People Are Throwing Axes for Fun — and This Woman Helps Make It Happen

Lily Cope, Axe Master General, throws in her first league match at Urban Axes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on June 24, 2017.
Lily Cope, Axe Master General, throws in her first league match at Urban Axes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on June 24, 2017. Photo by Jessica Kourkounis

On a recent Saturday, several people gathered in an inconspicuous warehouse in Philadelphia’s East Kensington neighborhood for an ax-throwing competition.

Instructors taught first-timers how to aim and throw axes, while the veterans struck bull’s-eyes, eliciting cheers from members of the crowd as they grabbed brews from their BYOB coolers.

From the looks of it, you’d think ax throwing is America’s favorite pastime, but Urban Axes opened less than a year ago. It’s the one of the first of its kind in the U.S.

Competitive Ax Throwing?

An axe is pictured embedded in a wooden bullseye.

One of the first of its kind, Urban Axes in Philadelphia, PA, is an axe throwing club. Photo by Jessica Kourkounis

The sport originated in Toronto — apparently in someone’s backyard — about 10 years ago, but now it’s slowly but surely infiltrating the U.S. thanks to sprouting venues like Urban Axes.

Lily Cope, Urban Axes’ “axe master general” (or general manager), says the sport seems to grow organically.

“There’s something very exciting and kind of primal about putting an ax in someone’s hands and having them throw it at a target,” Cope says.

Somewhat comparable to darts, the goal of ax throwing is to hit the bull’s-eye 15 feet away. Depending on their preferred stances, competitors typically wind the ax over their heads and pelt it overhand at the target.

What It’s Like to Be an Axe Master General

Lily Cope, the Axe Master General at Urban Axes, poses at the in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania facility in Philadelphia, PA.

Lily Cope is the Axe Master General at Urban Axes in Philadelphia, PA. Photo by Jessica Kourkounis

Had you asked Cope a little over a year ago if she’d ever be working in an ax-throwing facility, she would have answered with a confused “no.”

That’s because she’d never even heard of the sport.

Last spring, Cope quit her job at a local demonstration kitchen, where she hosted cooking classes and chef demos. She was looking for a new challenge, a new adventure.

A coach walks a group of first timers through the rules at Urban Axes on June 24, 2017.

A coach walks a group of first timers through the rules at Urban Axes on June 24, 2017. Photo by Jessica Kourkounis

That’s when she got a text from a friend that said he’d found her next gig: “I asked what it was, and he texted me back saying ax throwing, and I said to him in return, ‘I think your phone autocorrected. What did you really mean?’”

“And from there… here we are,” she says. “I can tell you this is not how I thought my career path would go.”

Cope threw her first ax last May.

“It sucked,” Cope says of that first throw, which bounced off the wood and hit the ground. She got a bull’s-eye on her second attempt.

“Then I was hooked,” Cope says. “It was this crazy exhilarating feeling.”

With her new passion for ax throwing paired with her background in marketing and business operations, Cope has spent this past year hustling to prepare the 6,000-square-foot space, hire a staff of 34 “axeperts” (and still hiring!) and market the new, unfamiliar sport to American consumers.

Shimmie Pesis kisses his axe for good luck during his first visit to Urban Axes.

Shimmie Pesis kisses his axe for good luck during his first visit to Urban Axes. Photo by Jessica Kourkounis

Today, Cope estimates nearly 1,000 people visit Urban Axes a week, which hosts group tournaments, leagues and walk-in sessions.

She says the reception has been “pretty freakin’ positive.”

Urban Axes opened last September, and it has plans to open three other locations in Austin, Texas, Baltimore and Cincinnati by the end of this summer. Other ax-throwing facilities are getting into the game in Chicago, Dallas and Denver.

Cope’s favorite part about her job? “Watching people experience something new, something they’ve never done and that excitement and joy… it’s like they’re children, you know?”

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s ready for Urban Axes to expand to St. Petersburg, Florida, so she can start relieving some stress.

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