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Don't drink and drive. Don't drink and operate heavy machinery. You'd think throwing axes would be on that list of things not to do while consuming alcohol. But maybe not?
That's the theory behind Urban Axes, a company that just opened its latest location, in Somerville, earlier this month.
Now I know what you're thinking — there's no way alcohol and axes can be a good idea. But as owner Krista Paton explains — or, axplains — that's part of the draw.
"One of the fun things about it is that you feel like you're not supposed to be doing it," she says. "It's kind of, I always use the term 'delightfully forbidden,' especially when you add on a component of while you're having a beer.
"You don't know if you're going to be good at it, and the best thing about axe throwing is that anyone can be good at it."
Paton says she got the idea for this unusual sport a few years ago when in Canada, which at that time had dozens of axe throwing locations, and even a fully fledged axe throwing league.
Which made her axe this question, "Why doesn't this exist in America?"
The first Urban Axes location opened in 2016 in Philadelphia, after a lot of red tape, according to Paton. The city wasn't sure how to zone an establishment where you can throw axes and drink alcohol until finally categorizing it as a nightclub, something Paton still laughs about.
"We close at 11," she says. "What a boring nightclub!"
And insurance companies weren't axactly thrilled with the notion of letting patrons drink and throw bladed projectiles.
"We got ridiculous quotes, and people just saying absolutely not, and it probably took us six to nine months to get insurance, or at least get insurance that we felt was a reasonable number," she says.
Two years later, Urban Axes has locations up and down the East Coast, plus Texas and Ohio. In that time, Paton says the company's had no major injuries. But she says people have had axidents — just not how you might expect.
"The most common thing that's ever happened is that people get splinters. So we tell people at the very beginning, 'Don't put your hand against the board.' "
Urban Axes has a lengthy safety protocol that starts before you even walk in the door. You have to be over 21 and wearing closed-toed shoes — no exceptions. You sign a waiver before you start, saying that you understand the inherent risks of drinking and throwing axes — and that you'll stop throwing axes if you become too inebriated. You get a tutorial before you're allowed to throw anything, and always under supervision.
Today, my axpert teacher is Sydney Newman. She has me stand about 10 feet from the target, bring the axe back behind my head and release it out in front of me, using my whole body as a pendulum.
Newman explains the proper technique isn't how hard you throw; it's about getting consistent spin every time. In theory, once you know how far you have to stand from the target, you should be able to stick it every time.
My first throw hits against the target, but I'm a little too close to it.
"It's OK! It's all about finding your distance with your rotation," she says, encouragingly, moving me back a few inches and letting me throw again. Things start to go better. The next axe hits with a thud and sticks.
"There we go! Nice throw!"
After a few more throws that stick in and around the bull-seye, though, it's time to come clean: This is not my first axperience. I tell Paton I grew up in the circus and I have thrown axes before.
"You grew up in the circus?" Paton says with a laugh.
I explain that one of my old shows involved throwing axes around a human target — something I'm also proud to say never ended with any injuries.
Still, Paton and Newman say they've taught novices before, and that 90 percent of beginners can stick an axe within 10 throws.
For fact-checking purposes, I watch them teach WBUR reporter Bruce Gellerman, who assures them he has never thrown an axe before. He sticks it on his fifth throw.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Sydney Newman's first name. We regret the error.
This segment aired on December 21, 2018.
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