An Axe To Grind - Moore Residents Compete at World Axe Throwing ChampionshipsJan 03, 2022
The idea of throwing an axe has been around for as long as axes have existed. History tells us the Vikings, and Celtic tribes hosted throwing competitions. There are accounts of frontiersmen facing off in America to see who could throw an axe with the most accuracy. Thirteen years ago, the Backyard Axe Throwing League in Canada brought urban axe throwing to the masses. But it has only been over the past few years that a Canadian fad has exploded into an ESPN-televised global sport, thanks to the rise of the World Axe Throwing League (WATL) and World Axe Throwing Championship.
In December, seven local residents competed in the most recent WATL world championships, held at a series of venues in Fort Worth, Texas. Ben Gaddy, the owner of Twisted Axes Throwhouse in Moore, made his second trip to the competition.
"It's really exciting for me to be able to send more throwers every year," said Ben. "And it's so much fun just to be able to represent Oklahoma and Moore on a world stage."
Gaddy was joined in the competition by Devin Simpson, Brock Gruenberg, Rachel House, and Chase Henderson from Twisted Axes. Sean Evans and Ryan Siegried also competed, representing Norman's Oklahoma Ax Factory. The seven competed in various categories, including hatchet, big axe, and duals.
"We've been in the past, but we were lucky enough this year in that the tournament was nearby," said Gruenberg. "We've also gone to some regional competitions and some of the other bigger tournaments, so it helped us because we were familiar with the format."
Henderson said, "It was pretty amazing competing against the best throwers in the world. You would kind of catch yourself watching everybody else to see how they do things. And when it came time for you to throw, you'd be amped about doing as well as you could."
While axe throwing might seem to be a simple sport, there's an elegant complexity to the math involved in making one stick in the middle of a painted wooden bullseye. Competitors must consider factors like angular and vertical velocity, rotation, acceleration, and gravity to hit that bullseye consistently. Everyone agrees that the only way to master those equations is through repetition.
"It's all about muscle memory," said Evans. "You just have to do the same thing, the same way, thousands of times until it's just natural to you."
Siegfried said, "I've heard it said that axe throwing is similar in a lot of ways to the game of golf. You have the physical aspect of the sport combined with the mental side where you have to get yourself into that place where you get out of your own way and let your subconscious do the work."
For Rachel House, that meant carving out time in her daily schedule to work on her technique.
"It didn't matter whether it was 30 minutes or an hour," said House. "I would make sure I was getting in at least a little bit of practice every day because that can make all the difference in the world in how you get that repetitive motion locked in."
"It's even tougher at the world championships because of everything that's going on around you," said Simpson. "You work so hard on your technique, especially in duals where you're having to communicate with each other, and then it's so loud at the tournament that you have to switch up how you communicate."
The added challenge of duals is that both teammates have to stick their axes as close as possible to each other while still targeting a bullseye that was made smaller in size this year by WATL officials. Two axes in the air spinning toward the same target make for a more chaotic competition.
"Obviously, you're going for that small bullseye," said Gaddy, "So your axes are going to collide in the air at some point. Plus, you've got the crowd noise and the sounds of axes hitting the targets going on all around you. It's something we didn't take into account this time around, but we'll be better prepared next time."
Evans said, "You can look at our axe heads and see the damage that comes from the collisions. They're pretty chipped and dinged up."
Gaddy and his wife were introduced to the sport years ago out of state and loved it so much that they decided to open Twisted Axes Throw House in Moore. As the sport has grown in popularity, it has also provided a sense of fellowship extraordinary to everyone who participates.
"You have the folks you throw with here at home," said Gruenberg, "But you also get to know folks from the axe throwing community all across the country and even the world."
"It's a tight-knit community," said Henderson. "Everybody's competitive, but they're also really supportive and encouraging toward each other, and that makes it a real pleasure to compete."
One of the exciting aspects about the growth of axe throwing is that it has exploded over the past two years, despite a worldwide pandemic and lockdowns.
"I had gone axe throwing with my family for the first time in February 2020," said Evans. "We had a great time, and then just like that, everything was shut down. So, we decided to build our targets in the backyard."
Siegfried added, "And we discovered that there were people all over the world who were doing the same thing. So competitions started happening online."
Evans and Siegfried said they wound up throwing against others from as far away as Ireland during the pandemic. And it's not just geographical distance at play here. House notes that axe throwing seems to cut across all demographics.
"We don't dress the same," said House. "Our hair color is not the same. We don't have the same mindset. It runs across the whole gamut when it comes to people who are throwing."
Brock said, "And while it is very competitive, it's a very supportive community. We give each other encouragement and suggestions, whether it's someone who's throwing for the first time or at a tournament."
All of these competitors agree that one of the other great things about axe throwing is that it's a sport the entire family can participate in together. Seasons and leagues are going on year-round, so getting involved is easy and inexpensive.
"If you're brand new, you can just compete with people locally who are throwing at your level," said Gaddy. "And it doesn't matter how old you are, whether you're short or tall, blind or deaf, or in a wheelchair. You can have a great time throwing in a family-friendly atmosphere."
Evans said, "One of the reasons I stuck with it was because my family enjoyed it so much. My son and my daughter would throw with me all the time."
As the popularity of axe throwing grows, it appears that changes will continue to be made to the competitive side of the sport. As competitors have become more proficient at hitting their targets, the WATL has made the bullseyes smaller and more challenging. The competition is currently open with no divisions based on age or gender. That makes for some exciting matchups.
"My 12-year-old son competed against a retired Navy SEAL in one tournament," said Siegfried. "My son ends up beating this 6'3" SEAL, and I can tell you that guy was not happy."
House says she enjoyed competing against men in the big axe division.
"It was an honor to be one of five women who got to compete in Big Axe," said House. "And I've enjoyed competing against the boys. It doesn't matter who they are. I'm going to do my best to beat them."
As the owner of a popular axe throwing venue, Gaddy says he's excited about the growth in popularity and expects that upward trend to continue as more and more people discover the accessibility of the sport.
"It doesn't matter if you're from eight to 100 years old. You can throw," said Gaddy. "And you don't have to worry about things like a golf or tennis club membership to participate, so it's a sport that anyone at any place in life can try out."