Some people need anger management classes so they can stop hurting people around them; others need to learn to own their anger and use it to energize themselves, instead of internalizing it and getting depressed. As a member of the latter camp, I spent some sessions years ago with a psychotherapist who coached me to whack a tall stack of pillows, as strenuously as I could, with a tennis racquet. It didn’t work. The only deep-seated feelings the exercise engaged in me were stage fright and awkwardness. Maybe I should’ve tried throwing hatchets at a target instead.
As a recreational activity, if not specifically a therapeutic one, hatchet-tossing is growing in popularity in our region. The gaming midways at Renaissance Faires like the annual one at Sterling Forest in Orange County invariably offer an axe-throwing range where Gimli-wannabes can strut their stuff. That has been true for decades, but more recently hatchet parlors are popping up in places where they can stay open year-round — often associated with the consumption of alcohol, in the same way that bowling alleys invariably have on-site bars.
A Kingston policeman and a Beacon English teacher respectively, Eric and Rachel Hansen live with their two small sons on the same family farm where Eric grew up, near where Gardiner borders on Modena. The gregarious Eric always wanted to start his own sideline business, just for fun, but setting up a farm-to-table restaurant wasn’t quite what he had in mind. “We’re more like farm-to-party,” he says.
Axe-tossing was a skill that Eric had acquired beginning about the age of 10, at family vacations at a remote hunting camp in West Kill in Greene County: “I found an old hatchet. That was the entertainment: sticking it into a tree.” So he became intrigued when he heard about these new axe-throwing/drinking establishments. “But I’m not an indoors guy. Plus, in New York State you can’t get a liquor license if you’re a felon or a cop. Then I saw a couple in Canada who were doing it mobile.”
Carpentry was one of the many skills that a farm kid picks up, so, with Rachel’s support, Eric decided to build a hatchet-tossing range in a 14-by-six-and-a-half-foot trailer and take it to the public, instead of waiting for the public to come to them. The business is called Hudson Valley Hatchet, and in less than two years it has established a happy client base that stretches from the Catskills to the Hamptons. Equipped with colored spotlights so that it can be used at nighttime events, the mobile cage has set up shop at fairs and festivals, business open houses, birthday parties for celebrants aged 1 to 80, cocktail hours at weddings and gender reveal parties. It turns out that corporate retreats are an especially hot ticket, with the physical activity of chucking sharp objects proving conducive to businessmen and -women letting down their hair and team-building with their colleagues.
Typically, a client rents the trailer by the hour, and the Hansens come along to coach eager or hesitant volunteers in how to propel an axe at a wooden target with accuracy and the right amount of oomph. There are two round targets side-by-side in the trailer, made of pine, each about 20 inches in diameter and six inches thick. They’re affixed to a sturdy plywood backstop, sheathed with rubber from an old farm conveyor belt in the zone below the targets where tentative tosses by first-timers tend to strike. Except for the entry area at the back of the trailer, the axe range is wrapped in chain-link fence to protect onlookers from wild throws.
But wild throws don’t happen often, say the couple, even when participants have been imbibing to work up what used to be called “Dutch courage” back in the 17th century. While one might presume that alcohol and sharp, heavy blades don’t mix well, safety hasn’t been much of an issue. Players are required to sign an insurance waiver before they start, which includes language in which the proprietors reserve the right to “turn away anybody we think is highly intoxicated,” says Rachel. “Just holding an axe is a sobering experience.” According to Eric, “In all the time we’ve been doing this, I’ve turned away maybe two.”
He notes that men and women tend to approach the activity differently. Male players are more likely to start by throwing too hard, and quickly discover that this doesn’t result with the blade fixed in the target. “Guys are very ego-driven,” he observes. “More girls will get it, because they’re more into detail and listen better to the instructions. It’s more of a finesse throw than a power throw.” But whether male or female, after several attempts, he estimates, “Eight out of ten can get it to stick in the wood.” “What makes it appealing is that anybody and everybody can do it,” regardless of athletic prowess, says Rachel.
Prices for having Hudson Valley Hatchet come to your event vary with distance and the number of people expected to participate. There’s an inquiry form that you can fill out on the website, and the Hansens will get back to you with a quote. To learn more, visit www.hudsonvalleyhatchet.com or www.facebook.com/hudsonvalleyhatchet.