They talk about the sound.
"The stick is unreal," says Bryan Rossmanith, founder and owner of Jack's Axe Throwing in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Thunk. "Satisfaction. It's extremely satisfying," Benjamin Edgington says.
As a coach, he was throwing axes maybe 30 hours a week, because it was his job, of course. But also because of the physical pleasure – the slight lean back, the arm bent with elbow at ear, the step forward in conjunction with the hatchet release – along with the challenge of consistent bullseyes. And, yes, the sound.
Blade to wood. Thunk.
"It's actually pretty Zen," Edgington said, who manages Bad Axe Throwing in Denver. "A lot of people come in because they get all their stress out. It can totally be used for that."
Axe throwing is booming across America for similar reasons that made bowling and darts popular. Bursting from the medieval imagination to the urban scene, the new pastime comes with an added thrill.
"It seems like something that might be dangerous, and it definitely is exciting," says Evan Walters, commissioner of the infant World Axe Throwing League.
He discovered axe throwing at Bad Axe in Indianapolis. Jason Mamoa, the macho movie star swooning the internet with tomahawk tosses, came to mind.
"I'm like, 'Man, I wish I could do that,' " Walters recalls. "The great part about it is, everybody can. As long as you have one working arm, you can throw an axe."
How to describe it? "Like darts, but on steroids," Bad Axe founder Mario Zelaya told the Chicago Tribune in 2016, the summer that the Canadian chain opened in the city, beginning its fast American spread.
With other bases in Atlanta, Brooklyn, Dallas, Minneapolis and Philadelphia, the Springs will be Bad Axe's smallest market. Edgington will manage the spot and says the town's military presence was a big draw. "That just feels like a solid fit, as well as how outdoorsy it is," he says.
If Bad Axe Denver is any indication, Coloradans have an appetite for throwing on par with their hankering for craft brew (alcohol to come later to the Colorado Springs' Bad Axe). Five months after opening in the Mile High City last July, the business had to move to a bigger location.
Edgington foresees competition taking root in the Springs, as it has at Bad Axe's other hubs, inspiring the formation of the World Axe Throwing League. Starting in 2017 with six affiliated companies, the league now counts 62 across 13 countries.
And on Dec. 15 in Chicago, the WATL is set for a breakout moment with a first international tournament. The details are being worked out, "but I'm fairly confident a fairly large sports network will be involved," Walters says.
It's all in an effort to prevent axe throwing from being a flash in the pan. "We want it to be a long, thriving activity," the commissioner says.
That's what Rossmanith intended for his hometown over the summer, when he started hosting throwers in a space shared with Ironside Medieval Combat. The 23-year-old welcomes Bad Axe, though there's some animosity on the part of the incoming competitor.
After allegedly breaking his employee contract by incorporating Jack's Axe Throwing while at Bad Axe Denver, the company sent Rossmanith a cease and desist letter. But he has no intention of closing shop, saying, "I feel like I'm definitely within my rights."
Living in the big city and working a 9-to-5 with his finance degree from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Rossmanith was introduced to a new passion. "I couldn't resist sharing it," he says.
It was the challenge, the thunk and also the camaraderie – strangers at first confused by what they were doing but soon laughing and giving each other high-fives. "I loved the environment, loved the community aspect of it," he says, "how it was just bringing people together."