Montrealers sharpen their hatchets for axe throwing leagues

Max Machado owns two axes: a hatchet and a big axe. But they're not for chopping wood — they're for throwing at indoor targets.

'Getting involved with the league, it feels like a sport,' says Alexandre Ravenelle, an axe throwing newbie

Maria Falkovich joined Rage's axe throwing league in 2017. She trains every couple of weeks. (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC)

Max Machado owns two axes: a hatchet and a big axe. But they're not for chopping wood — they're for throwing at indoor targets.

He's one of 16 Montrealers who spends his free time at Rage: Axe Throwing Montreal, with axes in tow, to participate in the venue's axe throwing league for eight weeks.

Machado, a freelance cinematographer, wants to qualify for the next year's National Axe Throwing Championships in Toronto.

After getting hooked on axe throwing in December, he participated in this year's tournament in the skills competition, where anyone can partake without representing a venue.

"Next year, I want to be there, so I'm in the league," said Machado, who practices his throwing once a week.
Max Machado, a freelance cinematographer, has been throwing axes for a few months. He aims to qualify for the National Axe Throwing Championships in Toronto next year. (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC)

The downtown facility on Amherst Street began its axe throwing league in 2016 as a way to build a community around the activity-turned-sport, according to owner Anton Pushkar.

Pushkar said by the time league members gather in the spring, some regulars are eager to get started after months of practicing at Rage's monthly tournaments.

"[The tournaments are] for those who are basically waiting for the league to start," said Pushkar.

In its third edition of the league, Rage will begin to keep track of player statistics so members can compete in next year's national championship.

Releasing tension

Anyone, from axe throwing amateurs to regulars, can join Rage's league.

One newcomer is Alexandre Ravenelle, who joined the league after only having been to Rage a few times. As a pastry chef, Ravenelle enjoys the tension he releases when he's hurling an axe at a wooden target.

"In a kitchen, you build up all that tension from everything coming in, people screaming around you, but you have to focus the energy instead of releasing it. So I think that's what's more relieving to me," he said.

For league regulars like Maria Falkovich, who originally came to Rage for a team-building exercise with the IT company she works for, axe throwing is a social activity with a competitive edge.

She thinks her throwing technique resembles the forward motion of a tennis serve.

"I used to play tennis and in a way, it kind of made sense to me," said Falkovich.

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Monthly tournaments and NATF rules

Rage became a member of the National Axe Throwing Federation (NATF) about two years ago to keep the league's safety rules and guidelines consistent with facilities in other cities.

Each match consists of three rounds where five axes are thrown per round. To win a match, players have to win two of three rounds.

The wooden target is 69 cm by 99 cm and contains three target rings, a bull's-eye and two dots known as clutches. A player must yell, "Calling clutch" before their shot and if they hit the dot, it's worth seven points. A bull's-eye is worth five points.

For tiebreaker rounds, the big axe is used, which according the NATF regulations must weigh between one kilogram and 1.25 kg (2.25 to 2.75 pounds). A standard hatchet must weigh between 0.6 kg and 0.8 kg (1.25 to 1.75 pounds). Both axes must have wooden handles.

Hopeful for the future

Axe throwing's popularity has grown steadily in the last four years, according to NATF administrator, Nick LaFace. Member facilities span across North America, Europe, Australia and Thailand.

LaFace, who is also the expansion manager at Backyard Axe Throwing League (BATL), is hopeful about the future of axe throwing.

"I see axe throwing continuing to grow.…I want to see the first career axe thrower, so someone who makes a living off axe throwing," he said.

In 2017, there were over 250 axe throwing leagues running among NATF member venues, according to LaFace.

Currently, axe throwing is featured in lumber sporting competitions like the Wisconsin-based Lumberjack World Championships, but it takes place outdoors There are no professional leagues or competitions that only feature axe throwing.   

This doesn't deter Rage's league members from thinking of axe throwing as a full blown sport.

"At first it was an activity … Getting involved with the league, it feels like a sport," said Ravenelle.

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