At least, that’s the impression I get driving up North Academy Boulevard toward Austin Bluffs, where Bad Axe Throwing opened in mid-October.
“It’s my cool-down for literally everything,” says Benjamin Edgington, champion axe-thrower and the operations manager for BAT’s western locations.
The idea of paying to throw axes at indoor wooden targets may sound newfangled and crazy, but the company has more than 20 locations in the U.S. and Canada. The Springs location, a former restaurant space with a bar setup, followed BAT’s Denver location, which serves craft Colorado beers and wines. The Springs location remains in the process of securing a liquor license.
Is that, well... safe?
“The common perception is like, you’re throwing axes and drinking beer, that sounds like the craziest, most Canadian thing you could possibly do,” says Mario Zelaya, the Canadian who founded the company. “But it’s honestly quite the opposite. ...We have a very, very safe business. It’s literally no different from bowling.”
Zelaya says there’s “no need at all” for participants to wear safety gear, just closed-toed shoes. Dedicated coaches are the secret ingredient for safety. There hasn’t been a single injury, “aside from the odd paper cut or someone trying to see if the axe is actually sharp,” according to Zelaya.
Those reassuring words don’t stop this reporter from letting nervousness impede her axe-throwing. After a few tries in which the axe flops pitifully to the floor in front of the target, I give up and ask Edgington, my coach for the day, about what got him into the sport.
He’s a former juggler and knife thrower who was looking for a job when he saw an opening for an axe-throwing coach. He says he fell in love with it.
That was a little more than a year ago. Since then, Edgington has won the Trick Shot Competition at the World Axe Throwing League’s inaugural U.S. Open and was the points leader worldwide for the 2018 spring and summer seasons. He’ll likely be a top competitor in the league’s December world championships.
Zelaya was also a rookie when he decided in 2014 to branch out from his background in marketing and tech to start an entertainment company as a “fun challenge. ... It was literally like a trial and error trying to figure out how to do it, how to throw an axe, how to do everything from scratch,” he says.
After Edgington recalls teaching a 9-year-old girl to stick two axes in a target at once, I halfheartedly agree to try again. How could I return to the office without sticking the axe? My coworkers already laughed at me when I said I wanted to try. If Edgington and Zelaya have come so far in such a short time, then maybe I can, too.
My first few tries are again marked by an unwillingness on the part of the axe to leave my hand at the proper time with the proper velocity, or to complete the same majestic spin it exercises for Edgington. Instead, it clatters to the ground noisily as I try not to wince.
Finally, Edgington tells me to throw an axe exactly how I would throw it without any coaching at all. I imagine myself in the woods, defending myself from a Michael Myers-style serial killer. The axe almost lands.
From there, it takes a couple more directional tweaks before the moment that makes me understand why people do this: a slow-motion twirl of the axe from my hand to the target, where it lands with a satisfying “thwack” only a few inches — well, maybe a foot — south of the bullseye.
When I return for BAT’s free open house a few days later, I see clusters of other newbies experiencing the same joy.
One 30-year-old gauge-sporting Andrew Marsh, says he’d “just been looking for interesting things to do” when an ad on Facebook led him to the open house. “I’ll definitely be coming back,” he says.
Alison Van Wyk, 43, says she has been to the Denver location, and wants to support the company here. She likes throwing axes because she’s “kind of competitive, so it’s just kind of, like throwing darts but more, I don’t know —”
“Edgy?” I ask.
“Yeah,” she laughs.
Edgington says around 500 people came to check out the new spot over that weekend. BAT’s open for $20 walk-ins (see hours at badaxethrowing.com), but customers can also book group events online or join the Axe Throwing League starting in 2019, which has no official age limit.
I notice stacks of fliers on the counter advertising the Rampage Room, the business a few doors down where you suit up in safety gear and smash things like plates, printers and TVs with blunt objects (see “Rage against the machines,” Sept. 12).
Is there a competitive vibe, I wonder?
Edgington’s colleague, coach Tobias Macera, smiles. The two businesses have a “symbiotic relationship,” he quips.
A customer might come to Bad Axe Throwing and have fun tearing up the wooden target, Edgington suggests, and then head over to Rampage Room, where “everything’s an option. I can break anything I want!”
I’ll be back to check out both once BAT gets its beer and wine license. I’m thinking a cold one may be the secret ingredient to a good throw. And hey, if I fail, I can take out my frustration a few hundred feet away.