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.