Google "axe throwing" and it won't be woodsy scenes or burly men in plaid flannel shirts that you see, but, rather, a host of recent headlines like "Axe Throwing: The hot new happy hour alternative and low-key workout" (SELF, July 20, 2018) and "Axe throwing? Breaking down North America's hottest new sports trend" (The Good Men Project, May 28, 2018). And soon, this article's headline will join the ranks.
Yes, thanks to the arrival of Civil Axe Throwing this summer, Chattanooga is on the cutting edge of this global trend. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)
If you go
Civil Axe Throwing is at 409 Market St., near Panera. Reservations are recommended and can be made at civilaxethrowing.com/chattanooga, though walk-ins are welcome, space permitting. Rate is $20 per hour, per person. Wear closed-toe shoes.To learn more about the facility’s new axe-throwing league, call 423-714-7029.
Upon entering the second-floor facility on Market Street, the sweet smell of wood is almost overpowering. Still, there are none of the aforementioned burly men in plaid flannel - though the sport did originate in Canada as a way for lumberjacks to settle bar bets and while away their drinking time. Manager Hunter Harden says that, in addition to its steady stream of walk-in traffic, Chattanooga's Civil Axe Throwing has welcomed lots of large corporate parties for team building (and some serious stress relief) since opening five months ago. While guests must be at least 13, he likens it to a game of "amped-up darts."
"The transition from fearful to throwing axes is fun to watch," Harden told me as I timidly picked up the "beginner" axe, a 1 3/4-pound hatchet thrown using both hands. "By the end, you'll be chucking it with authority," he said confidently, adding, "Ninety-nine percent of the time, I can have a person stick one in the target by the end."
I wasn't so sure. I've never even come close to winning at darts ... or pool ... or bowling ... or anything else requiring hand-eye coordination.
"The axe has weight to it; it wants to do the work for you," Harden said, trying to reassure me. A little bit heavier than a hammer, it wasn't the literal weight but the perceived severity of it that made the axe hard to hurl.
Using the step-throw technique Harden had taught me, I raised the axe over my shoulder and let it rip in the direction of the target about 10 feet away. It thudded to the floor about halfway down the lane. As I stooped down, I saw that the plywood floor was cratered with the failed attempts of others and, from the looks of it, would have to be replaced soon. Now I understood why the place perpetually smells of fresh wood.
"The hardest part is overcoming disappointment," Harden said as I headed back to the starting line for my half-dozenth throw about 15 minutes later. This time, instead of a thud, my throw resulted in a satisfying crrahhck as it hit - and finally stuck into - the target.
The lighter, single-handed axe, weighing 1 1/4 pounds, presented a new learning curve, but was, overall, much easier for me. It seemed my timidness was gone, though that didn't guarantee me a hit on all of my subsequent throws. "Easy to pick up, hard to master," Harden had said. Still, true to his word, I had stuck one, and in way under the allotted hour lane time.
While most of the punnily named establishments popping up in cities from Manhattan to Jacksonville and Phoenix to Paris double as a bar, Civil Axe Throwing doesn't serve alcohol - yet. However, customers are allowed to bring their own (adult) beverages and food. Before you think, "That's dangerous! I've got an axe to grind about that," (last one, I promise) Harden notes that each lane is manned by an "axe-pert," who not only teaches clients how to successfully hurl a hatchet, but also makes sure all of the safety rules are followed. And, he adds, without a hint of irony, "I've found that people take axes very seriously. The majority of people who are going to be here are going to be policing their friends."
It isn't the alcohol, though, that is the trend's real draw, says Harden.
"Everybody feels satisfaction when they hit that axe," he says. "It's the sound of it, the feel of it."
And as I tried to wriggle the blade from the bulls-eye I'd managed to land, that crrahhck still echoing in my head, I knew he was right.