe throwing in leagues, walk-ins and private events such as parties and team building. | Photo courtesy of the Backyard Axe Throwing League.

  • A customer receives instruction on axe throwing at the Backyard Axe Throwing League in Toronto. The BATL offers an urban venue to experience the thrill of indoor axe throwing in leagues, walk-ins and private events such as parties and team building. | Photo courtesy of the Backyard Axe Throwing League.

“Thank you for calling Valhalla Indoor Axe Throwing. We’re unable to answer the phone at the moment because we’re training savages …”

Small armies of wannabe Vikings are mobilizing across North America, but instead of pillaging villages, they’re tossing weapons at team building events, birthday celebrations and bachelorette parties.  

In June, Alicia Metz and her husband Robert Jenkins, Jr. opened Valhalla—which, in Norse mythology, is where slain warriors party for eternity. Since then, there has never been a dull moment.

The facility in Jeanette, Penn., boasts an arena with six axe-throwing lanes, an outdoor archery area, a waiting room and a gift shop stocked with survival gear, including knives, swords and hatchets.  

“We want every customer to have a real medieval experience when they come through our doors,” says Metz, noting her Swedish roots. (Her father’s name is Odin and her brother answers to Micah Thor.)

After receiving a lesson from an in-house “Axepert,” participants take aim at plywood targets. The activity can be done solo, or with a group. League play runs once a week.

There are more than 2,000 members in four countries recognized by the National Axe Throwing Federation, which was established in 2016 to unify the sport’s rules and safety standards and to allow players to compete against each other in the National Axe Throwing Championship.

“Everybody, globally, is looking for more of a visceral interaction,” NAFT Commissioner Matt Wilson says. “Technology has taken us away from that. Axe-throwing is a callback to clans and communities.”

The idea to form a competitive axe-throwing league came to Wilson—who is also of Norwegian decent—on a rainy day at a cottage in the Canadian wilderness.

Out of boredom, he chucked an axe at a tree. His buddies followed suit. They laid some ground rules and started keeping score. This, they realized, was a lot of fun.

Upon their return to civilization, Wilson and his friends set up a makeshift target in his backyard in Toronto and convened every Tuesday to fling cutlery. What started as a small gathering, ballooned to more than 60 players. The Backyard Axe Throwing League BATL was born.

In 2012, Wilson, a former bartender who had experience managing an indoor beach volleyball league, turned BATL into a full-fledged business. There are 11 locations across North America with another four to seven in development.

While there have been a few nicks and scrapes along the way (usually occurring when players insist on sharpening their own axes), Wilson says the sport is safer than other indoor activities such as bowling and basketball. In addition to a perimeter wall that separates throwers from spectators, heavy, chain-link fencing divides the lanes from one another as well as the outside social area.

Despite the glowing safety statistics, Jack Welsh’s mom was a little wary when he decided to quit his job as an industrial painter to throw axes for a living.

Together with his friends Corey Deasy and Matt Peyton, Welsh opened LumberjAxes in Millvale, Penn. The rustic warehouse has 20 lanes, making it the largest axe-throwing facility in the country.

The partners discovered the sport in 2016 while visiting Philadelphia and immediately knew they had to bring the craze to Pittsburgh. They opened their doors in September, welcoming all walks of life: from couples on first dates and loners looking to blow off some steam to wedding parties and folks dressed up like lumberjacks.

The cost for a walk-in session at LumberjAxes and Valhalla is $20 per hour. Both offer rates for events and parties. 

“What’s the appeal? You get to throw an axe,” Welsh says with a laugh. “It’s something totally different. It’s better than seeing a movie. It’s something active. You’re definitely going to break a sweat.”

October 10, 2017 - 2:39pm