Some people go for a run to let off steam after work, while others try their hand at ballroom dancing or hit up a pub quiz. And some, as Greta Yeoman discovers, throw sharp objects at walls. She gives it a go.
An uncoordinated, anxious journalist with terrible aim is probably not the best candidate to go throwing axes in the name of entertainment. But that is where I found myself on Wednesday evening.
Wellington-based Sweet Axe Throwing Co had piqued my interest when an online event listing advertising “a social axe-throwing league” stumbled into my life.
There were people who go throwing axes at walls to let off steam? On a regular basis? In a custom-fit venue? On a weekday evening? Sober?
I could think of several less stress-inducing post-work entertainment options, but I had to see this for myself.
The 30-or-so members of the social league were crowding the door of Sweet Axe’s nondescript building just on the outskirts of Wellington CBD when my partner and I arrived to join another group of newbie axe-throwers.
Waiver signed, we stood back to take in the diverse range of axe-throwers (and one dog!) who came wandering through the doors.
There was no dress code, no requirements for giant beards or Swanddris – work wear, heeled boots, skirts and casual clothing were the norm. The only requirement was covered shoes, otherwise you’d have to rock the “gumboots of shame”.
Luckily, everyone had their sensible shoes on, so learning how to throw axes quickly got under way. Our tutor and Sweet Axe co-founder Lloyd Bombell was full of wit, and a surprising amount of understanding, as I became the sole member of the seven-member group to continue not to hit the wooden targets.
Bombell has been in the business of aiming axes for a few years now, having discovered the sport on a trip to Sydney and taken up an axe-throwing job there for a few years. He and partner/Sweet Axe co-founder Sarah Hilyard introduced the art of axe-throwing into Wellington just over a year ago, after travelling to New Zealand from their Australian home for a holiday and deciding to stay.
They decided to set up shop in the capital, where the popularity of the strange sport has seen them open another premises, in Auckland, earlier this year.
Axe-throwing, Bombell explains, was established as a backyard entertainment option by a group of Canadian mates. To their surprise, it took off, soon expanding into Europe, Australia and, eventually, New Zealand.
The axes aren’t heavy, just slightly daunting objects, as you place two hands on the handle and swing it (handle end toward your back, no injuries needed!) over your shoulder. Now the axe is sitting between your shoulder blades, you take a step back from the throw line and prepare your shot.
To throw an axe, Bombell tells us, you must lift it high above your head as you step forward, eyeing the target, leaning fully forward into your throw and then letting it soar. It will then, somehow (physics, I suppose), wheel through the air and hit the target with a CLUNK.
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to go. Bombell’s comment of “I can see you’re a bit nervous” may have been the understatement of 2019.
I was not actually that bad with the aim (surprisingly, as anyone who has played pool with me can attest), more so in that I was focused on remembering the order of instructions and silencing the voice in my head screaming “YOU HAVE AN AXE IN YOUR HAND, DON’T KILL ANYONE!”
At this point I was cursing my journalist brain for suggesting a “great story!” as I contemplated the dread of reporting to The Spinoff about how I had gone axe throwing and failed to throw any axes (properly).
My partner, on the other hand, had hit several bullseyes by this point and the remaining members of the group had also clearly got into the swing of things. They were even comfortably throwing axes one-handedly, and scoring bullseye hits, while I had yet to manage even a successful two-handed shot.
I’d refined parts of my technique – but not all in one go. Bombell moved me a step closer toward the target, in hopes it might be easier.
This time. . . I hit the target.
I HIT THE TARGET.
Almost on the bullseye, actually.
The video of it shows a look of shock on my face. It’s quite wonderful.
Compared to the social leaguers (or “axe-perts”) down the other end of the building who were casually throwing axes right on the bullseye repetitively, entering their scores on a tablet to rank themselves against other players around the globe, I was near on useless.
I think I managed a total of four successful shots in the just-under-two-hour session, but considering I had gone in with the lowest of expectations, I felt like the queen of the world.
I won’t be signing up for the league any time soon, but throwing axes was surprisingly fun. Plus, nobody died, so basically it was a total success.