Rolling heavy balls down a lane or knocking little colored ones into table holes is so passé. These days, hanging with your buddies, doing date night or just enjoying solo time requires a bit of edge, some focused skill, and maybe even a little danger.
Nestled in the heart of North Hollywood, LA AX is a more than 12,000-square-foot space providing 30 lanes in which to perfect tossing the woodcutter’s weapon of choice. After a grand opening earlier this year, LA AX has staked its claim to become part of a new wave of competitive gaming in Los Angeles, hoping to turn the curious into casual throwers and casual throwers into “axperts.”
The brainchild of Josh Chalom and Jimmy Rose, the facility is overseen by Carly (who just goes by the one name), LA AX’s operations manager, coach and customer relations expert. She has the proud distinction of throwing a perfect game with a score of 81. For Carly and the founders of LA AX, opening a facility in Los Angeles — which can accommodate up to 325 people — was an obvious move for the sport. They hope to become a top choice for birthday parties, office shindigs and even romantic outings, especially once they start offering more food and drink options. Currently, they sell packaged snacks and sodas, but throwers are welcome to bring their own goodies.
In case you're wondering, “ax” is the spelling more common in American English, while “axe” is the British way to spell it. The National Axe Throwing Federation, NATF (the governing body for LA AX), uses “axe,” so LA AX does, too. The actual name, though, was an artistic decision because it sounds like a pun on LAX.
“It was a no-brainer. Los Angeles is a huge city with millions of people and most have never heard of ax throwing,” Carly says. “You go to Toronto and everyone has heard of it. It’s like baseball. We all talk about it so openly and everyone knows what it is. And then you come here and you talk about ax-throwing, and people are like, ‘What’s that?’”
Ax enthusiasts like Carly have helped the game grow from its humble origins as a backyard sport in Canada into a full-fledged international pastime. “When we say it started in a backyard, that backyard was the Backyard Axe Throwing League, the first urban indoor-outdoor ax-throwing facility ever,” she explains. “That is where the sport started. The founder, Matt Wilson, owns the Backyard Axe Throwing League and he also started the NATF. [It] oversees multiple ax-throwing venues across many, many different cities, which make us all able to compete against each other in a seamless way.
“We might not know each other, but we know the game,” Carly continues. “So we can smack axes and play. And that makes the competition that much better because we can go to places like Thailand and play the same game I played in Toronto or here in L.A. It doesn’t matter where you are, you can throw down and it will be a lot of fun.”
Before you can get your ax on, there are a few ground rules. After all, this is a sport, not a potential horror movie, so there are guidelines in place to stop throwers from going full Jack Torrance in The Shining. LA AX strictly follows the rules set by the National Axe Throwing Federation. Guests over the age of 21 are welcomed to the facility with a short tutorial on proper ax handling and technique. Closed-toe shoes are a must, not a suggestion. And most important: Listen to your coach and respect your teammates and the sport.
“Our very lovely yet stern staff, they monitor like hawks,” Carly warns. “Safety is the utmost priority here. Having fun is a close second. If anyone is acting even slightly unsafe, they will be called out on it and made to sit out. Our staff went through some intense training when we first opened, so they are ready.”
As for the game itself, the scoring is simple once you get the hang of throwing. Every game is three rounds, with five axes per round, so a grand total of 15 axes are thrown in one game. The first four axes are thrown in a single round, and on the fifth and final axe, the point leader of that round will throw first. The bull's-eye is worth 5 points, the red paint rings are worth 2, and the blue rings are worth 1 point. If you land an ax outside the paint, you get no points. Points are awarded on a majority-rules system and only the part of the ax that is embedded in the wood is measured for points. The green dots on either side of the board are called clutch, and they are worth 7 points.“It’s like a Hail Mary shot you can do at the fifth and final round,” Carly explains. “You can do it a total of three times in a game.”
So far, the response to competitive ax throwing in Los Angeles has been very positive. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t drawn to the primal aspects of ax throwing — after all I was raised on Lord of the Rings,” says Alexa Oliphant, a recent convert to the sport. “But once I actually got trained up by the staff at LA AX, I was blown away by how much fun it was to learn technique, posture and actually getting better at hurling metal hatchets at targets.”
“People love the idea of putting down your phone and picking up an ax,” Carly says. “It’s something new. You have those who love it for the simplicity. It’s almost primal.”
LA AX hopes to bring a little something extra to the city's nightlife and grow the sport in the process. “Ax throwing itself is such an inclusive group of people with such a positive outlook,” Carly concludes. “You win and lose by yourself, but the person you are playing against in one round might cheer you on in the next. The camaraderie in this sport is something I would like to see all around the world. … It’s a great thing to bring to L.A.”
LA AX, 7308 Coldwater Canyon Ave., North Hollywood; la-ax.com.