By Lauren Wise
Splitting Timber Axe Range brings a new recreational
activity to town
While experiential entertainment isn’t a new concept –
immersive museum exhibits and activities like paintball have been around for
years – the market for new entertainment is at an all-time high. Lately,
virtual reality simulations, “rage rooms” where people pay to smash items and,
of course, the “Escape Room” experience that exploded into the market are just
a few ways people are discovering new entertainment.
The latter has an impressive reputation in Arizona. Escape
Room Tucson opened in 2013, and it quickly became one of the premiere escape
rooms in the country. Now the owner of Escape Room has opened up a new type of
experiential hot spot in Phoenix: Splitting Timber Axe Range.
Imagine it like an industrial-sized dartboard, where you aim
with an axe instead of a dart, or maybe lumberjack-designed bowling. And the
motto of “Now there is a new bad axe in town!” is an understatement when you
compare it to the mainstay recreational outings of the last several decades.
While axe-throwing might be an intriguing concept in larger
urban cities, it’s been an international sport for quite some time. In Canada,
indoor axe throwing has been a popular pastime for over 12 years. So in January
2017, AJ Hughes, owner of Escape Room Tucson and co-owner of Splitting Timber,
flew to Canada to learn how to axe throw.
“Before flying out, I met with my good friend Larry
Scaringelli and asked if he’d like to partner with me,” she explains. “At
first, he thought I was nuts! He then saw my excitement and passion for
the sport and business and he was fully on board.”
Hughes opened a Tucson location with her daughter in
November 2018, and shortly thereafter, she and Larry opened the Phoenix
location in December.
“After opening Escape Room Tucson, I wanted to create
another fun thing for people to do, to interact together and have a blast doing
it,” Hughes adds.
As the largest axe-throwing range in Arizona, the 26 “lanes”
are spread over more than 8,200 square feet. In the lobby area, channel your
inner lumberjack – or get ready to “kick some axe,” as Hughes says – with
Instagram-worthy costumes and pun-riddled gear.
Before you begin, the resident “Axeperts” spend about 20
minutes showing you the basics of axe-throwing, going over safety (closed-toe
shoes are mandatory, for instance), and offering tips on how to land that
bullseye 12 feet away with your new 1.5-pound metal and wood accessory.
Hughes revels in the reactions of people when they hit their
first bullseye: “The ‘axe’-citement and pure joy is outstanding. They jump,
cheer and scream. The look on their face is just priceless!”
At Splitting Timber, batting cage-style fencing separates
the lanes, and cozy tables with barstools are perfectly situated for viewing
the action and recharging with some snacks and beverages (bringing your own
refreshments is encouraged here, but there are vending machines).
Once you get started, the Axeperts will make sure to keep
score and offer assistance as needed. Finally, you’ll square off in a
tournament that will result in the crowning of an Axe Throwing Champion.
Ideal for families, groups of friends or a corporate outing
– or even events like birthdays, bachelor or bachelorette parties – the
axe-training and -throwing experience lasts about an hour and a half. “It’s a
high energy and an adrenaline-filled hour and a half. You laugh, cheer and have
a fun filled competition,” she says.
As a female business owner (and axe-thrower), Hughes also
stands strong that the sport is great for women; it isn’t tailored to men and
offers a lot of empowerment.
“Women do extremely well at axe-throwing. This is a sport
and there’s a technique to it; it’s not about strength. Sometimes women tend to
be a bit apprehensive, thinking it’s a ‘dangerous’ thing to do,” she explains.
“It’s much like any target sport; it’s a controlled environment and we teach
you how to properly throw and are with you every step of the way.”
But like any recreational activity, there are a few things
to remember. Lanes hold four to six people, so if you show up with fewer than
that, you’ll likely be paired with others already onsite. For daytime events,
be sure to book in advance; walk-ins are welcome after 6 p.m. It’s customary to
tip your Axepert – they are the ones coaching you for an hour and a half, and
keeping you safe. Wear comfy closed-toe shoes and clothes; you’ll be throwing
the axe over your head. And participants must be 14 and over.
As far as tips go, Hughes says, “Breathe. Relax. Have fun.
Don’t try to throw too hard. Follow through and listen to your Axepert; they’re
there to help you. Most of all, have fun. Did we say have fun?”
For those looking for a consistent dose of Splitting Timber,
enthusiasts can check out the official league, which starts in January
“Our Axe Throwing League starts the week of the 14th of January.
We have three nights to select from: Sundays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays,” Hughes
says. “We’re members of the World Axe Throwing League, so when you compete
locally, you also compete nationally. You could even advance to the national
playoffs or championships – which were aired on ESPN this past December.”
Teams will compete against teams in an 8-week battle for
less than $200 per player. Hughes suggests grabbing 4 to 6 of your friends for
one of Splitting Timber’s League nights, elect a team captain and pick a name,
show up on league night for the next eight weeks, and perfect your art of
whirling sharp metal and wood through the air.
With a history of successful experiential entertainment
ventures, Hughes admits there are other ideas in the mix. “We will be expanding
to more locations,” she says, “and there are some other things in the works…
but we’re not releasing that information just yet.”
Splitting Timbers is located at 2005 W. Deer Valley Road,
Suite 104, in Phoenix. For more information, call 602-622-0065 or visit