Canada’s ax-hurling renaissance started exactly the way you might expect: three guys at a lake house with some beer, sharp tools, and nothing to do. “One guy, out of boredom, pulled out a hatchet and started throwing it at a tree,” says Matt Wilson, the founder of the Backyard Axe Throwing League, or batl. “We were blown away by how addictive it was.”
In the decade since, Wilson has built a chain of eight batl venues across Canada that combine the friendly competition of a bowling alley with the decor of a bomb shelter and the boosterism of a SoulCycle class. (“Our mission is to show people the power of being good to each other, using the axe as a tool to build community inspired by our backyard roots,” the group’s website declares.) batl has drawn some 150,000 throwers and spawned more than 30 copycats from Nova Scotia to British Columbia; between them, the facilities have hosted bachelorette parties, speed-dating nights, a 92nd-birthday party, and outings for groups like the Deaf-Blind Adventurers. An hour trying to “stick” a camper ax into a bull’s-eye on a wooden plank runs 15 to 30 U.S. dollars.
Some facilities sell gear featuring scowling lumberjacks and Vikings—though one diehard fan skipped the T-shirt and shaved his chest hair in the shape of crossed axes. Particularly dedicated ax hurlers can also join ax-throwing leagues. Boasting nicknames like “Arm” and “Killface,” these throwers—mostly tattooed 20- and 30-somethings who skew slightly male—meet weekly.