The Backyard Axe Throwing League started the way all great ideas do: alcohol and lethargy. A few guys that got a little too sauced in the woods, and serendipitously invented a sport by throwing axes at trees and then making up a point system and bunch of rules. Four years old now, the league has boasted hundreds of members, astonishingly no injuries, and free kegs every week. Take that, Curling!
There’s a certain Fight Club element to the league. Currently, it’s only known by word of mouth and remains confined to a punk, nu-metal, hipster crowd that are all in some way, friends of friends. I was invited to a playoff game by my friend Craig, and because I’m a nerd I felt all top-secret about it as I stealthily followed the directions to the backyard behind the Big Chill off College St in Toronto’s West end. Whoops did I just give it away? Anyway, I knew I’d arrived when the smell of rainbow ice cream was replaced with the stench of weed and man-odor.
I received a typically Canadian greeting from virtually every axe thrower there who, despite their foul mouths, were all perfectly gracious and polite. And as if slinging axes weren’t primal enough, they even chanted their own oath that goes a little something like, “Remember primal man/who only had his hands/ who forged in fire and steel/the tools to kill his meal/we honor him this day/and pray our axe to stay”. Then we sacrificed a test-tube of gism to Crom.
Coordinated by the inventor himself, Matt Wilson cautioned everyone to keep their backs to the wall and not to “fuckin’ get outta line.” The game went late into the evening, and I caught up with a few of the axe throwers to talk about being such a man.
Matt Wilson God of the Axe How did this whole thing start?
It started just throwing hatchets at a tree, at Turkey Point in mid October–it was the end of the cottage season so the place was totally barren. We met a couple of new people, and we all ended up getting split up most of the week, so at the end of the day we’d meet up and throw axes. There might have been substance abuse going on. Then we came back and I told my roommate all about how fun it was and he didn’t get it and there happened to be a pile of wood and I went and bought a four-dollar fibreglass home-hardware axe and a bottle of rye and told him I was going to show him it was fun whether he liked it or not. He and I hung out, drunk afterwards and he said, “Yeah this is really satisfying.” I’m one of those guys who likes to make up rules for everything, so it wasn’t long before backyard axe flinging became a full-fledged semi-sport. So what are the rules of the game?
It’s similar to Tennis; you play one-on-one, and you have to win two out of three games to win a match–each game is five axes a piece. The way the scoring works is there’s a bull’s eye which is five points, the middle ring is three points, and the outer ring is one point. So, if I win one round and you win one round, there’s a third round, it’s called a tie breaker. That involves a bigger axe and you throw it from farther away, over your head. It’s like a penalty shoot out. As long as it sticks within the full target it counts. There’s one other rule, there’s one little dot in the top left corner worth 7 points called a clutch. Is anyone else doing it?
There are different versions of it, they’re more offshoots of Lumberjacking things. There is actually this one I found in Germany–they don’t throw hatchets, they’re more of a knife-throwing club. But they have one division where they throw little hatchets, like ninja stars. Can we talk about that oath for a minute?
Yeah, I wrote that. When we first started out I convinced twelve guys to give me 25 bucks. The setup was horrible, it was like three months long, just a disaster. So the night before they all came over I wrote an oath. I have a big thing for Conan the Barbarian–and the special features of Conan the Barbarian are amazing by the way, Arnold getting drunk, if you ever get a chance to watch it. I was in a Viking metal band called Crom [not these guys-Ed] called Crom, which is Conan’s God, the Lord of the Mount. God of Steel, Lord of the Mount, the mount being dead bodies. So it draws from primal roots feelings, especially for guys, and I’m realizing now possibly for girls too. I noticed that one dude looked frighteningly Viking-like.
Oh Yari? Yeah, so there was a typhoon three years ago in Toronto, and I always said, we throw rain or shine, this isn’t ballet class it’s axe throwing–get the fuck out here. It was raining like crazy and we were all completely soaked and the backyard was flooded with 3-4 inches of water and there were woodchips floating everywhere. So Yari was yelling at the gods in Finnish, and lightning would strike and we were all freaking out. We found out the next day that three people died after getting hit by lightning, all because Yari yelled at the gods. Like how did they get hit while we were holding metal axes over our heads? What about the cops?
Cops have come by. They came by about three or four weeks into the very first league and they told us we couldn’t do it and one of the guys that was in the league and was very business savvy and asked why not and they said, “Its like you’re walking around with a loaded gun,” and I was like, “No, it’s like I’m chopping wood with an axe”. So we asked, “Theoretically what would I have to do to have you not stop me?” They said we just had to enclose it, so the next week I bought 25 yard heavy duty tarp that I hung from the top of my roof and enclosed it. Now the neighbours have slowly joined the league, and with that and my business cards and website and everything I think the whole operation has an added legitimacy. I’ve been trying to hide it, until a month or so- I’ve been thisclose to getting insured. With that I feel safe about it, I can go, here’s my business paper work, here’s my insurance paper, here’s my landlord’s signature, go fuck yourself. What kinds of people does the league attract?
Tradesman, electricians, servers, bartenders, construction workers, people in IT, some kid going to med school for spinal implants–his PHD is in how to build cybernetic spines. He came to axe throwing one day with his laptop open of him holding the spine of a dead person. He’s a super genius, so I had him program the stats for us. Are you ever concerned about the combination of alcohol, axes, and testosterone?
Everybody’s pretty cool. Most guys want to do well at it, too, so they don’t get too wasted. There are a decent amount of babes here, is axe throwing a good place to meet someone?
Oh yeah, tons of people have. There’s like four or five couples that are still together now that met at axe throwing. So congratulations for winning tonight’s game. How do you feel about slaughtering all those rookies?
There was a debate at the beginning of the season, because I’ve been throwing for four years and all of these guys have just started. I felt like it’d be kind of an asshole move to not play, like “I’m not gonna throw because I’m better than you” so I played. In my head I was like, please God don’t let me sweep everybody, make it competitive. And it worked out amazing, it was super competitive. I still feel like I’m going to get ribbed forever, but I was going to get ribbed forever no matter what so I was like fuck it.