A typical business meeting does not involve sharp objects thrown through the air, at least if everyone is civil.
But as the axes thumped or stuck to the cottonwood lumber target Tuesday afternoon, Meadowlark Hills staff members alternately taunted and encouraged each other as part of a team-bonding exercise.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Jayme Minton, Meadowlark support services director. “We’re kind of trash-talking a bit, but we’re also encouraging each other.”
The group was one of several that tried the Viking-style sport at Axe to Grind, a recreational axe-throwing facility that opened last month in east Manhattan. Jonathan Frazzell, general operations manager at the facility, said the sport has found an unfulfilled niche in the community.
“We want to be a place where people can come and relax and maybe get a little bit of steam out at the end of the day,” Frazzell said. “We want to provide a different kind of night compared to just going to Aggieville, and we want to give the public a new option in town.”
The Manhattan facility will be the base of operations for the company, which Nate Meile, a local businessman, and Craig Cech of Colorado plan on growing. Two more will open in Colorado this month, and four locations are planned in Texas later this year.
Axe-throwing has seen a surge in popularity in the past eight years since it made its way down from Canada, Frazzell said. He said there are 300-400 axe-throwing locations in the United States, including locations in Kansas City, Lawrence and Wichita.
Another company, Manhatchet, announced that it is opening its own axe-throwing location on Poyntz Avenue in August.
Axe to Grind is part of the World Axe Throwing League — which itself was founded just three years ago — and follows all of the league’s safety standards, Frazzell said. Participants undergo a 15-minute training and safety session, and throwing lanes are closed in by chain-link fencing.
Frazzell said people might have the wrong perception of the sport because of social media posts that happen to show unsafe situations.
“I know everyone always talks about the video where there was the girl who threw and it ended up bouncing back over her head,” he said. “The problem with that is that her delivery was low, and she hits the floor first. So it bounces, hits the wall, and somehow hits back. It really was a one-in-a-million shot, but of course, in this cell phone era, it got caught on video and went viral.”
In that video, the floor was covered in a rubber mat, which helped contribute to the bounce back, he said. At Axe to Grind, the concrete floor is covered in just a layer of friction padding, which helps prevent unsafe rebounding.
“Not a lot of stuff bounces off of concrete,” he said. “We do require closed-toe shoes, so if something does kick back, that makes sure there’s no issue. The line is far back enough that even if the axe somehow does skid all the way back, you have time to react to it.”
The facility is working to host a short, four-week league of about 20 people ahead of bigger plans to participate in the World Axe Throwing League’s national competitions, Frazzell said.
However, the business caters to both competitive clients and people who just want to try something new, he said. Through the summer so far, the company has hosted several business meetings and groups, but when the school year ramps up, he imagines the business will see a lot of K-State and Fort Riley traffic, he said. The location serves alcohol, but no food, although customers are welcome to bring their own, Frazzell said.
“I had an older lady come through and try it,” Frazzell said. “It was a challenge for her, but she managed to get it stuck. As long as you have the ability to get the axe hefted up, we encourage people to try it.”
As the Meadowlark group wrapped up its session, participants heard more thumps than clean strikes against the target, but they enjoyed their session anyway, they said.
“This is like bowling in that it’s another semi-athletic thing that anyone can do, but you can also get good at,” Minton said. “Like surprisingly good. You’d think some people with other athletic abilities might be really good at this, but that’s not necessarily true, and it just depends on the person. You can have drinks, and have conversations. This is something you can’t really do anywhere else.”