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Urban Axes: Killing it in Philly

Metro columnist tries out competitive axe-throwing in East Kensington.
An axe master general at Urban Axes in East Kensington demonstrates competitive axe-throwing. (Cassie Hepler)

“Let’s mix booze and sharp blades together!”

Wise words from a group of Australians who started throwing axes in Canada 10 years ago and brought the popular sport to Philly, at a venue called Urban Axes.

The building is a 6,000-square-foot East Kensington warehouse with beaters to Beamers parked outside. Sparse on the inside, there is raw wood everywhere and groups of people cheering and yelling like an Irish pub.

Only once have they had an incident with someone getting too tipsy since they opened in September 2016, and they just benched him. The key? Only wine and beer are allowed at this BYOB, with no hard liquor, and customers must be over 21. And since it is physically demanding, you’ll probably sweat it off anyways. To keep your booze cool, there are large fridges like in your parents' garage, which are also available for potlucks.

If you’re picturing a lumberjack axe, you’re wrong. The complimentary axes thrown here are only a stone or less if you want to buy your own beloved blade and decorate it. Think of an oversized dart … that can cut your toes off, which is why they stress wearing closed-toe shoes, as they are surprisingly bouncy.

After I signed my life away on an iPad with an inclusive photography disclaimer, we were off to our rarely private corner as the place was packed to the gills.

Lily Cope, aka axe master general (not kidding, that’s her title), showed me the ropes of how to hold the axe all the way toward the base with my right hand and wrap the left around so my thumbs make an “X.” Then step forward and aim the hilt of the axe toward the bullseye, which required one eye shut in my case (due to my glasses or maybe I always did that in darts, too). Focus then pull the axe backward over your head all the way, so your elbows are praising Jesus, and throw that sucker toward the target with precision, not power. Your hands should be straight back after you release, like an awkward penguin trying to fly.

I missed. Then I missed again. And again. And again. And then finally, somehow, after focusing with one eye shut, I nailed that sucker right in between the bottom middle circle and felt triumphant. It was a total fluke as the next throw was a flop as well, but I had hit the jackpot and wanted more. A girlfriend who is part of a league told me the key is drinking, but I stuck to my iced mocha coffee with whipped cream.

If we were in a match, the middle circle is five points, the second is three, the outer is one and the green dots overhead are seven each.

Bringing out my competitive nature, I wanted to nail the bullseye, but our time was up already, and I left feeling slightly incomplete. I will be back … with a crew next time, and we will be the ones yelling, cheering and jeering.

To celebrate their continued success of expanding to Baltimore, Cincinnati and Austin, Texas, Urban Axes is throwing a tournament of champions and summer skills in July, which will be judged by time, being ambidextrous and throwing with a partner, and will include beer sponsors and a food truck or two. It may just be for leagues, but you can watch and then get on the waitlist for next season.