“You put one foot in front of the other and hold your axe straight, point your axe to the ceiling, lead with your axe, and move forward so all the rotation is coming from your shoulders,” says Amanda Falikowski, operations manager for Bad-Axe Throwing San Francisco.
That’s essentially the art of hurling an axe at a wall-mounted target — and after the fourth or fifth throw, one finds oneself loosening up and one’s anxiety draining out of the tension vortex between one’s shoulder blades.
This SF Weekly numbskull was the first civilian to test out Bad Axe-Throwing’s new facility — which is actually in Daly City, not S.F. proper, and accessible only via the Silver Dragon Kung Fu studio — just before its open house in early July. (Bad Axe-Throwing formally opens to the public on Friday, Aug. 18.) It’s a high-ceilinged room, almost warehouse-like in its proportions, from which you can hear the kids learning martial arts. There are eight throwing lanes and some graffiti that evokes the tough-guy image of a lumberjack felling timber in the frozen north.
And indeed, Bad Axe-Throwing hails from Canada. Falikowski, who arrived the week before from Indianapolis and who will spend only a few weeks in California before moving on to open the next outpost in Oklahoma City, was not informed about Daly City’s summer climate. This resulted in an amusing situation: a Canadian in a line of work that isn’t for the faint of heart complaining (good-naturedly) about the chill.
“No one told me it was cold,” she says. “I thought it would be nice weather, and I’ve been wearing layers.”
While she’s intrigued by Oklahoma for the novelty factor — “When would I ever go to Oklahoma, ever?” — she’s quickly grown acclimated to the Bay Area after a sunrise hike through Muir Woods, and “because I grew up on Full House.”
As for her profession, she essentially fell into it via Kijiji, the Canadian equivalent of Craigslist. Sick of her job, she stumbled around the listings until something stuck out.
“I just saw ‘axe-throwing coach,’ and I thought, ‘That sounds dope, I should do that.’ So I just applied.”
Falikowski became what Bad-Axe Throwing calls a “host” before moving up to management, establishing new locations and hiring four or five hosts to run them, then moving on to the next. She’s a good coach, too, correcting newbies’ poor technique without getting up in their faces.
Since an axe rotates in the air before landing in the target, the trick is to find your sweet spot in terms of distance from the wall. Too close or too far, and it will strike the wood at an inhospitable moment in its rotation and clatter to the floor. Another important element is follow-through. If you don’t throw the axe in one smooth motion, your hands can end up above your head, empty.
“I call that ‘jazz hands,’ “ Falikowski says. “And there’s no jazz hands in axe-throwing.”
We move onto littler axes, which are considerably harder to control. You have to put your dominant foot forward and karate-chop it away — and apparently, a frustrated stubbornness on the part of the thrower is not always a virtue. Then it’s time for double-throwing: a parallel motion with both arms over the head. One’s first bullseye is a lot of fun, no question.
Axe-throwing also happens to be pretty generous with the scoring. The sunken blade only has to touch one of the concentric circles ringing the target for you to get the points; you don’t need to get the axe fully within it. And, as in Skee-Ball, you can get a higher score by hitting one of two blue circles above and to the side of bullseye: 10 points, rather than six.
Therapeutic though it is, axe-throwing is also a sport. There are seasonal leagues, each eight weeks long and costing $15 per week overall. The winter leagues are busiest, Falikowski says.
“Everyone, every week, has to do 40 throws in four sets of 10,” she says. “It’s like a mini-game, so you play against someone different all four times, and we determine the wins and losses,” leading to a round-robin tournament as the finale.
“It’s 30 or 40 people,” she adds, “and at the end, we crown the ‘Axe Master.’ They get this big-ass axe engraved with “Bad Axe Champion.”
You definitely want to be a total Bad Axe.
This being Northern California, serving alcohol in such an environment is a no-go. (Elsewhere, many other locations are B.Y.O.B., Falikowski says.) If your first thought is that drinking and throwing sharp weapons around is a recipe for catastrophe, keep in mind that the axe blades aren’t very sharp.
“You’re not cutting a tomato,” Falikowski says. “You’re not going to cut off a limb. You’d pretty much have to hack it. And we don’t have any double-sided axes.”
Turning serious, she emphasizes that axe-throwing is “safe, safe, safe” — and there’s a first-aid kit on-site besides. (Of course, it might be prudent to weed out any homicidal maniacs from your social circle before joining an axe-throwing league with your buds.)
In the end, this unathletic schlub with little upper-body strength got one dead-on bullseye and a few that counted but still felt like technicalities. Throwing started to feel a little easier toward the end, but then again, I was alone with a helpful professional, not surrounded by teammates teasing one another. Falikowski says the atmosphere of competitive play is a bit tougher.
“You have to throw in front of groups of people you don’t know,” she says. “It’s very stressful. In Indianapolis, I had to do probably about 11 news interviews — even live TV. So I had to get those.”
Bad Axe Throwing, opens Friday, Aug. 18, 30 Hill St., Daly City, 888-435-0001 or badaxethrowing.com