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Ax throwing launching a recreation wave

LEHI — Canadians have given Americans a few different ways to enjoy themselves over the years, including basketball (invented by Canadian Dr. James Naismith), lacrosse, the snowmobile, ice hockey and now — ax throwing.

While some people in the U.S. may never have thought of throwing an ax, it's been a popular pastime in backyards across the Great White North for years, explained cousins Clay and Rich Derricott, co-owners of True North Axe Throwing in Lehi. The first ranges were started by guys who played for recreation in their yards, Clay said, and the concept has grown dramatically in the last few years.

"Don't get me wrong, it's not like everyone in Canada is a lumberjack," he said. "However, every (mid-size) city in Canada (with at least 200,000 people) typically has an ax throwing range."

The Derricotts hail from Lethbridge, Alberta, in western Canada, but have been in the United States for several years. The "explosion in popularity" up north gave them the belief that it could catch on in America. And to some degree, they've been right, with over two dozen ax ranges opening up across the country in cities like Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, among many others.

So with that in mind, the pair launched their first facility in Utah County. The large warehouse-type space is located in a commercial-industrial property in Lehi. The open area in the back of the space includes 14 lanes for ax throwing. Each lane can accommodate up to three people and is lined with chain mesh curtains to provide separation and safety — think gun range but with axes instead of firearms.

The cost is $20 an hour per person, which includes coaching and equipment, Rich Derricott added. There are also group rates and currently there is a 20 percent special for the holidays, he said. Participants must make appointments in advance.

"There are actual leagues with stats that you can track and match yourself against people nationwide," Rich Derricott said. Though relatively new in the U.S., ax throwing has begun to catch on, he noted, and the sport has standard rules of play and there is even a National Axe Throwing Federation.

The standard ax is 13 inches long and weighs about a pound-and-a-half, he said. "We're keen to get people (up to speed) fast. After 10 or 12 axes, we want people to be able to 'stick' them."

The standard target has a 27-inch blue ring worth 1 point, 17-inch red ring worth 3 points and a 7-inch bullseye worth 5 points. Additionally, there are two 2.625-inch green "clutches" worth 7 points.

Companies participate in ax throwing as a team-building activity and some couples are even using it for dates night, the cousins said. At True North, participants must be 14 years old and everyone receives individual coaching to get started to explain the proper technique and operational safety.

"It's 99-percent technique, getting the ax to spin at the right rate and the proper rotation," Clay explained. Typically, the ax only rotates once before hitting the target, Rich Derricott said.

"Once people take a couple of throws and figure out what the activity is all about, they usually settle into their comfort zone," Clay Derricott said. Somewhat surprisingly, the majority of their patrons so far have been women, Rich Derricott said.

"There's no real strength advantage," he explained. "You can throw an ax fast and hard, but when you do that you almost always sacrifice accuracy."

Rich Derricott said ax throwing can be intimidating at first, but people become comfortable pretty quickly once they understand the technique — making it more accessible to a lot of people.

"There may be other activities that not everyone in your office (or friends) wants to try," he said. "This is more on the bowling scale compared to firearms or (other team-building activities). Because there isn't necessarily a strength (or gender) advantage, the whole office can participate in something like this."