AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
It seems like new sports bar concepts are popping up every month. One of the latest involves hurling a hatchet at a wall. Ax throwing is sort of like darts, you know, but on steroids. Ann-Elise Henzl of member station WUWM in Milwaukee reports.
ANN-ELISE HENZL, BYLINE: The word ax conjures up images of heavy, long-handled tools used to split wood. But those tools used in the sport of ax throwing are really hatchets, and many can be hurled with just one hand. But they're still razor-sharp and dangerous and intriguing to people like Jason Hilleshiem.
JASON HILLESHIEM: Yeah, I mean, who doesn't want to throw an ax - at least try to?
HENZL: He was among the first customers when Milwaukee's first ax-throwing venue opened recently. It's called Fling, and it's inside a family recreation center, a place with traditional arcade games. To keep other customers safe from flying hatchets, the hurlers are sectioned off in throwing lanes surrounded by a 16-foot-tall chain link fence. As Hilleshiem enters the lanes, he listens to instructor Jordan Roque.
JORDAN ROQUE: Pretty simple - easy to follow. As you guys know, axes are really sharp, so do not do anything silly besides what I tell you guys to do today.
HENZL: Roque points out the bullseye painted on the pine, plywood wall and explains the points earned for landing a hatchet on the target. Then he shares the basics of tossing a hatchet 15 feet into the wall.
ROQUE: It's like throwing a baseball kind of, so you're going to do that step off, but when you bring it up, you're going to just bring it up, like, straight and then put it back down just straight down.
HENZL: Ax throwers get 90 minutes of training, and before long, Jason Hilleshiem is catching on.
HILLESHIEM: I kind of just let it fly on its own, and it stuck. It felt really good.
HENZL: Indoor ax throwing began more than a decade ago when Canadian Matt Wilson and friends took their favorite outdoor activity inside and started ax-throwing bars in Canada and the U.S. They now run 14 locations named BATL and are opening in more cities soon. Wilson says indoor ax throwing is also becoming popular in Europe.
MATT WILSON: The more that people understand that it's a great activity and it's something that's super accessible, I think the better it is for everybody involved.
HENZL: Jonathan Winski is with the group Midwest Knife & Axe Throwers and is happy to see the sport gaining ground. His group travels the country giving lessons and demonstrations at festivals and Renaissance fairs. But as ax throwing catches on, Winski has concerns, especially when the hurlers have been drinking.
JONATHAN WINSKI: It's not an old fuddy-duddy, oh, alcohol is, you know, just going to screw everything up. That's not it. But alcohol definitely does play a part.
HENZL: Becky Cooper-Clancy, who owns Fling in Milwaukee, says as long as safety measures are enforced, ax throwing is a great activity.
BECKY COOPER-CLANCY: It's so fun and so rewarding to do. And it really is a sport for anyone. You can be, you know, tiny and petite or you could be the big, burly, bearded lumberjack guy.
HENZL: In fact, kids as young as 14 with supervision are allowed to throw hatchets 15 feet through the air. For NPR News, I'm in Ann-Elise Henzl in Milwaukee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.