Unleash Your Inner Viking

The fun’s open to just about everyone at Delaware’s first competitive axe throwing establishment

Here are a few important things to know about competitive axe throwing: First, it is, in fact, a thing. Second, almost anyone can participate. Third, it’s a friendly activity that draws repeat business.

“Anyone can do it,” confirms Sarah Evans, who owns Battle Axe, an arena near Glasgow, with her father, Mike. “We’ve had blind, pregnant, elderly and young people. All had a wonderful time.”

“All you need to do is be ready to listen to your lane officials. Relax. Don’t overthink. And enjoy,” says Mike Evans. He also claims that “drinking improves your throwing. I’ve seen it many times”—although not at Battle Axe, which does not yet have a liquor license.

Competitive axe throwing began in the early 2000s in Toronto, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported just before the 2019 National Axe Throwing Federation Championships (that’s a thing, too).

The craze spread to Delaware in 2018, when the Evanses opened the state’s first permanent facility, featuring a 7,000-square-foot arena. It followed pop-ups they did and still do at places like Liquid Alchemy Beverages and Midnight Oil Brewing Co. down the street.

Mike first heard about the trend from coworkers. By day, he’s an IT guy, and by night, he’s CE-Odin, a mashup reflecting his leadership of the business (Sarah is director of social interactions) and the Norse god Odin. “Unleash your inner Viking” is a prominent Battle Axe slogan, and Mike looks a bit like a younger Odin, albeit without an eyepatch. His roots go back to Ireland, which was once ruled by Vikings, “so I might have some Viking in me,” he claims. 

A customer throws an axe at Battle Axe’s mobile throwing unit at Liquid Alchemy in Wilmington. Photo courtesy of Battle Axe

The Battle Station

Battle Axe, the only Delaware arena to meet the high standards of the International Axe Throwing Federation, is in a bland building in the Pencader Business Park. Inside, 10 lanes, with two targets each, are framed in wood, all exhibiting scars of successful and not-so axe throws. Competitors are getting better, Mike says, judging by the increased ratio of gashes in the centers of the targets.

Black lines on the concrete floor mark the starting position; red lines mark the danger zone near the targets; and blue lines set up the two competitors for tiebreakers. Axe throwers (who must be at least 13) can walk in, reserve time and join leagues that run for eight weeks. Beginners are in the Midgard league on Tuesday evenings, with experts in the Asgard league on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons.

On battleaxewilm.com, Battle Axe lists its rules; the first and most important is this: “No douche-baggery.” The first step for participants is signing a 500-word waiver recognizing “certain inherent risks” involving throwing a sharp axe weighing 2 to 2.5 pounds at a fir target. Thankfully, the worst injuries so far at Battle Axe have involved only splinters, Mike says.

The safety continues with rules requiring closed-toe shoes and lessons from a lane official, who coaches and monitors each group throughout their session. Mike figures newbies will be sticking their axes into the target with just 15 minutes of training, and feeling good about it.

Such positive emotions keep people returning. “Who wouldn’t want to play with an axe? Hear the sound and feel the release? We all do CrossFit, and we’re all competitive,” says Nadia Luzetsky, celebrating her birthday with 20 friends, largely clad in lumberjack plaid. (Players at Battle Axe have also worn Viking and Game of Thrones garb.)

“We hang out and bond,” says her husband, Michael, who planned the party. “Just enjoying ourselves. You can’t get bored. I’m pretending that the faces of people I hate are on the bullseye.”

A throwing axe is basically a camp hatchet, with the metal blade shaved down and kept sharp, on a hickory handle 14 to 17 inches long. “I’m a big fan of my cold-steel tomahawk. Nice and light,” says Mike, who has a half-dozen axes at his New Castle home.

Scoring Points

Players compete in pairs. It’s five points for sticking the axe in the target’s 7-inch-wide black ring, three points in the middle red ring and one in the outermost blue ring. It’s seven points for two small clutches above the main target. Clutches are often boring circles, Mike says, but at Battle Axe they’re skulls, which—along with armor hanging on the walls, graffiti written in runes and participation certificates done on artfully scorched parchment—complete the arena’s Viking theme. The Spotify playlist, however, is decidedly modern. 

A round is five throws per person, and only on the last throw of the round can players get credit for an axe in a clutch and they have to declare that they’re aiming for it. A match is three rounds, so a perfect score is 81. At Battle Axe, the highest has been 78 by Matt Cratty, nicknamed “the skull crusher” for getting six skulls in a row. Cousin Billy Cratty is “the baron of the bullseye” for sticking 30 axes in a row, says Mike, who plays daily but as co-owner doesn’t compete.

The fastest players—Mike calls them “machines”—can finish a round in a few minutes, but matches are much more likely to be leisurely, with players cheering and hugging. “It’s a lot more social than people would expect,” he says. “Helping each other. Talking smack. A lot of camaraderie.”

“It’s a manly, manly-man thing,” says player Bob Kennedy. “Pretty cool.”

With much-appreciated patience and encouragement, lane official Tré Bracey guided me in my axe-throwing debut, demonstrating the best grip, opening stance and body movement for each style taught at Battle Axe: the overhand throw with your dominant hand, the overhand throw with both hands, and finally the tough underhand throw with your dominant hand.

I tried to copy what he did. My first throw hit the wood of the back wall, outside the target, and bounced off. My second throw bounced. And so did my third and fourth. I switched to the two-handed throw for two more bounces. We walked up to the targets, which Bracey sprayed with water to loosen up the wood, and I tested how difficult it was to push the axe into the wood from close up (answer: very).

We switched targets, and I let it fly underhand. Bullseye.

Battle Axe is at 820 Pencader Drive, near Glasgow. It’s open 6 p.m.-midnight Tuesdays-Fridays, noon-midnight Saturdays and noon-6 p.m. Sundays. The cost is $25 per person for groups of one to five for an hour and $35 per person for groups of six to 10 for two hours. Details: battleaxewilm.com. Other nearby axe-throwing arenas include Stumpy’s Hatchet House, 819 Middletown Warwick Rd., Middletown, stumpyshh.com/middletownde; You Bet Your Axe, 985 E. Pulaski Highway, Elkton, Md., www.youbetyouraxe.com; and The Chop Shop, 401 Birch St., Kennett Square, Pa., chopshopksq.com.

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