Darts not cutting it for you anymore? Upgrade to an axe. That’s right, people are actually throwing axes–at wooden targets, of course–for exercise, team-building, and competition, and it’s an absolute blast. Get a big group of friends together, pack up some beers, and head to one of the Backyard Axe Throwing League‘s battlegrounds to watch the show — or even try it out for yourself. Remember bowling alley birthday parties? It’s like that, but with a serious lumberjack vibe connecting you to Canada’s frontier past. Guys, feel free to let your beards grow out for a few days before you go, to look the part.
The smell of sawdust and the thwack of blades hitting their marks draws an eclectic crowd to BATL. When you roll in, you encounter everyone from corporate parties to bachelorettes. The throwing range is warehouse-simple, with plywood targets cordoned off by wire partitions. Non-throwers lean against rough tables safely out of range, bantering over beer cans. And then there are the throwers, who square themselves up to the targets, raise their axes over their heads with one or both hands, and let fly, sometimes with a rousing war cry. The place echoes with shouts as spectators react to a loud, satisfying bullseye or hilarious miss. Something about the vibe, or maybe just seeing people fling axes around, makes you and your pals want to stride around and slap each other on the backs with a mighty guffaw, like action heroes.
Who comes up with this kind of thing? BATL’s origin story is simple. On a cold day at the cottage, founder Matt Wilson and his friends took turns throwing an axe at a tree, as people do. They brought the game downtown and kept axe throwing in Wilson’s backyard, slowly refining their game into a competitive sport. It wasn’t a big hit with the neighbours at first, and understandably so, since it sounds like a manslaughter case waiting to happen. But Wilson focuses on safety first and foremost, and there have been zero injuries to date. For this reason, and the fact that people seem to love throwing axes, the league keeps getting bigger and bigger. BATL has three locations in Toronto and an impressive wait list at all of them, so make sure to plan your axe event well in advance.
If you have 12 people or more, you can sign up for an event where the staff members run through safety precautions and teach you the best throwing techniques. The rest is whatever you want. You can even have food delivered to the rough-hewn space to make a proper party of it.
BATL is one of Toronto’s best hidden gem experiences. Even if you’re not sold on hurling a hatchet, check out the schedule for the league’s ongoing tournament. It’s free to stop by and watch the city’s best axe throwers show off their Medieval skills. After a few spectator rounds, though, you’ll be itching to get your hands on an axe and send it flying.