Handle With Care

What’s more therapeutic than hurling a razor-sharp ax? Not much, so long as you’re careful.
By Brian Kevin

Of all the trends that made it into this package, I got the easiest one to describe: Ax throwing involves standing in a lane demarcated by a few 2x4s and some chain-link fencing, gripping a handheld cutting tool (a hatchet or tomahawk, not actually a full-size ax), and then throwing it — hard, end over end — at a target painted on more 2x4s at the end of the lane. Scoring is optional; a gallery full of cheering pals is suggested.

You may be asking, this has to do with wellness? It does! And it’s really a trend? It is! In fact, Maine was on the (ahem) cutting edge.

For the last couple of years, indoor ax-throwing lanes, bars, and leagues have been sprouting like chest hairs on a lumberjack all across the country. But when Tim Johnson started the Axe Pit in Westbrook in early 2017, the phenomenon was largely a Canadian one. After visiting an “ax-throwing playground” in Montreal (it’s called Rage), he thought recreational ax throwing seemed like a fit for woodsy Maine, so he repurposed a former construction shop at the Maine Warrior Gym, the business he opened in 2015 (basically a hybrid of an obstacle course and a kiddie tumbling center that also accommodates adults).

I showed up at the Axe Pit recently and joined a half-dozen self-identified “church ladies” who were blowing off steam, away from partners and kids, with a two-hour session of hatchet heaving. Blowing off steam is a big part of the appeal, and ax-throwing enthusiasts play up the activity’s stress-relieving benefits (the Axe Pit’s website calls it an “exciting, unique, and therapeutic social sport”). Imbue that double-bladed tomahawk with all of your frustrations, goes the logic, then chuck it at the target and listen as the splitting wood absorbs your angries.

“It’s a real satisfying thunk,” Johnson says. “It just feels good. You leave with a bit of a high.”

A bit of a sweat too. Outlets like Self and Men’s Health have recently proclaimed what the pipes on the old Maine woodsmen might have suggested to you — that recreational ax throwing isn’t a half-bad upper-body workout. “After 90 minutes of this, you’ll be feeling it in your triceps,” said the young staffer at the Axe Pit, who started our session with a primer on safe ax handling, then remained on the scene to offer pointers. Sore arms or no, a few rounds of throwing axes (and a few ninja throwing stars) seemed like enough to hook the church ladies, who let out warlike cries each time one of their party sank a blade into a bullseye. One of them removed her hatchet from the target board and held it in front of her like Arthur’s Excalibur. “I just want to do this all day,” she growled.

„865 Spring St., Westbrook. An hour of ax throwing costs $15 per participant upon arrival, plus a $20 fee upon reservation. Visit theaxepit.com or call 207-370-4298 to book a session.

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Brian Kevin

Brian Kevin is Down East's editor in chief.