After attending league night at the Backyard Axe Throwing League, I’m not sure why anyone would settle for darts and billiards as the preferred release after the daily grind. Three rounds of five hatchet throws at the bulls-eye definitely gets the blood boiling in these winter months.
And while it’s the type of activity that you would expect to mandate a lumberjack build and mutton chops, the crowd assembled at the 213 Sterling Road location for tonight’s contest hails from all walks of Torontonian life.
“It’s all types, all walks, and it’s cathartic for everyone” boasts Matt Wilson, the president of BATL Alternative Sports Inc. “There’s a common ground. You’re hear to have a good time, you’re here to treat each other with respect, and you’re here to throw axes.”
BATL saw its genesis right where any seasoned Canadian would expect: up north at a friend’s cottage, on a particularly rainy weekend. Wilson and one friend migrated the activity to their College and Manning backyard. “At first it was just the two of us,” he recalls “with a scrap plywood, garbage target, and a five dollar fibreglass hatchet from the corner store, and a bottle of Wiser’s.”
In March 2007, Wilson had set up his first organized league out of his backyard, comprised of eight competitors and one target. By Summer 2010, the backyard saw the addition of two more targets, and was now hosting around thirty competitors twice a week. “We were having regular visits from the cops at that point. Noise complaints.” BATL had outgrown the backyard.
Wilson moved the two leagues to the Sterling location in February 2011, thinking that he would be able to run one or two more weekly leagues at most while working his bar job. Now, between Sterling and a second East end location at 33 Villiers, there are 368 league members chucking hatchets weekly, with a waitlist of around 400. The newly opened Pickering location saw 100 entrants upon its opening. As a private membership club, all events are BYOB (with the exception of glass bottles).
Beyond League competition, BATL offers event booking, and Wilson notes that they book fast. “One week over the holidays we had sixty-four events for Christmas parties.” For those tired of sitting across from their boss at Mandarin once a year, this is a welcome alternative.
With their third Toronto location opening this month at 153 Bridgeland Avenue this month, Wilson knows the allure of BATL can reach beyond Southern Ontario. This past July, Wilson started BATL Global Corp. “We’re going to Calgary to scout three locations there, and our plan is to have a twenty-one city rollout in three years.”
Wilson is confident that the same sense of community and camaraderie that has thrived in Toronto will translate to locations across the globe. “The one rule we have at all our locations is ‘Be good to each other, or get the fuck out’.”
And at the league night, this mantra shines through. If people are bringing any negativity or frustration to BATL, its only getting directed at the bulls-eye.
Evan Ottoni is an associate producer at a video production company based out of Toronto, and moonlights as freelance writer.
Photo courtesy of Vimeo.