Ever felt like tossing something across the room in a moment of stress? Megan Wood finds out whether throwing an axe will provide the catharsis she needs.
Axe throwing doesn't make lots of lofty wellbeing promises. It doesn't have to. No one needs to be persuaded to try axe throwing - well, at least I didn't. I was intent on trying it before I got to the "ing" in throwing. Why did it hold such appeal for me? With two kids my life is in a constant state of mayhem. The idea of physically releasing some tension in such a primal way spoke to my inner cave woman.
Axes are about as old as mankind. Primitive axes made from sharpened stones wedged between forked sticks date back around 2.5 million years. From these humble beginnings mankind's love of axes evolved. Vikings indulged in a hefty amount of axe throwing while the Middle Ages saw the popularity of the Francisca axe peak with Germanic tribes hurling them at each other with murderous intent.
Modern weaponry meant the axe lost its dominance as a maiming tool, but it was still mighty handy out in the bush. In fact, it's rumoured North American frontiersman took part in axe-throwing competitions to blow off a bit of steam.
Modern urban axe throwing can be tracked to a backyard in Toronto in 2006 where a group of friends started doing it for fun once a week after "discovering" the sport while bored at a cabin in the woods. Since then commercial and competitive axe-throwing locations have been popping up across Canada, North America, the UK, Australia and now, New Zealand.
Sarah Hilyard of Sweet Axe Throwing Co. compares the rush of axe throwing to a drug or alcohol high: "You see the same affects: dilated pupils, people start talking more loudly.
"The room physically heats up and by the end of a session people are hugging total strangers. The only effect you don't get is the clumsiness," says Sarah. Which is just as well, because… axes.
High-intensity exercise is known to result in a rush of endorphins. But according to my fitness tracker, I only walked 1000 steps during an hour of axe throwing and only broke a light sweat. If it wasn't the physical exertion of throwing the axe, what was giving me such a buzz?
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I found an answer in the work of American sociologist Margee Kerr, who studies fear. She explains why a rush of fear can make us feel so good: "To really enjoy a scary situation, we have to know we're in a safe environment, it's all about triggering the amazing fight-or-flight response to experience the flood of adrenaline, endorphins, and dopamine, but in a completely safe space."
The scent of freshly cut wood greeted me as I walked into Sweet Axe Throwing Co. in downtown Auckland. The venue was just a few days out from its official opening and co-owners Sarah and Lloyd were putting the finishing touches on the rustic woodshed-style room. Three wire cages with two wooden targets and bullseyes at the end dominated the space. I was ushered over to a beer barrel, atop which sat three very shiny axes. Sarah took me through the recommended techniques for accurate axe throwing, which was not what I had expected and pleasingly seemed to allow little room for error. With my axe held tightly and primed between my shoulder blades I was ready to unleash. With a belly full of nerves, I threw my first axe. It sailed wide of the mark. A few more practice throws and I actually hit a bullseye - all decorum went out the window as I did a completely over-the-top mad-with-glory happy dance to celebrate. I could feel my heart hammering in my chest and a rough check of my heart rate had it thumping around 110bpm.
Holding an axe and throwing it as hard as you can feels so wrong, but oh so right. I felt like I was breaking every rule in the book. Add to that the incredible rush of actually hitting the bullseye (which I did three times, just saying) and I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. I floated on a cloud of euphoria for at least an hour afterwards, before starting to feel sleepy. My adrenaline levels dropped and I felt like it was time for a little nap... or I could just go back and throw some more axes? Yes. Good plan.