Lumberjack-style fun is great catharsis for modern stress
Crystal Slagle prefers the larger axe over the smaller hatchet. She grips the handle with both hands and hoists the tip over her head. Engaging her whole body, she steps forward and releases the axe in a high, lobbing toss — allowing the weight of the wooden handle and steel blade to make a full rotation before sticking. Thunk! The hand-sharpened axe sinks into a blue circle painted on a pine board 12 feet away. A high score.
“There’s not another person I’ve seen throw as gracefully and as accurately,” says Jeremy Slagle, Crystal’s husband.
The Slagles first came to Timber Axe Throwing for a date night one month after it opened. “We were nervous that we were going to make fools of ourselves,” Jeremy says. Like all first-timers, though, the Slagles got advice from a staff member trained in helping newcomers feel relaxed and confident. It took the couple only two or three minutes of coaching before they started hitting targets and having fun. They’ve returned to Timber “more times than we can count,” Crystal says.
Timber opened in July of 2019 and has enjoyed a good turnout, even surviving the sparse attendance of the early pandemic. Since around 2016, axe-throwing clubs all over the country have flourished. The trendy sport plays on lumberjack-style nostalgia; in fact, more than 55 million axes are being thrown in cities across America and in seven countries, according to the International Axe Throwing Federation, one of the sport’s two official organizations.
But Jeff and Hope Grier, the husband-and-wife co-owners of Timber, decided not to affiliate their operation with a national league. “I didn’t want to copy anybody,” Jeff says. Neither of them had even thrown an axe before opening their business.
“We were trying to think of something we could bring to the area that would be fun. We had been hearing how axe throwing was becoming more and more popular, and we thought, ‘Why not Hendersonville?’” says Hope.
Their sole location is a former Biltmore Dairy warehouse that had been vacant for 26 years. “We tore everything down besides the main beam structures. It took 16 months,” Jeff says. The couple put everything they had into creating the rustic-pine lodge vibe. “A lot of people picture sawdust, bare walls, [but] we want you to feel at home,” Hope says.
However, getting approval from the city took convincing, she admits. “People hear ‘axes and alcohol’ and they get very concerned — but we make safety our number-one priority.” (That means the staff coaches keep track of alcohol consumption and will limit drinks, if necessary. These days, visitors must wear masks, and equipment is sanitized after use.)
Guests check in at a front desk surrounded by couches and chairs upholstered in lumberjack plaid. After paying for time and filling out the waiver form, they head upstairs and receive instructions on the rules and different throwing techniques. During the game, there’s plenty of time to pose for pictures in plastic Viking helmets or sample a craft brew.
As CCR’s “Born on the Bayou” plays through the speakers, small parties gather in front of one of the ten chain-link-divided lanes. There are occasional tournaments, but most people play for the experience. Regulars like the Slagles enjoy the activity’s stress-relieving benefits. When throwing an axe, “you forget about the world and its problems,” says Jeremy. “You concentrate on the game and the camaraderie.”
Some events do get edgy. During “Ax Your Ex” nights, guests are encouraged to bring in letters or pictures from severed relationships and tack them to the targets.
“It’s a healthy way to get out some anger,” according to Hope. “We have a woman who comes in pretty frequently; she says it’s the cheapest therapy ever,” says Jeff. Timber also hosts ladies’ nights and throwing by blacklight.
A billboard on 4 Seasons Blvd brings in curious people from all over, but Jeff and Hope really started Timber to serve the needs of their local community. “[People] have a stiller lifestyle — we’re at the computer more, on our phones, we’re sitting more. This is full-body engagement,” Hope says. “It makes you feel good.”
Timber Axe Throwing, 218 Duncan Hill Road, Hendersonville. Open Thursday, 5-10pm; Friday, 5-11pm; Saturday, 1-11pm; Sunday, 1-8pm. For more information, call 828-595-9909 or visit timberaxethrowing.com. (Also on Facebook: Timber Axe Throwing)