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Kentucky Arts and Culture

Stressed out? Try axe throwing

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Cheri Lawson
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Highland Heights resident, Mike Rafferty, retrieves his axe after a good throw.

After a stressful day at work, Debbie Banta knows exactly what she needs to wind down and it’s not yoga or throwing darts. It’s throwing axes.

“I call it my happy place. I have had a terrible day at work and left work and said, ‘hey I need to throw this axe’,” reported Banta.

Banta plays the unique sport at Battle Axes in Lexington. It’s one of the largest hatchet-throwing venues in Kentucky. Players stand in a lane or pit separated by tall chain-link fences. The target is about 12 to 14 feet away from the person throwing. Banta said even after a lot of instruction, there’s always a coach or pit boss around to help out. The 48-year-old plays in a league and calls consistency the key to hitting the target.

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Debbie Banta
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Debbie Banta prepares to throw an axe in the Tuesday night league at Battle Axes in Lexington.

Rules vary slightly at different venues according to Shawn Courtney, owner of Battle Axes. People as young as age six can throw at his venue. Courtney emphasized that safety is a priority.

“We want you to stick. We want you to have fun, so we coach you the entire time, throwing techniques. But if you’ve never thrown axe throwing, axe throwing is a really great stress reliever and it’s really good exercise, as well,” explained Courtney.

The pits are 18 to 20 feet wide at Battle Axes. Courtney said there’s an electronic scoring system. He also has a mobile unit that’s gaining popularity.

“Well, it’s basically just a utility trailer and we built a cage all the way around it. So, you stand at the end of the trailer and you throw at the target toward the front. But it’s completely encapsulated in a cage so you can’t throw the axe outside of it. So, it’s just as safe as being in the venue,” said Courtney.

The indoor sport started taking off in Kentucky in 2018. Christian Ales, general manager at Flying Axes in Covington, said, while 90 percent of the guests are first-time throwers, people are into it. He calls the sport cathartic.

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Cheri Lawson
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Tall chain-link fences separate the lanes or pits for safety.

“It’s taken off like wildfire, I mean, it’s gone global at this point. There's (sic) championships for hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table. Yes, people take it very serious.(sic) One of our coaches is actually number 24 in the world of axe throwing,” said Ales.

Ales is referring to Andrew Mannion, a lead coach at Flying Axes. Mannion said he was ranked 24th in the world a few weeks ago but still has a high ranking based on the World Axe Throwing League which lists 4,327 people throwing this season, on its app.

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Cheri Lawson
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Coach Joel Parece is measuring to make sure the player receives the correct number of points for the throw.

“Once you get good in axe throwing, you’re throwing perfect scores on really tiny targets. It’s a high-skill sport,” said Mannion. Tuesday nights are league nights, for both venues.

Sixty-six-year-old Ginger Roberts played her first game at a Christmas party and had so much fun she joined a league.

“You can just release all your frustrations, it’s just fun. CL: Is it heavy? Oh no, it’s very light. What you have to realize, it’s not how hard you throw or if you’re strong. It’s just the rotation,” said Roberts.

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Cheri Lawson
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Nancy Bowman hurls the axe in a Tuesday night league at Flying Axes in Covington.

Dr. Rhonda Swickert, professor of psychology at the College of Charleston, said she has not found any empirical literature on axe throwing and stress relief. But, the psychologist said, if stress relief is the goal when playing the sport, there are a few things to think about.

“I think there are some benefits that can come from any kind of group shared activity like that in which we’re using our bodies and are very engaged in what we’re doing. That all makes sense. But again, in the context, if one is doing this activity to try to dissipate anger that I feel towards a family member, colleague, that type of thing. That is not a good approach. There are other approaches that are much more effective,” explained Swickert.

Back at Flying Axes, 13-year-old A.J. Banks is focused as she hurls an axe at the bullseye. For her, the pastime is more about fun and competing than about stress relief.

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Cheri Lawson
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Thirteen-year-old A.J. Banks is a focused axe thrower.

"Throwing is so much fun, and it’s a nice feeling, especially when you win. It’s an overwhelming (sic) good feeling,” said Banks.

Axe throwing sessions typically last from 30 minutes to two hours and reservations are encouraged.

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