If you were picking locations to set up a Backyard Axe Throwing League, Squamish would be an obvious choice and not just for the reasons you might expect. I mean, sure, there’s a long history of logging and forestry related industry in this beautiful town. We’ve also got the Squamish Days Loggers Sports Festival, showcasing several axe-related feats. Heck, we’ve even got a 10m high statue of a dude wielding an axe, welcoming you into Squamish! Sam the Logger is a goliath, from his wool-knit toque down to his steel-toed boots, and the tool of his trade is front row centre. So yes, throwing axes is not a stretch for a town where that used to be a primary source of income and where that aspect of our history is celebrated annually. But not all fresh-faced folk walking thru Squamish have that majestic tapestry wrapped ‘round their family tree.
Squamish has morphed, over the years, and the demographic for this one-time, one-tune town has evolved as well. Nowadays, you’re more likely to see climbers and bikers than fallers and buckers. Squamish is the outdoor recreation capital of Canada and whether we gave ourselves that title or earned it in a hard-fought, countrywide battle-royale matters not one whit. You can’t argue with the canvas we’ve been given! As to what you want to paint with it, the only limit to your activity is imagination. And so we have a populace that loves doing stuff, but we’re in a region where it rains from time to time. To time… to time… et cetera… ad nauseam…
So it’s raining, now what? What can I do that satisfies my desire for fun, adventure, includes some friendly competition, and identifies as an activity undaunted by Mother Nature’s more precipitous urges?
Enter the Backyard Axe Throwing League, or BATL for short. BATL was founded in CEO Matt Wilson’s backyard, back in 2006. And what started as a personal passion became a word of mouth movement throughout Toronto which then grew into a company with 13 locations across North America boasting over a million participants. And we’ve got one right here in Squamish!
Just off the highway, turn onto Industrial way and (temporarily) forsake Tim Hortons to your left. Instead take your first right, which is Discovery Way, and you’ll soon discover BATL’s base of operations. It was here that I spoke with general manager Shea Emry to get a little more information about this amazing pastime.
BATL Squamish opened this past September, and has been going gangbusters ever since. They cater to group bookings of all sizes but also have drop-in times. And as the BATL acronym implies, there’s an actual league you can register for as well to fully feed your frenzy.
In addition to on-site axe throwing, BATL has a mobile arm of the company called Axewood. The Axewood crew can set up shop anywhere fun is being had, I’ve seen them at music and beer festivals, even atop the Sea to Sky Gondola! The community engagement of BATL and Axewood adventure crew is impressive and their mission statement is simple: we want to grow the sport of axe-throwing and show people how much it can be. So let’s get back to base and get to it, shall we?
When I arrived, the BATL team were taking the aforementioned group of newcomers thru what was going to happen next. Shea and his team stressed safety above all, highlighting the protections in place and the lines you can’t cross. After that came the specifics of axe-throwing and how best to toss that cute little axe towards the bullseye in front of you. I say ‘cute’ rather tongue-in-cheekily but the truth is, the throwing axes are not heavy and one does NOT have to be a burly mountain man or woman to wield them. Although… if you’re in competition with the person throwing next to you and a tie needs to be broken, they bring out the big boy and this is an axe more akin to toppling trees! Although the mechanics of throwing the big axe remain the same.
Once the safety talk and the basics of the sport were addressed, the group was broken down into smaller groups and escorted to individual throwing lanes, each two with a BATL facilitator to give pointers, encouragement and scorekeep. Oh yes, we’re keeping score here! It was amazing to watch as a newcomer absorbed the information, and threw their first axe. There was some beginners luck for the odd participant, but generally the first toss wasn’t that great. Aaaah, but once you get that first one out of the way you know what to expect, and can calibrate accordingly. Whether that means listening to BATL staff correct a potential error in your technique or discovering for yourself what needs to be done.
It’s the second toss where the transformation takes place. I could see in the eyes of some participants that they were a little reluctant prior to throwing. I’m just here with my partner, my friends, my company, whatever, and I’ll throw some bloody axes but I really don’t think it’s my thing. When this silent minority threw their first axe I spied a glimmer of what was to come after throw number two: excitement. So you’ve got the axe back in hand, your eyes are on the target that eluded you the first time around, your motion this time is a little more fluid, you release a tad earlier and-
The axe finds wood! Watching someone go from, “I’m just passing the time” to “This is *expletive* awesome!” is a moment I imagine never gets old. Then comes the competition, whether with your lane-mates or just yourself. Hitting the target at large is no longer enough, now it’s time to focus in and-
Bullseye. I’m not being hyperbolic in using three exclamation marks for my sound effects. The sound created as the blade buries into the wood is loud and it is satisfying. I watched as the rest of the group chased after that sweet, sweet sound and the smiles on everyone’s faces proved the hypothesis. Listen, if you haven’t tried BATL Squamish or their Axewood mobile units, I can’t recommend them enough. It’s an activity anyone can enjoy at any time of year, and it’s right here in the Sea to Sky.
Story by: Malcolm Yates
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