Inside a converted warehouse, Brian Langan teaches newbies the rules of competitive axe throwing. He works for Urban Axes in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood.
“Wait till both axes are thrown before you pick them up,” said Langan. “So, if I’m playing with you, you throw, then I throw. You know? Wait till they’re both in there. Other than that, you know, it’s an ax. Be cool. Don’t be a complete idiot. More importantly, guys, have a great time the entire time.”
Langan, who is also an artist and musician, has been teaching people the right way to throw an ax for a few months.
“Aim the ax at the bull’s-eye,” said Langan. “Cross your other hand over. Make an X out of your thumbs. And in one motion you’re going to shift forward and shift back to your back leg, going all the way over your head almost to your spine, shifting back forward and letting your hands just go.”
Think of competitive ax throwing like a more extreme version of darts. Each match consists of three games. During each game, individual competitors hurl five axes, one at a time, at wooden bull’s-eye.
Rather than shaking hands at the start of a game, Langan instructs competitors to tap ax-blades as a sign of good sportsmanship.
“All right, guys,” said Langan. “Tap axes. Throw when you’re ready.”
The game was brought to the states by Urban Axes co-founder, Stuart Jones. He said he fell in the love with ax throwing when he was visiting friends in Canada nearly five years ago.
“The way the sport’s played, the skills you acquire are not about strength,” said Jones, “It’ s about technique and skill. So, the great thing we find is that its equal men and women about who can succeed.”
Competitors typically go in groups of eight or more in a round-robin tournament, followed by an elimination round.
Rose Jackson from Haddon Township, New Jersey, brought some friends to Urban Axes for an unconventional 40th birthday party.
“At first, my wife was like let’s go salsa dancing, Spanish food, restaurant, and I said OK. But then when I saw this, I was like you know what? I want to throw axes to bring in my 40th,” said Jackson.
Jackie Dabrowski of Philadelphia was there to throw axes with her friends. She said even with more and more chains coming to the adjoining neighborhoods of Northern Liberties and Fishtown, there is still a high demand for businesses that are unique and quirky … so Urban Axes “fits in.”
“Basically in this neighborhood, it’s the crazier and the more, you know, unique it is the better,” said Dabrowski
Urban Axes may be unique, but it isn’t crazy.
Groups of players are given their own coach, called an axepert, to make sure everyone stays safe and to keep score. They don’t serve food or alcohol, but participants are allowed to bring in their own. Organizers insist they keep an eye on safety the whole time.
Jones said he plans to have a group of players representing Urban Axes compete in the ax throwing championship in Toronto next year.
Jones said he isn’t surprised the business is doing well in a city, far away from logging country.
“At the end of the day, the ax is kind of irrelevant,” said Jones. “You got a whole bunch of people coming together and socializing and sharing fun. That’s what it’s all about. The ax is just a medium to get them to do so.”