I picked up the axe with both hands, hoisted it over my head, and sent it flying through the air … only to miss the target completely. The axe fell to the floor with an embarrassing clatter. Well, it was heavier than I expected, and my history with axe throwing was limited. Actually, until that moment it was completely non-existent.
No problem, though. Every throwing lane at Kick Axe Throwing, a new venue in Brooklyn, has an “axpert” standing by to offer coaching and enforce the safety rules. My axpert, Danny, said that I missed the board because I didn’t follow through enough. The next time I chucked the axe (technically, a big hatchet), I put more into it and the axe stuck to the target board with a nice “thunk.” Next throw, same result. Not close to the bullseye, but respectable.
Kick Axe Throwing is situated at 622 Degraw St. in the Gowanus neighborhood, which has become a kind of recreational district, with attractions ranging from the Brooklyn Boulders climbing center to the Gotham Archery target range. It was only a matter of time before the hatchets started flying, since axe-throwing has become a trendy diversion, a bit edgy but suitable for family fun and corporate outings. Some chuckers take their sport seriously, giving rise to competitive leagues including the National Axe Throwing Federation and the World Axe Throwing League. Is this the new bowling?
Ginger Flesher, Kick Axe Throwing’s founder, first tried it in Philadelphia and immediately found it satisfying and addictive. The sport, popular in Canada, is typically played there in plain plywood structures. But when designing her own axe-throwing space, Flesher wanted to take things to another level. “I wanted to make the space inviting and lodge-themed. I wanted it to be a place where people want to come hang out, a fun event space.”
In pursuing that goal, Flesher styled a place where Ralph Lauren might feel at home. The space is stuffed with plaid blankets, furry pillows, woody surfaces, and pictures of snowy forests. Of course, there’s a fireplace. Within the next couple of weeks, beer and wine will be available, and food trucks will park in the courtyard. First up is the local team from STUF’d.
Kick Axe Throwing is Flesher’s second round of ventures into the growing “experience economy.” A few years ago, she was in Europe and discovered the concept of escape rooms, which are like movie sets where players grapple with a series of multi-media puzzles in order to achieve their goal. A former high-school math department chair and “mathletes” coach, Flesher was drawn to the problem-solving aspect of the adventures. She opened her own venue, Escape Room Live, in Washington, D.C., in 2014. Since then she has expanded to two more locations in the Washington area, with another planned for Las Vegas.
Axe-throwing’s appeal is different. For novelty value in a digital age, there’s apparently nothing like a sport that feels a little dangerous. “It’s competitive in a friendly way and it’s also a nice environment,” says Flesher. “You can drink and have your events here catered. It’s definitely a team-building activity. Earlier this week, JPMorgan was here with 60 people and it went really well.” Flesher’s company sees the Brooklyn outpost as the first in a chain, with plans to expand to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Orlando, Los Angeles and Seattle.
What makes her format reassuringly mainstream are all the safety rules. Before entering the range, you must be invited in by one of the “axperts.” Thick red lines line the entrance to each range. Once you step past the red line and into the range, you’ll notice a large stump in front of you. This is where the axes are kept. You’re not allowed to hand an axe to another person; all axes must be returned to the stump. If you’re throwing unsafely or appear to be intoxicated, you’ll be asked to stop throwing, the company says. High heels are prohibited, since axe throwing requires balance and weight-shifting.
The competitive part of the sport revolves around several games. One is similar to a standard game of darts, with the winner being whoever gets to a set number of points first. Another game is similar to H-O-R-S-E, the basketball-shooting game, except this one is called M-O-O-S-E.
Flesher says that her staff typically breaks up big groups into two smaller teams and has them play against one another. During The Bridge’s visit, a group from the e-commerce site Jet.com in Hoboken was taking part in a team-building outing. Their original plan was to go bowling, but word of the new axe-throwing venue changed their minds.
Danny Velasco, the axpert who taught me how to throw, signed up to work at the new Brooklyn venue after throwing axes at a bachelor party in Louisville a couple of months ago. “When we got back, on of the other groomsmen found that this company was also opening a spot in D.C. where he lives and he sent me the link and I immediately applied [for the Brooklyn outpost]. It’s such a fun environment and something different than restaurant work that I’ve been doing primarily,” he said.
Children age 7 and up can participate at Kick Axe Throwing, as long as they’re strong enough to handle the axe. Prices are $28 per person for an hour of throwing for walk-in customers. Larger groups, typically six to 12, need to make a reservation and will pay $35 per person for an hour and 15 minutes of playing time.