In the space of a decade, axe throwing has become the new darts. A barroom throwing sport with hipster appeal, it’s blown up in popularity and spawned hatch-hurling bars, venues, and leagues across the country. Everywhere these days, people are lining up to throw tomahawks at targets.
But the burly bar activity isn’t just for bearded grownups. It’s catching on with kids, too. In fact, many of the nascent indoor axe-throwing locales are specializing in kids birthday parties. For example, Kick Axe Throwing, which has locations in Brooklyn and Washington, DC, is open to kids as young as 8-years-old and regularly hosts tomahawk-tossing events for tweens. At most of Bad Axe Throwing’s two dozen locations, meanwhile, there are no age restrictions at all ⏤ as long as children can throw an axe in a safe manner and a parent or guardian is present, game on.
“I’ve seen throwers as young as 3-years-old able to safely throw,” says Evan Walters, commissioner of the World Axe Throwing League, the governing body for the sport of urban axe throwing. It’s not necessarily age but more strength that determines when you can start heaving hatchets. “Normally, you want to keep kids away from dangerous things and dangerous stuff,” says Walters. “But when done right, this is no more dangerous than bowling.”
So how do you introduce a kid to hatchet hurling? And how do you teach them how to safely throw one? We asked Walters and a couple of other seasoned axemen for their tips and tricks to coaching kids in the fine art of blade chucking.
Build a Backyard Target
For carpentry-savvy DIY dads with a fenced-in backyard and the wherewithal to build a target, all you really need is some soft wood and these instructions. That said, it’s much easier just go to your favorite lumber purveyor and have them cut you a big round piece of a tree trunk to bring home. Even easier, go to an indoor axe-throwing center if there’s one in your city.
Conduct a Thorough Pre-Throw Safety Briefing
Obviously, when letting kids hurl sharp objects around the yard, safety is of the utmost importance. Make sure you walk through a full safety briefing so kids know exactly what they can and can’t do, starting with rule number one: Steer clear of the throwing area while it’s in use. “The one golden rule is you don’t have to throw your axes at the same time but you have to go retrieve them at the same time no matter what,” explains Ryan Vencer, operations manager at Bad Axe Throwing’s Ontario locations. “Another tip is to not let them stand behind someone who is throwing, because they’re going to reach back over their head with the axe and then move forward with it,” says WATL commissioner Ryan Walters. “Sometimes if they do that too quickly or they don’t understand, it might slip out of their hands if they’re not careful.” To make sure you’re up to speed on axe throwing safety and best practices, here’s a full rundown. Also, clothes are important. Loose fitting shirts are recommended for a full range of motion and open-toed shoes are strictly prohibited, for obvious reasons. If kids want to sport lumberjack plaid or a don a woolen Viking tunic, that’s fine.
Choose the Right Distance from the Target
“Axe throwing is a lot like golf where you use a lot of body motion and momentum as well as a bit of geometry,” says Walters. “You want to make sure you are far enough away to get one perfect rotation.” For adults, standing 12- to 15-feet away from the target tends to be the sweet spot for nailing that one full rotation. “For littler folk who don’t quite have the arm strength, you’ll want to get closer than that,” says Walter. “I would probably say between eight to twelve feet for kids.” Indoor axe-throwing venues have minimum distance lines but provide extra space if necessary.
Teach the Proper Grip
There are several different ways to hold an axe but many beginners opt for two-handed throws. Instruct them to put one hand on top of the other on the handle, just as they would hold a baseball bat (although some people like to put their top thumb vertical with the handle to give it a little extra balance). Another technique is to put two thumbs together on the back spine of the handle and then position the fingers of one hand over the other hand but without interlocking them. This grip ensures that throws are made directly over the center of your body. All two-handed methods are more reliant on body motion than arm strength, which is why it’s the better technique for kids new to lumberjack sports. Also, the cutting blade should face straight ahead, and not turned, so that when the axe is released it will stick the target.
Assume the Throwing Stance
Have them stand one foot in front of the other, with both feet facing the target. It doesn’t matter which foot is out front so long as they’re comfortable. This stance gives them the ability to create a proper back-and-forth motion when throwing. Leaning on that back foot a little bit will give their body momentum when they then lean forward to throw. “It all comes down to stance and good alignment,” explains Darren Sonnier Vice President of Kick Axe Throwing. “You want to be facing the target with your feet a comfortable distance apart and everything should be inline with your forearm.”
Demonstrate the Motion & Release
Chucking an axe with two hands is similar to an overhead throw-in in soccer, and there’s very little arm movement at all because you’re going straight back behind your head with both hands over the center of your body. “You’re going to lean back, reach forward with a foot and bring all of your body weight forward,” explains Vencer. The idea is to release the axe around eye level and let it slip out of your hands rather than throw it. Keeping your wrist locked during the follow-through is integral because you want to make sure the axe stays vertical, straight up and down, in order to stick into the grain of the wood. “If you have a limp wrist or the axe gets cocked even just a tiny bit,” explains Walters, “it can throw it off.” The throw should be a flowing rather than stilted motion, so once you let the axe go your whole body should continue to move forward with your arms swinging all the way past your hips.
Adjust Your Distance After the First Few Throws
Sometimes you can make a great throw but the blade doesn’t sink into the target. When that occurs, it usually has to do with your distance from the target. If the butt of the handle hits the target first, you’re probably a couple of inches too close and should back up. Contrarily, if your axe over rotates and the top of it slams into the target, you’re likely too far back. Scoot forward for the next throw. Each thrower is different and there will be a bit of trial and error to gauge the proper distance for each individual.