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Inside Axe Throwing: All About the New Competitive Sport

You’ve probably heard of it by now. You might have even tried it once or twice. Axe throwing, the backyard leisure activity turned competitive sport, is popping up everywhere these days, and its facilities bookup every day with partygoers, office workers, dates and celebrities eager to give the new sport a go. What started as a humble way to pass the time on a cottage excursion has spawned an international competitive circuit, a thriving industry of private businesses and a league of dedicated, community-oriented athletes.

How did this happen? And further, how did this happen so fast? It seems like the axe throwing phenomenon happened overnight. In actuality, the axe throwing craze is over a millennia in the making, though it wasn’t until recently that the game took on its current look and rules – you can take a 360 tour to see just what a modern axe throwing facility looks like. This article will take a closer look at axe throwing, from its origins, through to its current day popularity, and the competitive circuit surrounding it.

Precursors: Medieval Foot Soldiers, Vikings and Lumberjacks

It’s impossible to determine the first time an axe was thrown, though it was probably not long after humans started affixing handles to axes. What we do know is that the throwing axe was a common weapon among foot soldiers in the medieval age, and that axes were specifically manufactured for combat around this time (as opposed to earlier, when they were generally used as tools only).

When you think of Viking weaponry, you probably think of an axe, and that’s for good reason: the axe became a sort of symbol for the Vikings, who produced many different types for many different purposes. Sagas of the time describe epic warriors throwing axes, although it wasn’t a common practice. After all, if you throw an axe in battle and miss, that’s one more weapon for the opposing side!

Skip ahead some centuries and you get to the lumberjacks – those burly, flannel loggers known across North America for their adeptness with an axe. While there’s no doubt some lumberjacks probably threw axes, there isn’t a lot of literature to suggest it was a common pastime in that era. Despite the lumberjack image being important in the contemporary sport of axe throwing (you’ll see a lot of flannel and beards at the competitions), axe throwing as we know it was probably a later invention.

Contemporary Axe Throwing

Axe throwing as we know it started just over a decade ago in 2006, when a Canadian guy named Matt Wilson decided to set up a target in the backyard of his home, having been inspired by a recent trip to a cottage. Throwing axes at Matt’s backyard target became a popular pastime for he and his friends, and eventually they decided to go public with the idea.

The Backyard Axe Throwing League (or BATL for short) opened shortly after, and has been expanding ever since. Other businesses have since popped up as well, but BATL remains the biggest and most well known in the sport.

Initial success was probably owing to the fact that the sport was a novelty. It became a huge hit with corporate events like holiday staff parties, as well as bachelor and bachelorette parties and birthdays. Before long, it wasn’t uncommon to see people going on their first date at an axe throwing facility. Even famous athletes like Shaq got in the fun, further boosting the sport’s notoriety.

As the sport grew in popularity in part thanks to its recreational novelty, a competitive circuit grew around it. The NATC (or National Axe Throwing Championship) has an annual Wilson Cup Prize tournament that awards a purse of $7,500, which is the culmination of a number of preliminary competitions. The rules are fixed and the standings are tallied methodically and in earnest. In short, axe throwing became a legitimate competitive sport.

The Future of Axe Throwing

It’s hard to tell where axe throwing will go next, but if its present surge in popularity is any indication, it will only get more ubiquitous. It may be a ways off before axe throwing becomes an Olympic sport, but for now it seems the sport is taking serious steps toward becoming a legitimate competition.

As for the average person, if you haven’t tried axe throwing, you really should. It’s a fun way to spend an evening, and a great idea for a party. Who knows, even: you might be the next big thing in the sport.