Axe throwing has become one of the fastest-growing pastimes in Canada and one that immediately grabbed Eoin Weldon’s attention
AS A 34-year-old man, the majority of my weekends consist of the same pairings. Sometimes it’s cursing my constantly-disappointing football team and hanging out with friends, other times it’s sharing quality vino, Indian food, and a good thriller with my better half. Long story short, the nights in with herself added up, we got engaged, and I had to figure out how to approach my stag night.
As a Dubliner who emigrated to Canada four odd years ago I was accustomed to boozy strip club visits on unpredictable, hedonistic stags in mainland Europe. The Canadian version of this is hitting Vegas hard with a gang of deviants à la The Hangover. Don’t get me wrong, the thought of waking up naked on the roof of the Bellagio sounds like a hoot, and I did genuinely relish those debaucherous weekends in Munich and Prague, but I decided to take my own pre-wedding blowout in a different direction. The plan was simple, I would save some money, stay in my adopted city Toronto, and throw axes.
Doesn’t sound very glamorous, but axe throwing has become one of the fastest-growing pastimes in Canada and one that immediately grabbed my attention under the glow of online clips in bed one night. Sticking with tradition the rest of the night would be devoted to getting tanked anyway, I figured why not delay the carnage with a novel, testing and sober experience to give us something to toast over the 3am tequila shots?
The stag group was a modest seven, five lads and two women, all first-time axe throwers. There were some rules before we entered the 8-lane complex: The mixture of booze and axe throwing was forbidden and you couldn’t wear sandals or flip flops for obvious reasons. Our lively wide-eyed instructor Rooster delivered a high-energy 40-minute tutorial and we all got to throw under her instruction while getting some grub down. I’m pretty sure everyone’s first axe bounced back at them and this, we were told, was completely normal. Getting used to nailing a well-timed rotation is what initially draws you in.
Then you have to find your rhythm with axe in hand(s) before following through correctly while trying not to flick your wrist. After much trial and error with various techniques and stances, I started to find my groove and strike some bullseyes. Listening to the steel bury perfectly into the wood with that satisfying thud became a sudden addiction. Even missing the target while plunging the blade deep provided most of us with some degree of pleasure.
For me, gripping the handle firmly and spinning the weapon wildly into a thick block of wood is enjoyable in itself. No doubt bored men throughout history have embedded metal into timber to relieve stress or test themselves competitively. On several occasions I contemplated the demanding hand dealt to the hunter gatherer while trying to find the target with the nicely weighted weapon. I’d raise my arm up, hold the axe aloft and hurl another ball of frustration, anger and hope at the ever-willing, battered wood mass. When I’d miss the multi-ring target I’d imagine the starving hunter gatherer going empty-bellied.
THE historical feel was one of the reasons this appealed to me so much. The axe is an ancient, primal tool that has fed and warmed billions since the dawn of time and there’s something almost spiritual about casting it away from your body. The throwing technique recommended to us shares similarities with the bowling of a cricket ball in that your arm comes over the shoulder and you must release the axe when the blade is directly over your head. After releasing it’s important to follow through with aggression and pace. The accuracy follows in time and like a golf swing, I obsessed over my throw while attempting to balance rotation, rhythm and follow through. You can use two hands or one. A two-handed throw will yield more accuracy over time but it feels nowhere near as cool or primal as the one-handed throw. If venting physically is a coping mechanism you are fond of, then running to the line and flinging the blade with controlled rage should deliver a hefty dose of calm. Usually I lift weights and play football if I want to blow off steam, but throwing the axe gave me a different kind of release. It became very soothing after a while .
WHEN the instructor pitted us against each other in a tournament it became a test of who could best balance their action, zone out, and just concentrate on the axe. I was eliminated in the quarter finals but I went down in a blaze of glory and sank a few sweets one. When the tournament ended and the winner was acknowledged we were given the big axe to throw as a parting novelty gift. We are talking a 3ft fire axe here, something Jack Torrance from The Shining would have been proud to wield. Not all of us could spin the large weapon but those who did marveled at how powerfully it split the timber. Afterwards en route to the pub for the stag’s traditional boozy finale I was pleased to hear that nearly everyone enjoyed our ‘awesome’ visit to the lanes.
My introduction to axe throwing proved to be a worthwhile, cathartic challenge that pulled me in deeper with every throw. When axe lanes gain in popularity in Ireland, and they will, I suggest you go out and bury the hatchet with an old friend. Or if you believe the world is destined to end in a blood-splattered zombie apocalypse — like swarms of redneck Americans and hardcore Walking Dead fans — then getting yourself to an axe lane should probably be your next move in life. Either way, go mark some wood!
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