Pittsburgh's Newest Extreme Sport: Competitive Ax-Throwing
With his hands raised above his head and wrapped around a small, hatchet-sized wooden ax, Corey Deasy flicked his wrists to send it hurling toward a target about 14 feet away.
It hit square in the middle – not a surprise since Deasy’s the owner of Lumberjaxes, a new ax-throwing facility in Millvale which is scheduled to open next week. Think darts, with larger, sharper objects.
When Deasy first heard about ax-throwing last year on TV, he said he didn’t think much of it. That changed after his sister took him to an ax-throwing venue in Philadelphia, and he immediately saw an opportunity.
He has a nose for trendy business: he opened the first escape room in Pittsburgh a few years ago, which has remained a popular attraction. He said he thinks ax-throwing will be just as lucrative, and expects it to be cash flow positive within the first six months.
But for Deasy, learning the proper ax-throwing technique took some practice.
“Some people get it right away. Some people get the technique down on their first or second throw. I am not one of those people,” Deasy said. “It probably took me 30 to 50 throws before I really had it down. And of course I’m still working on it today.”
The rules of competitive ax-throwing are a lot like bowling or darts. There are three rounds, and in each round there are five throws. The target consist of three rings varying in size: the outer-most blue ring is worth one point, the red ring is worth three and the bullseye in the center is worth five points. Whoever earns the most points wins the round.
Competitive ax-throwing got its start in Canada. Matt Wilson is the founder of the National Ax-Throwing League. Wilson discovered a passion for ax-throwing after spending a weekend at his friend’s cottage in 2006, where he learned the basics by throwing at a makeshift target. After coming back to Toronto, he jumped on what he saw as a great opportunity.
“I had this backyard in downtown Toronto that was a total eye sore. And my roommate and I put two targets back there, and I called some friends and tried to tell them that I was going to run this ax-throwing league that they should be a part of and convinced them to give me a couple of bucks to pay for the wood,” Wilson said. “I managed to get a few guys together to do it and that was kind of the start.”
The sport grew quickly. Not long after, Wilson took over his neighbor’s backyard to cope with the growing number of weekly ax-throwers. By 2011, the sport was growing so quickly that Wilson quit his day job and opened a larger venue in Toronto that could host hundreds of ax-throwers each week.
Wilson said the success of businesses like ax-throwing is a result of people’s need to socialize in person with others.
“I think people are really looking for these activities, these things to do,” Wilson said. “They want to get out, they want to be active, they want to be social at the same time and until recently there haven’t been a lot of venues to do that in.”
Ax throwing has become a national sport in Canada, and is quickly catching on the U.S. Deasy's ax-throwing venue in Millvale will be the second location to open in western Pennsylvania. The other is in Jeannette.
Although it may appear to be dangerous, Desey said that, with the proper technique, it’s very rare for anyone to get hurt. And, he said, anyone can participate.
“Let me just say, my wife almost won the tournament in Philidalphia when we were there and she was eight-and-a-half months pregnant,” Deasy said. "So basically anyone could do this.”
Lumberjaxes plans to open mid-August and offer sessions to both groups and individuals. Eventually, Deasy said that Lumberjaxes will host ax-throwing leagues weekday nights.