Ax-throwing craze hits Western Pennsylvania |
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JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
Brad Lathom, from Harrison City, prepares to throw an ax at Valhalla Indoor Axe Throwing in Hempfield on Thursday, June 22, 2017.

For those with an ax to grind, this is your outlet.

Ax throwing, which originated in Canada, has found its way into the U.S., and to Western Pennsylvania in Hempfield and Millvale.

Valhalla Indoor Axe Throwing — the first of 20 such sites in the U.S. and the first in Western Pennsylvania — opened June 10 along Route 30.

LumberjAxes is set to debut Aug. 1 in Millvale. Owners of each have discussed partnering for future competitions and events. Both are associated with the National Axe Throwing Federation.

Valhalla owners Alicia Metz, 27, and Robert S. Jenkins Jr., 35, of Greensburg transformed the 3,000-square-foot former Pool Pros space into a competition arena.

Axes with red, white and blue wooden handles and shiny steel heads await those who want to work off a little stress. Throwers stand 170 inches from the 4-foot-by-4-foot wooden targets and toss the 11⁄2 pound axes.

Some get the ax to stick in the wood on the first try, while other attempts fell to the ground.

Ax throwing is so primitive, yet new and unique, Metz says.

The pressure of the world goes away when you sink the head of an ax into a wooden target, Jenkins says.

“It is the perfect escape from your everyday battles,” he says.

“It’s like darts, only bigger and more satisfying,” Metz says. “It’s a great stress reliever. We put our heart and soul into this and our families thought we were crazy but once they saw our passion for this, they’ve given us total support. We have invested in a dream here, and we hope it will do well. So far, the reaction has been unbelievable. We suggest booking ahead of time because slots are filling up quickly.”

John Denard of Hempfield, who was introduced to the sport by a group of friends the day before, came back for more the following day. He nailed a few bullseyes, which earn you five points. Hit within the red circle and it’s three points, and one point inside the blue circle. The two solid green dots above the circular target are referred to as “The Clutch.” You must call that shot beforehand and if you hit one of them you earn seven points.

The target boards are made of spruce or pine and changed daily, sometimes more than once a day depending on wear and tear.

Each person throws three axes for 10 rounds. If there is a tie, players go one more round and then sudden death if needed. Costs start at $20 an hour.

“It’s pretty unique,” Denard says. “I really enjoyed it. This could be a really big thing, I think. There definitely is an art to it. Some people are really good at it. The owners give good safety lessons, and they demonstrate what to do and how to do it the right way.”

Learning the proper technique is very important to the owners of both locations, who realize it can be dangerous, which is why a waiver is required before one ax is hurled. Axes are supplied by the venue.

It’s most likely safe if you follow the instructions one of the “axeperts” as Metz and Jenkins call them, such as:

• When you are in an open bay (space for two throwers) don’t be down range (where the target is) when other person is throwing.

• After you have thrown your axes, retrieve those stuck in the wood first before picking up those on the ground as to prevent an ax from falling on your head.

There is no set dress code, but closed toe shoes are required such as sneakers or boots and workout clothes are recommended. You can throw overhand right, overhand left, double overhand or underhand. Participants must be 18 years old.

“We like to say you will have an ‘ax-citing’ experience,” Metz says. “It’s fun for men and women, because it’s a level playing field.”

It’s also on trend.

Located next to Grist House Craft Brewery, LumberjAxes is owned by Corey Deasy, his cousin Matthew Peyton, 28, of Greenfield and Jack Welsh, 34, of Munhall. Deasy, a Greenfield native who now lives in Lincoln Place, says he plans to invite corporate businesses for team-building exercises, such as he did when he co-founded the region’s first escape room business. He and his business partners specialize in bringing innovative entertainment to Pittsburgh.

“It’s important to me as a Pittsburgh native to make sure the people living here and visiting the area have access to the most exciting, cutting-edge entertainment options,” Deasy says. “Ax-throwing amps up a party or a night out. It is fantastic team-building activity for businesses. But be warned — it’s addictive.”

Deasy says ax throwing is really picking up steam.

“It’s a new kind of venture, and edgy entertainment phenomenon,” Deasy says. “Just like when we started with the escape rooms, there weren’t many, but now there are a lot.”

He first tried ax throwing in Philadelphia and decided to start a business in Millvale because there are some cool businesses going up there.

“It has a hip vibe,” Corey says. “We are very excited about this. There is a lot of interest from potential customers. We want to be able to host corporations in the daytime.”

The space is 6,500 square feet and will be visited by the show “Restored by the Fords,” created by a local brother and sister, Leanne and Steve Ford, which is being filmed on HGTV. They plan to come to the ax throwing business on June 28, Deasy says.

Deasy says they will allow guests to bring their own alcohol. Valhalla has chosen to not allow alcoholic drinks on the premises.

Metz and Jenkins are in the process of adding a youth archery area outside by July, as well as an outdoor eating area for parties or cookouts. They are looking to team with a food truck.

The couple also wants to partner with organizations in the community for fundraisers. It’s all about giving back, they say.

The Greensburg couple, who have three children — Mariya, 8, Gabriel, 7, and Maci, 2 — turned to this business after the four vape shops they owned suffered from the 40 percent wholesale tax. They closed three. A fourth, called The Shop, is still open on Route 30 in Hempfield. It’s a hookah, tobacco and vape shop.

There will be a grand opening from noon to 10 p.m. July 1 and the first league begins on July 14. For $150, participants will receive a T-shirt, a three-hour session once a week for eight weeks and a chance to compete for a cash prize.

They chose the name Valhalla to represent a theme of Metz’s family, which has Nordic roots. There is a mural of Odin in the lobby area, created by her brother Micah Thor Metz. He, along with her parents, dad Jeff Odin Metz, and mom Tracey Ioppolo have supported this venture, as have Jenkins’ parents.

“We never could have done this without their support,” Metz says. “They have been wonderful. They have been with us every step of the way. We are so happy to be able to offer ax throwing. It’s a fun way to spend a day.

“I remember the first time I threw. I was stressed out, and it really relieved my stress. (Jenkins) had looked up ax throwing just to do for fun in our back yard. It was going to just be our outlet, our workout, but then we found this space, and it’s become a dream business.”

Amanda Berkheimer of Hempfield says she was skeptical at first. She bought her husband a gift card for Father’s Day after he mentioned it.

“I thought, I am not doing this … but then I tried it … it’s addicting,” she says. “I got it right away, maybe from all those years playing softball helped with my technique. Your arm gets sore by the end of an hour. It’s a workout. I will definitely be back.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-853-5062 or [email protected] or via Twitter @Jharrop_Trib.

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