ELKTON — Axe throwing tournaments are a marathon test of not only sharp accuracy, but also the mind. When you strike the bull’s-eye once, that’s talent and maybe a little luck. But to do it consistently for hours at a time — that’s pure concentration.
That’s what Mike Kump of Philadelphia said was the key to victory when he took home first place at You Bet Your Axe’s November 2 Remember tournament on Saturday night. He took home $1,000 in the top prize over 42 other contestants.
“It’s about being able to snap into focus at any moment,” Kump said. “It’s all about the marathon, and you have to keep it up. Beer helps with some breaks.”
Despite the talk about keeping your head in the game, the tournament drew a relaxed atmosphere where people drank and munched on pizza or pulled pork sandwiches while watching the game. With each dull thud of an axe that made it to the bull’s eye — or the smaller and more difficult to hit “killshot” — the crowd whooped in celebration.
When Kump was handed the giant check he performed a celebration dance rivaling any Sunday night quarterback would do after a touchdown.
Axe throwing has slowly grown into a new social sensation, reaching Elkton and neighboring Delaware by 2018 with three venues in the area. While the game is novel and not as athletic as other sports, it’s also growing in notoriety. ESPN2 will the World Axe Throwing Championships next month.
Natalie Hauck, one of the owners of You Bet Your Axe, said that the Elkton tournament was timed around the excitement of the world championship, but with just enough distance from another major tournament: the Choptober Open Challenge in Cherry Hill, N.J. which brought around 260 competitors.
“We’re so excited about the turnout,” she said. “We’ve got people from New Jersey, Philly and one guy from Canada.”
The tournament lasted for six hours, starting with skill games, but many stayed to catch a glimpse of two world championship qualifiers face off: Kump and John Bradley, from Philadelphia.
Although the men are world-class axe throwers, both started out like anyone else in the room.
“It was something I did with my buddies and I happened to be really good at it, so it kind of snowballed,” Bradley said. After a tight round with Kump, he ranked second place at the end of the night and took $250 in prize money.
Bradley’s word of advice for novice lumberjacks: Practice, practice, practice.
“I built a target on my deck to practice,” he said. “I’d say it’s also about the quality of the practice. I’d rather have two hours of it where you’re in the zone than eight hours when you miss.”
Axe throwing is also a league sport, and You Bet Your Axe offers one for those looking to hone their accuracy and make new friends. Dave Bruno of Elkton is a member of the league, and encouraged people to give it a shot.
“It’s not as dangerous as it sounds, and most of the injuries I’ve heard of are splinters when someone grabs the handle,” Bruno said.
Despite the immense talent in the room, Bruno said that he was undaunted.
“It’s a game where you’re playing against yourself most of the time. You’re pushing yourself to get the best score you can,” he said.