We harnessed our inner Thor at Lumber Punks Axe Throwing and it was weirdly meditative

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We harnessed our inner Thor at Lumber Punks Axe Throwing and it was weirdly meditative

Axe throwing

We spoke with Lumber Punks Melbourne Operations Manager Jon Shaw about the inclusive art of axe throwing, and a new discount initiative launched for healthcare staff inspired by a recent open-heart surgery.

Sport has a legacy problem. Whether bound solemnly to a country’s identity or an elite class, or archaically gendered, most sports battle to realign decades of exclusion and discrimination with modern values. But axe throwing?

Despite being the discipline of choice for Vikings some 1,000 odd years ago, it’s a fresh-faced newborn on the competitive sports scene, being brought to the urban masses just under 20 years ago, as Operations Manager of Lumber Punks Axe Throwing Jon Shaw told us at their warehouse in South Melbourne last week. That’s given it the unique opportunity of a blank canvas.

Stay up to date with what’s happening in Melbourne here.

For those who don’t know what the sport of axe throwing looks like, in Shaw’s words, it’s “darts on steroids”. And, according to Shaw, “it’s one of those very rare, all-inclusive sports, where you can have people… from any walk of life.

Then why does Thor have to be so, like, buff?

Shaw adds, “It is physical, but it doesn’t rely on a physical aspect. So whether you’re the world’s strongest man, or someone smaller without a lot of strength, or someone with a physical disability, this is a sport that you can compete and accelerate in.

“We had a lady on the Gold Coast come in and have her first throw at 97 years old… We had a girl come in just before lockdown with multiple sclerosis. And she was here to watch her friends, she couldn’t really walk.

“Ended up, we got her a stool, designed a new method of throwing for her. And she was getting to the target…it’s a completely level playing field, because it is so much in the mind.”

So, no, you don’t have to be Thor, or Jason Mamoa (though Lumber Punks did host his 38th birthday back in 2017, just two weeks into opening).

Shaw himself might have been an unlikely candidate, with no sporting pedigree to speak of and 25 years in hospitality. But now the axe enthusiast has people telling him he looks like Thor when he throws.

Right, I think we’re getting it now. Thor is a mindset. Neat!

Founded by Sam Hay and Tyson McMillan, who Shaw met a decade ago working at Hard Rock Café, Lumber Punks is the product of a common question between mates over beers: what’s a business we could do that no one else is doing?

The product was anything but common.

“Sam and Tyson were always gonna go into business together,” Shaw told us. “They’d known each other for years, and both have hospitality backgrounds. They were thinking – do we open a bar to open a restaurant, a coffee shop, a sandwich shop? Tyson has always thrown tomahawks at his back fence for relaxation. Sam was over at Tyson’s place for beer one night, and Tyson was just throwing his tomahawks into the fence, saying, ‘If only we could think of a business that no one else is doing.’ They stopped and looked at the tomahawks, and looked at the fence, and went ‘holy shit’…six months later, they opened the first one.”

Melbourne is the fourth and latest location in under four years of being operational, joining Gold Coast, Brisbane and Perth as the company and sport at large expands across Australia.

According to Shaw, “Melbourne has been on the cards pretty well ever since they started… We’re very particular about the areas that we opened. It’s got to have a lot of businesses close by that we can partner with… The idea is people come play with us, and then go out and stay in South Melbourne, have dinner at Meatworks or The Market Hotel, some gin and tonics at Patient Wolf, whatever it might be.”

Shaw’s top three tips for throwing an axe:

  • Relax: “So firstly, people come in, they’re stressed… This is where the Zen comes in, chill out, empty your mind.”
  • Concentrate: “Focus on the target. Concentrate on what you’re doing all the aspects of the technique.”
  • Evaluate: “Every time, evaluate what your throw has done, how can you improve it.”

Besides, Melbourne might be a city traumatised, but we’re also a city inspired. The pandemic has been a boon for experiential businesses now that we’re free.

“People just want to come, they want to get out, they want to do something different,” he says. “People have spent COVID at home researching: what can I do when I get out, what is there?.. You can come and do axe throwing as a Christmas party, as a work thing. We’ve had everything, from Christmas parties, to work things, to first dates.”

And now, apparently, to journalists on commission.

After getting over the initial awkwardness and fear of 1kg of steel bouncing back at me (reassured by the thorough safety induction I was taken through by the peppiest punk I’ve ever seen), I was surprised how little it was about strength.

“Try letting go more,” I was instructed. “Focus on consistency.” Could this be the therapist I’ve been looking for all along? And at only a quarter of the price?

“We employ people based on their personality and their confidence because when we’re running an axe throwing session, we’re not selling a product, we’re not selling food, dinner drinks, that sort of stuff,” Shaw continued.

“We’re selling an experience, and we’re selling time. And that has to come from the heart of a person delivering that the person.”

It’s true, Shaw was the kind of person you want to grab a (non-alcoholic) beer with. As fortune would have it, I won the stubby holder prize at the end of an around-the-world style competition, as well as a nice sense of tranquillity to get me through the tram ride home.

No wonder he identified the potential benefits that Melbourne’s maxed out nurses and doctors could glean from the practice, after being rushed to the Austin Hospital for open-heart surgery.

This experience prompted an initiative to provide all health care or emergency service workers in Melbourne with a 50% discount to say thanks for their work over 267 days of lockdown and beyond.

“When I was there, I was watching this amazing team of nurses and doctors who were unbeatable and nothing would get them down… They all looked after me so well, that when I left and could only say goodbye to three or so people… I felt quite flat that I hadn’t got to express my thanks,” he says.

“At the same time, Sam, one of the owners, was in hospital in Queensland after me. He was amazingly looked after as well, he’s okay and he was lucky to survive. We were all very worried there for a while, but he saw exactly what I saw: this amazing group of people rebuilding broken humans.”

In addition to the discount initiative, Shaw has developed a COVID revenge game for healthcare staff and the wider Melbourne population.

“We get people coming in asking me ‘Can I put photos of my ex-husband or ex-wife on the target’. We can’t put photos of people on targets, but we’ve actually designed a COVID game where you can throw axes at the virus.

“Melbourne was in lockdown for 77 days, so you start with 77 points. Each score takes a point off.  The two skill shots are coronavirus scores – they’re worth 10 points each. They’re quite small and very tricky to hit. There are some masks stapled on the board as well. If you hit a mask, you get three points. But if you accidentally hit the bull’s eye, that’s an unauthorized outdoor gathering, and you get an extra 10 days of lockdown. It’s just a way of coping with what we all had to go through. And it’s a bit of fun.”

If you, too, want to go throw axes at coronavirus, or simply zen out with some mindful, inclusive good sport, there’s something at Lumber Punks for everyone.

While newbies are currently dominating clientele in a post-COVID, I-need-a-new-hobby-ASAP surge, those who are a bit more experienced (or game) can engage in competition leagues on Monday night.

Book a session at Lumber Punks by visiting their website here.