In one of the eight lanes, a wooden board has three rings: outer blue ring, middle red ring, inner black ring. With both my hands, I raise my axe above my head. With locked wrists and squared shoulders, I take a small lunge and throw the axe forward. It spins and hits the wooden board with a thunk; its blade sinking into the wood within the black ring where many others had thrown before me. Of course, this is with an hour of practice under my belt with a LumberjAxes throwing coach.
I am one of the many people who decided to spend their Thursday evening throwing axes at the LumberjAxes facility in Tempe. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays are walk-in hours for smaller groups. The other days are by reservation only and typically for larger groups.
Joe Busone, vice president of business development at LumberjAxes, said the founder of the company lives in Pittsburgh and started with escape rooms when those were popular. He had traveled to Philadelphia and saw one of the first axe-throwing places within the U.S. called Urban Axes.
“(The founder) realized really quick that there was something to it,” Busone said. “Everyone’s having a great time. So he quickly put a plan together to open one up in Pittsburgh, and it was very, very successful, so he started looking at other markets that didn’t have axe-throwing yet, and Phoenix was completely untapped, so we were the first ones to open up in Phoenix, and it’s been great ever since.”
They currently have two locations in Pittsburgh as well as the one in Tempe, which is about a year old. The company is continuing to search for more locations, and are scouting Valley-wide in Scottsdale, Glendale, Phoenix and Gilbert. They are also looking into expanding to the Miami, Cleveland, Baltimore and Chicago markets.
Busone said the reason for the appeal is that “even though it is completely safe, there is an element of danger or primal badassery. They’re going to do something different and dangerous.”
At first, I was really hesitant, and my throws had no force, so it wouldn’t stick to the board. After a while, I felt more comfortable with an axe in my hand and my blade was starting to stick. I eventually threw a bull’s eye and could see why it is becoming a popular activity.
He also said the feeling of “sticking an axe,” or having the axe’s blade stick to the wooden board, is exciting. “Literally, I’ve had a six-year-old stick an axe. I’ve had an 89-year-old stick an axe. We had a whole group of people in wheelchairs yesterday. Anybody can do it. When you do succeed at it, it feels really good. People enjoy that.”
Because anyone can do it, Busone considers axe-throwing a family-friendly sport, “If you can throw a ball, you can throw an axe. Almost every 6- and 7-year-old kid that I have taught personally has stuck an axe on the first time.” However, anyone under the age of 18 has to be accompanied by a parent or guardian the entire time, and an axe-throwing coach will be present in the lane the entire time to ensure safety.
“(Safety) is number one priority. Even though it’s extremely safe, we still take every precaution just to make sure we keep it that much safer,” Busone said. Customers must follow their rules and wear closed-toed shoes.
However, he said, the atmosphere of most axe-throwing facilities, not just LumberjAxes, are very laid back. Customers can bring in drinks, including alcohol, and food. For safety purposes, they do regulate how much you drink, and hard liquor isn’t allowed.
Busone considers it a stress-reliever: “When I’m in the office, if I’m bogged down with work, I’ll take a ten-minute throw break, get some aggression out and go back and sit back down and get right back to work.”
Many of the customers also use axe-throwing as an aggression release. Some of them will write things on a piece of paper or print out a photograph of someone and put it on the bull’s eye. They’ll throw their axe at the board until the paper is in shreds.
“I think the uniqueness of it makes it intriguing,” Busone said. “It’s the cool, new thing to do, and anyone is welcome to do it… Man, woman, young, old, everyone has a chance to win. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the older HR woman in a corporate group come in and destroy all these 21-year-old guy salesmen who work out every day. It doesn’t matter — it’s all in the finesse of how you throw it. There’s no way to tell who’s going to be good right off the bat.”
During my time at LumberjAxes, I went from uncoordinated and awkward to throwing bull’s eyes. It’s easy to see the appeal because there is such a feeling of accomplishment and triumph when you stick an axe. While my target didn’t have any pictures of people I dislike, I certainly felt less stressed by the end of it.