Published: 16:19, 17 May 2021
| Updated: 17:29, 17 May 2021
Step aside darts and archery, there's a new kid on the block when it comes to throwing sharp-ended objects in the name of sport.
A new indoor urban axe-throwing experience targeted at the would-be lumberjack among us is set to offer Kent its first slice of the action.
Panic Room boss Alex Souter explains what you can expect from new axe-throwing experience
The highly anticipated three lane "throwing alley" and snack cafe opened today inside the existing Panic Room complex at the St George's Shopping Centre in Gravesend.
Battle Masters offers visitors the unique opportunity to channel their inner Viking by hurling – under close supervision – a range of axes at various targets.
Sessions run for 75 minutes and participants are invited along in groups of up to six to try their hand at the sport.
The first 15 minutes consists of a training exercise to learn the basics before you get fully stuck into sinking axes into the wood.
It represents a whole new chapter for puzzle power couple Alex and Monique Souter, who are now branching out from their successful escape room venture into the world of "competitive social events" .
Explaining the inspiration behind Kent's first (official) axe-throwing project, managing director Alex said: “Largely, we have seen this big increase in demand for different competitive and also social activities.
“We saw the big rise in America and Canada of axe throwing. It is quite easy to get into but also difficult to master as well."
The escape room aficionados built up their successful Panic Room business across multiple venues, solving both their desire to expand and the town’s need to reoccupy vacant buildings and shop fronts.
And while the pandemic saw the owners forced to take their offering online, the re-emergence of physical indoor activity has seen them come out swinging with new and quirky ideas once again.
“It is a really easy, fun, social activity where people can just get together and have a bit of fun," explained Alex.
“There’s been a change in people’s mindsets where it’s less about stuff and more about experiences and making memories."
He believes the high street is slowly beginning to adapt to this new reality and hopes to capitalise on a millennial shift in priorities.
Alex added: “It’s more fun to go out and play axe throwing with your friends than buy a £20 t-shirt.”
Eager to test the theory and try my hand at the new sport, I dressed in my best "lumberjack" shirt and headed along.
After a brief induction to the art of hurling bladed tools, it was time to adopt one of two allocated "power stances".
It took a few goes before I eventually experienced the satisfaction that is the sound of an axe sinking into a hollow chunk of wood.
I was surprised by how light the axes were, given my lack of general physical exertion over the past 18 months, but here I was gleefully throwing the bladed articles at the board.
My attempts grew progressively more feeble after that, but I relished the challenge nonetheless.
When it comes to health and safety there's no cutting corners either and I was surprised by how safe the experience felt.
The event is certified by WATL – which stands for the World Axe Throwing League – for those not already clued up on the popular North American sport.
Each lane is designed to ensure no unexpected “bounce backs” and an instructor was on hand throughout my experience to advise on correct axe-throwing etiquette and technique.
“We’ve got an all bells and whistles air ventilation system that pumps throughout the entire building,” added owner Alex. “If anything, the big tubes make the place look very space age.
“We make sure all the axes are nice and clean. As well as that, we have anti-bac stations and handwashing stations wherever we can.
He added: “For the safety of the lanes itself, each of our staff are specifically trained to do Battlemasters axe throwing so they know both the dos but also the don’ts to make sure people are playing safely.
“As well as that, they will be teaching you individually how to throw the axe and keeping an eye on you while you are playing just to make sure you’re getting the best throws out of it.”
There is something perhaps unsurprisingly cathartic about throwing a sharp weapon at a target after a long week of work, and I took to the challenge with great gusto.
After long bouts of home working in isolation, it felt liberating to strike up casual conversations and make embarrassing cult horror movie references too.
So if you’re looking for a fun-fuelled activity with friends, or a date night alternative where social distancing is still highly prized, then indoor urban axe throwing might just be where you make your mark.
Battle Masters is now open and taking bookings at www.battlemasters.co.uk