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Arcata's newest attraction is competitive, cheaper than therapy and right down the street. All you need to enjoy an unconventional twist on family fun is a pair of closed-toed shoes and to embrace your inner lumberjack at the Hatchet House Throwing Club off of Sixth Street in Arcata.

Lauren Fischer and her husband, Michael, were traveling for a reunion in San Diego around Christmas when they discovered an ax-throwing range. Fischer said the experience was perfectly suited to her and her competitive family of former athletes. The couple couldn't shake the experience from their heads and decided it was the perfect business to bring to woodsy Humboldt County. "We just kept thinking about it for a few months and then it all depended on if we could find the location and get the city to agree," she said. In what used to be the Bob Johnson Paint building and then Northcoast Horticulture Supply, the Fischers hit a bullseye for their endeavor.

click to enlarge The axes fly at Hatchet House. - CONNOR RAY PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Connor Ray Photography
  • The axes fly at Hatchet House.

Similar to bowling, the club offers nine throwing lanes where you can throw by yourself or in a group of four to six people. Throwing times vary from a half hour to an hour, but don't overestimate the sweat you can work up hurling an ax. The lanes are $15 per hour per person, $10 for 30 minutes and $50 per hour for groups of four to six people. Don't worry: You don't have to commit to a longer time slot right away and can pay halfway through your hour if you're tapped out. Each lane has a bullseye with concentric numbered circles, like a dart board. There are also two circles to the top right and left of each bullseye known dramatically as "killshots." The rings are numbered from one to four to serve as a point system for games. A bullseye is worth six points and killshots are worth eight.

After you sign a disclaimer, one of the coaches will hand you a wood-handled ax. Once you're set up at a lane, the friendly and encouraging coach will walk you through how to successfully and safely sink an ax blade into your wooden target.

click to enlarge Lauren Fischer shows newbies the basics of ax-throwing. - CONNOR RAY PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Connor Ray Photography
  • Lauren Fischer shows newbies the basics of ax-throwing.

"So ax throwing is all about where you stand," Fischer said. She explained that you'd never walk in front of someone who is throwing an axe and you also don't want to stand behind someone as they wind up for their throw. It's important to keep an eye on the ax after it hits the target because it can bounce off the wood and back toward you. Fischer stepped into her sweet spot, the distance from which she knows she can give her ax room to make one full rotation in order to stick solidly in the wood. Once you find the right distance, you can work on your aim.

When throwing you have two standard options: the one-handed throw or the two-handed throw. What matters most is what feels best for you. The wooden-handled axes are league certified, weighing 2.3 pounds. Depending on your strength and size, you can choke up or down on the handle of the ax. As simple as throwing a ball with less motion, throwing an axe relies a lot on the motion of your arm, your grip and when you let go. Take all your stress, anger or frustration and feed them into your throwing arm. With your eyes on the bullseye, bring the ax back just past your head and release. There's something very rewarding about feeling the weight of the ax leave your fingers before watching it take a full spin and sink itself in the wood. After a couple of warm-up throws and some suggested changes in your distance or footing from your coach, you'll feel like you were born to throw axes. Don't be afraid to try it two handed.

Evan Allen, a local member of the Yurok Tribe, said throwing his first hatchet was invigorating. "I didn't know throwing axes was a thing or a business you could provide," he said. "I felt powerful but it was also a little intimidating because sometimes they flew back at you. I never felt like my life was in danger but I was definitely a little scared for my toes," he said with a smile.

click to enlarge CONNOR RAY PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Connor Ray Photography

The venue is for all ages, with sitting spaces at a safe distance and even toys for toddlers. It doesn't matter if you're short, tall or athletic. The coaches at the Hatchet House Throwing Club, all thoroughly trained on safety practices and throwing technique, are confident they can get you throwing an ax.

Coach Isaac Mandler said, "We take a lot of pride in making sure people can not only hit the target with the ax but hopefully land a couple bullseyes in the process." He added that each coach has a special trick shot they love to teach customers. One trick shot favorite is a backward golf throw. Facing away from the bullseye and with an altered grip, you toss the ax casually behind you and, hopefully, sink it.

Coach Lauren Ayala said she'd never thrown axes before this job. "I had played lots of sports and saw this job posting ... and thought I would be good at it," she said. Now you can catch her on the club's Instagram practicing trick throws in between helping customers.

The club offers ax-throwing twists on classic games like the basketball game HORSE where you have to match shots with your partner. For the more serious, the Hatchet House Throwing Club is modeled after and set up to be certified by the World Axe Throwing League. "We have 12 year olds all the way to 82-year-old women who have already signed up for the league in September," Mandler said. "Anybody can throw an ax."

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Megan Bender

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