Free associate on “ax-throwing” and a few images come to mind: Gimli doing the race of dwarves proud in “Lord of the Rings”; cartoon lumberjack Paul Bunyan making tall tale history alongside Babe the Blue Ox; Jack hacking down the bathroom door to terrorize Wendy in the "Here's, Johnny!" scene in “The Shining.”
You’re probably not picturing a lumberjack-style bar-lodge in Brooklyn where inebriated young folks pay to hurl hatchets at a wooden bull's-eye for sport, but here we are.
Kick Axe Throwing opened in Gowanus over the weekend, joining the neighborhood’s roster of rec-sporty venues for grown-ups, like the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club and Brooklyn Boulders, not to mention two Crossfit gyms.
On Sunday afternoon, I brought my most outdoorsy friend, Carrie, to have a throw with me. The 7,000 square foot space on Degraw St., right next door to Parklife, is done up cozy lodge style, with Pendelton throws on couches, taxidermy on the walls and a photo area with flannels, faux hatchets and bear hats so you can strike your best Insta-lumberjack pose. You know, the pretty standard Brooklyn aesthetic. Farther in, there’s the main event: ten ax-throwing ranges, each outfitted with two 3-5 pound axes and two wooden bull's-eye targets.
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Kick Axe founder Ginger Flesher-Sonnier — who also founded Escape Room Live in Washington, D.C — first learned about the sport of ax-throwing in Toronto, Canada, where recreational gyms are fairly common. With Kick Axe, she wanted to create a version with more of a lodge-like atmosphere, compared to the Toronto gyms, which she described as “all plywood and sawdust and gritty.”
Pending its liquor license, a bar offering wine and beer is set to open as soon as the end of this week — because a little booze mixed with ax-wielding is just what we need! — along with Stuf’d, a food truck selling comfort food snacks and sandwiches.
During my visit, the vibe was pretty low-key, probably because it was a Sunday afternoon and everyone was sober.
A group of 12 dudes were there for a surprise birthday party. “It seems like the kind of place you’d want to be drinking," said 34-year-old Andrew Fries. "It’s kind of slow. It’s almost like bowling — people taking turns.” When I told him the bar is supposed to open next week, he said, “That’s gonna be unbelievable. Throwing axes, getting kinda drunk. A little scary. Let’s hope they have a good insurance policy.”
Jokes about drunken ax murderers aside, safety precautions are a top priority at Kick Axe.
Each group is paired with an “ax-pert,” a trained staff member who supervises each session. Flesher-Sonnier explained to me that the ax-perts are TIPS-certified (Training for Intervention Procedures) to handle folks who are too intoxicated to throw, from removing drunk guests from the range, to refusing their entry. You’re not allowed to bring your drink into the range and you can’t take axes out. She also noted that the axes aren’t sharp to the touch, as dull axes throw better.
“You can’t account for someone going crazy,” she added, which didn’t exactly inspire confidence.
The throwing itself was appealing. Our ax-pert, Adam, first walked us through the technique. With a two-handed grip, you square your shoulders and bring the axe back over your head before releasing with a full follow-through. You can also try throwing one-handed, although aiming proves a bit more challenging.
Adam kept score as we played two games of first to 21, then first to 30. The bull's-eye is five points, with outer rings counting for four, three, two, and one, with two seven-point “kill shots” in the upper right and left corners.
Making contact with the wooden target is more challenging than you’d think, and actually sticking the ax in the wood — which is required for the point to count — is even harder. Carrie, a natural, destroyed me the first two games, but I came around and beat her in the last. We both saw more axes thud against the board and drop to the ground than stick.
As with any accuracy-based sport, be it darts or bowling or golf, until you get good, you’re going to suffer through a lot of frustrating misses. But when you nail it, it’s very satisfying — as is the pleasing sensation of wiggling the axe free from the wood, I found.
After a half hour or so of consecutive throwing, we were sweaty and needed a water break. Did this out-of-the-box pastime count as fitness? On a lark, I entered “ax-throwing” into My Fitness Pal app to see how many calories I might have burned (unsurprisingly, no results were found).
Ax-pert Erica Ferguson described it as “adventurous self-care.”
“It’s something that you don’t do in your normal routine, so it shocks your brain,” she told me. A former D1 basketball coach at Mercer University in Georgia, the new BK resident took the job at Kick Axe as a fun and active way to pay the bills while she launches a health and wellness site called The Daily Power Hour.
She likened ax-throwing to a game of catch. “If you think of throwing a baseball, it’s kind of that same competitive motion.” She also joked that it doubles as training for a zombie apocalypse.
Carrie and I both agreed we'd check it out again, although, the thought of being in a room full of inebriated folks throwing axes does scare us. We'd definitely opt out of ax-throwing on any future first dates.
Kick Axe Throwing is located at 622 Degraw St. in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Book 75-min sessions at $35 per person with online reservation, or one-hour walk-ins at $28. Visit Kickaxe.com for more info. Kick Axe is coming soon to Washington D.C., Philly and Orlando.