Axed and Answered

It’s a date with destiny—and history—when the author takes on a lesson in ax throwing.

Axes and I have a history. Five years ago, I put an ax straight through the center of my left foot.

My friend Doug and I were camping near Crestone, out chopping wood. Doug had got a new ax for Christmas and asked me if I wanted to give it a try. I’m not sure what happened after that. Maybe it rebounded randomly off the side of the log and careened into my foot. Maybe I missed the log entirely.

“Did it get you?” he said. We both looked at the ax in my foot. Then he said, “Are you going to tell your wife?”

It still strikes me as an improbable question. There was an ax-sized hole in the middle of my foot. She was going to find out.

Eventually I got stitched up. According to the emergency doc, it was the newness of the ax that saved me. A duller ax would have damaged tendons or nerves and put my dream of winning Dancing with the Stars permanently on hold. This ax cut clean through my foot like a surgical scalpel and left me, miraculously, permanently unscathed.

I made the mistake of telling this story to the editor, and, in response, he promptly assigned me a story about ax throwing, a trend that has taken off around the country and made its way to Colorado Springs. “It might be good to get out of your comfort zone,” he told me.

“I like my comfort zone,” I said. “I’m comfortable there.”

After prolonged protestations, I agreed, and soon found myself staring at a website for a business called Jack’s Axe Throwing, which included a biographical sketch of the owner. “Jack is a lumberjack, of course!” it announced. “Jack was born in a small rural town in the Rocky Mountains and is coming to a location near you to teach you and everyone you know, how to throw axes!”

There were a lot of exclamation points. It also seemed overly ambitious on his part to presume to teach everyone I know ax throwing. There was also an “updated throwing list!” which, in addition to axes, included ninja stars and shovels.

I will admit my curiosity was piqued. Readers will recall my recent visit to Anger Management where I threw things like bottles and wine glasses at a concrete wall. I had excelled at that. This could be right up my alley. It wasn’t just that people were throwing axes, they were throwing other things as well. Axes and knives make sense, but shovels? What was next? Rakes? Staplers? It would occur to me to throw a stapler way before a shovel, but maybe that’s just because I’m Canadian. We respect our shovels!

I made an appointment, and when I arrived was greeted by a receptionist who had me sign a waiver. I asked how long she had been associated with ax throwing. “Since the beginning,” she said. “I’m the mother.”

“Are you a lumberjack too?” I said.

Before she could reply, there was a voice from the back of the shop, and there emerged a tall, rugged-looking guy in his mid-20s wearing a checkered red shirt. I presumed this was Jack. “My real name is Bryan,” he told me. “There is no Jack. Jack’s Axe Throwing sounds better than Bryan’s Axe Throwing.”

“I am actually his mother,” said his mother. “If that’s any consolation.”

“Ready to start throwing?” said Jack, who set me up in front of a target and gave me a lesson in proper ax throwing form. “It’s like darts,” he told me, “but you’re throwing an ax.” He showed me how to lean back and step into the throw. Here’s the truth: Ax throwing isn’t as easy as it looks. Instead of embedding the blade of the ax in the target, I hit the target with the handle, and the ax bounced off harmlessly. That went on for some time.
“Don’t flick your wrist,” Jack said. “Throw with your whole arm. Step back, lean forward and throw with your whole arm.”

I did as I was told, and eventually got it. Thunk, went the ax, and the next one, thunk. It’s a satisfying and somehow wholesome sound.

We tried knives afterward, and ninja stars as well, but there was something sinister about the sounds they made. Maybe it’s because there’s something totally impractical about ax throwing. Even if you did sleep with an ax next to your bed for protection, there’d be so much limbering up and careful aiming that the robbery would be over before you were anywhere near ready to throw.

“What about shovels?” I said.

The shovels were still in development he said.

We went back to throwing axes, and I confessed that I had once put an ax straight through my foot. And that I was possibly ax-phobic, or at the least ax-shy.

“That is amazing.” Jack/Bryan looked at me with a new respect. “It is extremely difficult to put an ax through your foot. I have never even heard of that happening in all my time throwing axes.”

It had never occurred to me before, but maybe he was right. “I am what you call an innovator, sir,” I said. “A man who knows how to step out of his comfort zone.”

“I’m surprised you even have a comfort zone,” he told me.

“Maybe I don’t,” I said, and with that I shook his hand, and went out through the front door. In the background, I could hear Jack calling out at first, then shouting, for me to bring his ax back.

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