When someone mentions throwing axes, what comes to mind? A Game of Thrones episode? Something lumberjacks do for fun? The latest exercise craze?
Believe it or not, axe throwing is now a sport growing in popularity, with axe throwing venues popping up around the country. And our downtown neighborhood is gaining a new resident offering axe throwing…and beer.
If you seem surprised that beer and axe throwing can safely go together, you’re not alone. That’s the reaction from most people when they learn about axe throwing venues. But as the owner of the new Axe Club of America site, located next to Earl’s, shares with us – it’s really quite safe (close-toed shoes and throwing coaches are mandatory). And loads of fun.
We interviewed Scott Gadd, a Belmont, North Carolina native, to learn more how he and his wife got involved in axe throwing…and how Winston-Salem became the site of their third venue.
WCM: Why axe throwing? What made you open your first site?
SG: Believe it or not, I was an actuary in a previous life. My wife worked in insurance, and we both came from conservative corporate jobs. But I had grown up on a farm and loved being outside, doing things with my hands. While I enjoyed my work, it wasn’t super fulfilling.
I had been introduced to axe throwing in the Boy Scouts and read about it becoming a thing people were doing for entertainment. Canada was ahead of the U.S. on the trend. I suggested to my wife that we go check it out (she initially said ‘no way!), and we eventually went to Toronto to experience it. We had a great time and felt we could start our own axe throwing business back in Charlotte.
At the time we opened our first site in 2017, we were only the 25th axe throwing venue in the U.S. Now there are over 300.
WCM: And so what did you learn from checking out other axe throwing businesses first?
SG: For starters, we saw women in sundresses throwing axes. That was unexpected. And the women were good at it – probably better than the men because they ask questions and actually listen to the instructors! It’s a very equalizing sport, as axe throwing is more technical than athletic. We also learned that the safest way to run this business is by having coaches with each throwing lane….so that’s what we do.
WCM: Tell us more about the coaches – what do they actually do?
SG: Everyone who participates has a coach with them the entire time. The coach not only offers instruction, safety advice and encouragement, but they also monitor how much participants are drinking. All of our coaches are NC Responsible Alcohol Seller certified – and they will step in if a participant is too intoxicated to be throwing axes. Not all axe throwing venues offer coaches, but we think it’s imperative for safety…and success. If participants get good instruction and are successful, they will likely want to come again.
WCM: What do folks say after experiencing axe throwing for the first time?
SG: Many say that it wasn’t as dangerous as they thought it would be. Some think it’s harder than they expected – especially if they have done any other sports in the past. We’ve had a lot of people get hooked on it, resulting in about 100 league members, most of who come once or twice a week to throw.
WCM: Can anyone become good at this?
SG: Definitely. It starts by listening to our coaches and learning good form. The timing of the release is also important. I honestly think you can get good at axe throwing quicker than darts. We teach the NATF style of throwing. Once someone understands the technique, it just takes some practice.
WCM: We understand that people throw axes as a group activity. Why is axe throwing a good activity for groups?
SG: I think it’s something different for corporations or other groups looking to do an experience together. The competitive aspect makes it fun and engaging. While it isn’t necessarily a “team building” activity, the experience does allow a group to have a really good time together…and that can build up a team. Corporations tend to come back over and over.
WCM: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve experienced since starting this business?
SG: It was way harder work than I expected. Finding insurance, finding a landlord that didn’t laugh at us, the hesitation people have about the danger of axe throwing…all of these were challenges we had to overcome.
WCM: Right – beer drinking and axe throwing…we can see why people might think it’s dangerous!
SG: Yet people play darts with no safety controls – and darts can hurt! I wish people would recognize that while it could be dangerous, we have a ton of safety measures to mitigate this. We are OSHA vendor certified, and we have a huge training manual for our staff. Plus the coaches are monitoring everything that happens in the axe lane to ensure safety. With 40,000 participants, we’ve never had a single accident.
WCM: So why open up a facility here in Winston-Salem? And why the Industry Hill area?
SG: We’ve got two locations in the Charlotte area, but our goal is to have a regional presence in the southeast. We’re not interested in franchising our concept, but we definitely want to grow. It was logical to make our first location outside of Charlotte close by. We came and saw everything that was happening in this area of Winston and felt like it would be the right place for us.
We’re excited to partner with other entertainment venues in the area, like Earl’s next door, The Ramkat and the Winston Cup Museum. Participants will be able to order food from Earl’s and bring it over to our venue, and we are planning on connecting with local microbreweries and carrying their beers on tap.
WCM: So how long until you open?
SG: We’re aiming for a soft opening around the end of May, with our grand opening in late June or early July. But we’ll be out and about with our mobile axe throwing lanes before then. Please come check us out at Wiseman Brewing on April 27!