KENTVILLE, N.S. - Their gaze, steely. Grip, precise. The axe, sharpened and honed. The wooden target has been freshly misted to prevent fractures.
Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh — crack! Bull’s-eye.
Fred Ansems and Steve Rex are getting their axe-throwing arms ready for the world championships in Chicago on Dec. 15, which will be broadcast on ESPN.
Ansems, a chicken farmer from Steam Mill Village, only started axe throwing a year ago.
He decided to give it a try in October of last year, shortly after HaliMac Axe Throwing in Kentville opened their doors.
“My daughter tried it in Halifax and took me here to show me how it’s done,” Ansems said. “I got in here, had a quick little lesson, and my first throw was a bull’s-eye.”
“It was like, wow,” he said.
He signed the HaliMac hall of fame poster after his second game, scoring more than 50 points.
“I thought, ‘I might actually have something here.’”
He never thought a year later he’d be traveling to Chicago for the world championships.
“I didn’t even know if I’d be able to throw it at all, didn’t even dream of doing something like traveling for this,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t quite know what to make of it yet.”
When Ansems is getting ready to throw — he’s focusing on the top of the bull’s-eye — he knows that his axe drops a little bit mid-flight.
“Just that one spot, dead centre, just above the bull’s-eye,” he said. “I don’t pay attention to anybody else, my opponent, I can’t do anything about them, this is what I’ve got to throw.”
Competitive axe throwing is still a relatively young sport, this only being the second year for the world championships, but it’s also growing — fast.
You get 10 axes each game — a bull’s-eye is worth six points, with the outer rings worth four, three, two, and one respectively. Blue circles on the top left and right-hand side are ‘kill-shots’ that are worth 10 points, but are risky.
It’s a costly endeavour too. Flights, hotel rooms, and the entrance fee alone is $600.
And with that, you’re only guaranteed 40 axes. That’s a lot of pressure.
“I’m a little nervous right now, but I have a feeling it’s going to be quite different once you get there,” he said.
For Ansems, the sport is also a great way to keep active, after hanging up his hockey skates several years ago.
“I used to play hockey all the time, but it got to the point where you get injured and you’ve gotta go to work in the morning,” he said. “I own a farm, so it doesn’t matter if I have a broken leg, I’ve still gotta go check the animals in the morning.”
Introducing Steve Rex
For Steve Rex, the second HaliMac competitor who’s going, this will be his second major competition he’s participated in, after recently participating in the US Open.
“We’re a very young sport,” Rex said. “But for me, that’s what’s so exciting about it. It went from, in the past year, only nine countries with 56 facilities to 16 countries with 160 facilities.”
He said it’s a sport that isn’t cost-prohibitive.
“It’s a relatively inexpensive sport to get into, and if you get the hang of it and enjoy it, you can go far,” he said. “We’re great examples of that.”
Rex, who works at HaliMac, was eliminated in the first round of the finals during the open, but he’s hoping to make it a bit further for the worlds.
One thing he’s learned from that experience is the importance of staying calm.
“You’ve got a big crowd watching you, a lot of unfamiliar faces. You’ve got to stay calm,” he said.
“I know the scene a little bit now and I’m super excited to go back,” he continued.
“When you start to panic, that’s when you’re more likely to drop an axe, and you drop one axe, that’s enough to lose a game,” he said.
“This time, having somebody else there with me to cheer me on is going to be great.”
Originally from Sackville, Rex moved to Kentville nine years ago. He’s been throwing axes for almost a decade recreationally, but has been doing so competitively since 2017.
“It’s a rush. You’ve got so much going on, you’re meeting so many different people, and to be able to have these conversations with others about techniques and about axes, it’s just pure excitement,” he said.
Both competitors say they aren’t expecting to leave with the world championship title, but they are hoping to make it past the first round and maybe learn a thing or two.
“I’ve made it this far, I’m happy,” Rex said.
“Just getting there is going to be great,” Ansems said.
Rex’s favourite axe is a black Estwing with a slightly longer handle.
Ansem’s favourite is red hatchet, with a slightly shorter handle.
No shortage of skill at HaliMac
Paul MacInnis, owner of HaliMac Axe Throwing, said the skill level at their location is quite high.
“There are a lot people in our league… and the number of people at our location that have top scores in the world is very impressive. We’re super proud of that,” MacInnis said.
“It’s becoming a sport; the finals are getting broadcast on ESPN, which is a gigantic step forward,” he said.
“People are starting to take it seriously,” MacInnis added.
“Whenever you’re able to boast that two of your own are heading abroad to compete at a world event, I think that shines a light on the facility here in Kentville,” he said. “We are so excited to see these two guys down there.”
People can follow their progress online via a livestream that will be posted on the HaliMac Facebook page.
Greenwood’s The Lumber Yard, another axe throwing location, opened in September of this year.