On the cutting edge: Axes are flying in Denver metro area as sport booms

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Two years ago, Ben Edgington was between jobs and looking for ways to pass the time.

Edgington, from Superior, decided to try ax throwing at Bad Axe in Denver, which at the time was the metro area’s only dedicated venue for the age-old sport in which players hurl hatchets at wooden targets.

Turns out Edgington was pretty good at it. So good that today he’s the reigning world champion in a sport that is exploding across the nation — and counts Denver as among its biggest hubs.

“It sounds weird, but it’s given me a sense of purpose,” said Edgington, 31. “I’ve always been sort of solitary, but now I’m at the heart of a big, supportive community that’s really taking off.”

Today, the Denver area is home to a half-dozen ax-throwing venues, called “ax houses,” with more in the works. Drop-in prices range from $20-$30 per hour.

Bad Axe, which operates more than 40 ax houses in the United States and Canada, is building a 12,000-square-foot ax-throwing emporium in Westminster. Owner Mario Zelaya said it will be the “flagship ax house in North America” when it opens in February.

 

The future looks bright for the sport, Zelaya said.

“We’re doing for ax throwing what Topgolf did for driving ranges: making it cool. Making it hip. Adding technology,” Zelaya said. “Denver’s got a fun-loving, active vibe, so it’s a natural fit. It’s a really exciting time.”

‘Primal’ feeling

The “thunk” of an ax landing on target can be pretty addictive, said Ian Christensen, the administrator of the International Axe Throwing Federation.

“When that ax sticks, it releases something inside you,” Christensen said. “You get the feeling you’re tapping into something primal. It’s encouraging and empowering to learn it’s something you can do. These days as we’re talking about people not connecting anymore, this is an easy way to overcome that.”

Though modern ax throwing has its roots in Canada, Christensen said the sport is likely as old as axes themselves.

“It’s catching on in urban areas, though, I think because people are looking for something different than the same old bowling and darts,” Christensen said. “Something edgier, if you don’t mind the pun.”

Watching the skyrocketing popularity of the sport is thrilling, Christensen said.

“It’s crazy to think this is something we used to do sitting around in a backyard in Toronto with a case of beer,” Christensen said.

Believe it or not, the sport is pretty safe, said Zelaya, the Bad Axe owner.

“We’ve had over 700,000 players in our ax houses without a single insurance claim,” Zelaya said. “Sometimes somebody will touch the blade and nick themselves, but that’s about it.”

‘Hard to master’

The basic rules of ax throwing are pretty simple, according to the website of the World Axe Throwing League, or WATL, the sport’s global governing body.

Players stand 12 feet back from a 4-foot-wide wooden target, and hurl short-handled axes — really more like hatchets — at a dartboard-like playing field. There are a variety of game styles, but tournament play gives players 10 throws each, and the highest score wins.

New players can expect to work with coaches, said WATL commissioner Evan Walters.

“It’s not like bowling, where they give you a pair of shoes and cut you loose. It’s a bit trickier than rolling a bowling ball down a lane, but the first time you nail an ax to a board, you can do it again,” Walters said. “It’s easy to learn, but hard to master.”

Not just lumberjacks

The sport is pretty equal-opportunity, Walters said.

“People tend to think it’s a big macho thing,” Walters said. “It’s not just big bearded guys. About half the league is women. Everyone can have fun throwing — it’s not about strength and height, it’s about technique and precision.”

It’s also just a good way to goof around with friends, said Tina Kyte, owner of Wyze Axe Throwing, an ax house that opened on South Broadway in Englewood over the summer.

“We get a lot of company team-building events, and a lot of women come in for a great girls’ night out,” Kyte said. “Sometimes it’s just someone by themselves, and in that case, I might jump in and challenge them to a round. We meet all kinds.”

On a recent Wednesday night, Wyze Axe was host to a bachelor party for a group of old friends, mostly college professors.

“We’re mostly in our 40s, so we’re a little old for the, shall we say, traditional bachelor party activities, and this sounded pretty cool,” said Scott Dory, the best man for University of Denver physics and astronomy professor Peter Hallam. “Maybe the drunken debauchery will come later.”

Hallam said despite what you might think, his physics background wasn’t much help.

“I’m not sciencing this one,” Hallam said. “You’ve got to develop a feel for it. It’s a pretty satisfying feeling when that ax sinks in.”

What the future holds

Ax throwing has the power to change lives, said Edgington, the world champ. Since the day he first picked up an ax two years ago, he’s met hundreds of new friends, been featured on TV shows, and even met his fiancé at Bad Axe, where he works as a coach. When the flagship location opens in a few months, he’ll likely be the manager.

There are even rumblings that ax throwing might become an Olympic sport, Edgington said, and he’d love to represent his country in the sport that’s meant so much to him.

“I meet so many people who were looking for something missing in their lives, and they tried this, and they said, well, this is it,” Edgington said. “It’s a ridiculous passion.”

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