What originated as friendly competition between friends in a Canadian backyard is now one of the fastest growing sports in America. Urban axe throwing checks all the boxes that we look for when picking up a new hobby or game—the potential for fierce competition, stress relief, a community that appreciates the subtleties of the game, and just enough danger to keep it interesting. As unlikely as it might seem, axe throwing is taking America and Alabama by storm.
Historically, axes held mostly practical uses as weapons of war or as tools to clear land. While there were certainly matches between soldiers or lumberjacks to test their axe-throwing skills, there was nothing like the organized level of competition there is now.
In 2006, Matt Wilson of Toronto founded what came to be known as the BATL (Backyard Axe Throwing League) in his backyard with a few friends. Word spread quickly in Toronto, and within five years there was enough interest to rent warehouse space, formally marking the start of indoor urban axe throwing. Since the sport moved indoors in 2011, participation has steadily grown, and in 2017 the BATL noted it had scored 8.2 million axe throws.
Axe throwing quickly bonds participants, which is one of the growth drivers of the sport. The BATL now has 10 locations in Canada and three in the United States, including one a short drive from north Alabama in Nashville. The league was instrumental in boosting urban axe throwing’s popularity, and there are now hundreds of leagues across North America and the world.
Axe Throwing in Alabama
Alabamians are always looking for new ways to compete, and axe throwing is the perfect way for a few friends to relax with a drink and release some stress while participating in some friendly competition.
Four locations have opened in Alabama, and more are in the works. Rockaxe City and Civil Axe Throwing are in Huntsville, while central Alabama offers Autobahn Axe Throwing in Bessemer and Birmingham Axe Throwing in Fultondale. Civil Axe Throwing will soon open an additional location in Birmingham as well. The Civil Axe locations are BYOB, making it easy to bring your favorite beverage.
Aim for the Bullseye
Axe throwing at its core is a simple game. Grab the handle and throw. But, like any skill, subtleties are involved to play the game with any success. To point you in the right direction, axe throwing specialists, known as “axeperts” in the ax-throwing lexicon, are available at each location to help you master technique. Most begin with a two-handed overhead toss, then work their way up to a single-hand overhand throw, and eventually trick shots, like throwing two axes (one in each hand) at a time, or even underhand throws can be attempted.
The axeperts will tell you to focus on being precise and finding the proper release point, not hurling the axe at the target as fast as possible. It may take some time to find the technique that works for you, but you and your friend will be cheering the first time a toss results in the axe head sinking into the target.
Once you feel confident with your axe-throwing prowess, the competition is on. You can simply challenge your friends, or if you’re ultra-competitive you can partake in seasons sponsored by national organizations. There are two main leagues that organize competitions, the World Axe Throwing League and the National Axe Throwing Federation. Rules between the two are slightly different, but they share the same goal of bringing people together to compete and have fun.
Rules of the Game
Facilities are divided into lanes with a target at the end, like a bowling alley or a gun range. If the facility is affiliated with one of the two major organizations, the lanes must meet certain standards if they wish to hold competitions there. For example, organizations require barriers that separate lanes, bumper materials that minimize axe rebounding, and safety lines for spectators. There are also minimum age requirements as determined by the individual facility, and all participants must wear closed-toe shoes. This is a sport where common sense and safety should be top of mind.
Both the World Axe Throwing League and the National Axe Throwing Federation have slight differences in the target used and scoring. One target has five rings, while the other uses a three-ring board. But, both require the axe to make a full rotation to count. While you might prefer one league over another, both promote camaraderie and sportsmanship among competitors. Scoring and targets may differ, but the force behind the growth of the game is the same—a strong sense of community combined with a healthy dose of competition.
Written by Hap Pruitt for RootsRated Media in partnership with BCBS of AL.