Axe to grind: N.L. axe throwers heading to World Championships
Growing sport hitting the bullseye in St. John’s
On the second floor of a downtown building in St. John's, Clem Whittle, 60, calmly tosses an axe into the centre of a wooden target.
He does it again, and again, and again, and then once again with his eyes closed for good measure.
His new hobby is a throwback to his childhood days cutting wood with his father and seven brothers in Point Verde, Placentia Bay.
"We would, for fun, throw axes at trees to see who could stick it in, and we'd keep getting smaller trees and smaller trees," Whittle said with a chuckle.
"But we wouldn't let Dad catch us because if you broke an axe handle you were in trouble."
Earlier this month, Whittle won the right to represent Jack Axes in St. John's at the World Axe Throwing Championships in Chicago.
"I am the oldest person in the league," he said.
"On league night here there are 50, 60 people. There's great music and great fun. I just love the atmosphere here."
Building his own axe
As part of his preparation for the Dec. 15 event he's building his own throwing axe, fashioning it from his old woodcutting axe.
"I couldn't find one in the city so I'm taking my own axes and I'm remodeling them," he said.
He won't be travelling alone.
Anthony McDonald won the right to claim the second ticket from Jack Axes to what might be one of the weirdest world championship events.
"Most people look at me as if they don't believe me initially," he said.
"But it's so far-fetched. How could you even make that up?"
McDonald is no stranger to international axe-throwing competition. In August he travelled to the United States to take part in the U.S. Open.
"[I] competed with some of the best throwers in the world and wanted to make the qualifying rounds. I would have been happy there," McDonald said.
"I ended up finishing in fourth place, so I'll take that."
TV cameras add pressure
There is added pressure at the world event as American sports broadcaster ESPN will be televising part of the event.
"I got to make the top 32 to get on the ESPN network," McDonald said.
"So that'd be kind of cool."
With Whittle and McDonald earning the two spots given to the St. John's Jack Axes location, the guy who finished third feels he might have what it takes to win his way in.
The championship competition has three wild card spots and Ryan Lane hopes to chance throw his way into getting one.
"I had a pretty good league [this fall] and I thought, 'You know what, if I could get down there it would be worth a shot to try for those three wild-card positions," he said.
Like Whittle and McDonald, Lane showed up for a fun night of axe-throwing and fell in love with the sport.
"I think it's partly the competitiveness but it's also the people here," Lane said.
It's a really interesting group and there's no drama or anything like that. Everyone wants to see everyone else do really well."
Sitting back on a Monday night watching the three practise hucking axes at large wood targets is Adrian Beaton, one of the co-owners of Jack Axes.
In a little over two years he's watched the league membership grow from 12 in the first year to nearly 60 this year.
"Honestly it's grown so fast as a sport. Our business has grown so fast," Beaton said. "It's a phenomenal feeling. It's really exciting to see it grow."
The next step for Jack Axes is to host the first ever Canadian Open for axe-throwing at its Halifax location.
In the meantime, Beaton said, he'll keep an eye on the three throwers from here heading to Chicago to compete in the world championships.