Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn.
The ax felt lighter in my grasp than anticipated.
I held it like a precious artifact, poring over its grooves and getting a feel for its power, then debated: One hand or two? One, definitely. One looked cooler. I turned toward my target. I took a hearty breath. Slowly, I raised the ax over my head, took a step forward with my left foot and swung, releasing the ax at chest level.
It connected with the target, but fell to the ground with less a thud than a pitter-patter. I needed practice.
Despite appearances, this was not me training to become the next Michael Myers. This was me checking out the Sarasota Axe Throwing Club — they use the British/Canadian spelling of the term — at the Cock & Bull pub at 975 Cattlemen Road. The club, which is run by owners Howie and Dawn Hochberg, had a soft opening on St. Patrick’s Day, but now is starting to expand. There were two throwing lanes open when I visited on June 6, but Howie Hochberg said he hopes to have four to six going eventually. The Hochbergs discovered the sport on a 2018 trip to Canada, where it is a popular bar game.
“We thought it would be a nice fit here,” Howie Hochberg said. “There are places you can do it (in Florida), but not a lot of those are at bars. We said, ‘Let’s capitalize on that.’ People have been responding well.”
Already, a crowd of followers was forming. Some people, like Phillip Williams, had thrown multiple times. For him, the newness had worn off, but he kept coming back for the fun, he said. Others, like myself and Lily Sisay, were newbies. Sisay said she did not expect to care for the sport. Her facial expressions watching the first few rounds supported as much. She was never into weapons, she said. But after a while, her friends were able to persuade her to try it, just once.
“I just imagined I was throwing at the faces of my enemies,” Sisay said.
Aggressive, but I like it. So did Sisay, who said she would love to come back and throw again.
After my first throw failed, I tried again and got one to stick in the target’s thick wood, in an outer circle. I threw three more. Out of five total, I got two to land. For a first-timer, I was satisfied. There did not seem to be any trick to it. You can throw one-handed or two-handed (overhand) or try an underhand toss, which seemed to be a more advanced maneuver. I asked Hochberg if he has picked up any tricks from his experience. Turns out there are no real tricks. You throw hard and you wait and see. The more you do it, the more you learn the ax’s rhythms.
Are you wondering about safety? That would be logical, considering the sport involves throwing sharp weapons and people who have (likely) been consuming alcohol. The club follows the rules and regulations of the World Axe Throwing League but is not technically affiliated with the sport’s governing body. Participants have to sign a waiver. There is no age limit, Hochberg said, but minors should have an adult with them.
Hochberg said he envisions starting a league, to be held Tuesday and Thursday nights, once enough people sign up for the club’s email list. It would be similar to a bowling league, he said, with people getting eliminated over time before a champion is crowned. Interested parties can email [email protected] or call 218-0086 for more information.
I don’t know if I’m champion-level yet, but I will certainly be back to sharpen my skills with the blade.