3 MIN READ

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


On any given Saturday, several people gather in an inconspicuous warehouse in Philadelphia's East Kensington neighborhood for an ax-throwing competition.

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

From the looks of it, you’d think ax throwing is America’s favorite pastime, but Urban Axes is one of the first facilities of its kind in the U.S. Its Philly location opened less than two years ago. Since then, a location in Austin, Texas, has opened. Another in Baltimore is currently holding private events and will welcome walk-ins soon.

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 ax-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 be growing 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 hurl 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 few years 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.

In the spring of 2016, 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 that May.

“It sucked,” Cope says of that first throw, which bounced off the wood and hit the ground. But 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 spent 2017 hustling to prepare the 6,000-square-foot space, hire a staff of “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 ax for good luck during his first visit to Urban Axes. Photo by Jessica Kourkounis

Today, Cope estimates that every week nearly 1,000 people visit each Urban Axes location. They host group tournaments, leagues and walk-in sessions.

In all she says the reception has been “pretty freakin’ positive.”

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 staff 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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