Over the past few years, a handful of axe-throwing venues have swung into Orange County, in line with a larger trend.
Swinging an axe may seem like a foreign concept to city life in Southern California. But throwing one at a target – well, that’s just plain fun.
So fun, in fact, that over the past few years, several axe-throwing venues have opened in Orange County – part of a larger trend across the country and internationally.
“Stumpy's was open to help our community unwind after the horror of COVID-19 plagued us and bound us to our homes,” said Adriana LaShelle, president of Stumpy's Hatchet House in Huntington Beach, which has been open since December 2021 and is part of a franchise. “We wanted to allow our patrons to get out of the house and experience joy while also using axe-throwing as a way to take the day-to-day stress out of their lives. We wanted to build a place where corporations could come and have team-building events as well as holiday parties.”
Axe-throwing businesses range from focusing on competitive sporting to leisurely entertainment, with plenty of variety among the venues in Orange County alone.
Slashers Axe Throwing and Ales, for instance, opened Dec. 1, 2023 in Costa Mesa as a horror-themed experience with a beer bar.
“We went to a lot of axe-throwing venues and quickly became fans of the sport, but the venues were all somewhat similar,” said CEO and creative director Madison Rhoades, who also owns Cross Roads Escape Games in Anaheim with her husband, Luke. “They reminded us of escape rooms when they started popping up in 2015. It was a great idea, but they were lacking in atmosphere and games. It was a great opportunity to bring our theater background to the sport and create an immersive atmosphere with interactive games.”
Slashers uses projectors to display imagery onto the wooden targets, allowing players to choose between different images and games. The software can keep track of the score and player. Slashers offers traditional games like Tic-Tac-Toe, Battle Stations and Alien Attack, and also has projected horror movie monsters that guests – or campers, as they’re called – can throw at.
“Our goal is to have every camper leave feeling like the hero of their own horror film, with the skills and confidence to defeat monsters,” Rhoades said.
The slasher and horror movie theming also continues into the bar. They have seasonal draft beer, cider, seltzers and sodas available every day, but depending on when you go, you may also find drinks like the Texas Chainsaw Michelada, Killer Klowns Cocktail that comes with cotton candy and a crazy straw, and What We Drink in the Shadows, complete with vampire teeth. (Slashers has a three-drink maximum per person for alcoholic beverages.) And then, of course, there’s the scorpion snack.
“Our top-selling snack is the scorpion, which is a dried and salted scorpion,” Rhoades said. ”You can also get it on top of a spicy beer shot. We encourage players to make their axe-throwing competition a little more intense by suggesting that the loser has to buy and drink the scorpion challenge shot.”
Rhoades said plans include monthly events themed around holidays, sports and horror movies. The next event is for Valentine's Day – Axe Your Ex – where guests bring in a picture of their ex partner, co-worker or boss to throw axes at.
While Slashers is going the horror route, Whoop Axe Throwing in Lake Forest has gone country. Owner Kory Johnson said Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays are country dancing nights.
“We have 100-plus dancers at a time,” Johnson said. “We are incredibly popular in the country dancing community. We have professional dancers come in multiple times a week.”
Whoop Axe opened in December 2022 and in 2023 it had nearly 40,000 customers, according to Johnson. Open to those 14 and older, Whoop Axe has a wide range of axes of varying weights, lengths, sizes and shapes available for throwing.
“Many of the axe venues across the country stick to only one or two axe types,” Johnson said. “Whoop Axe has a dozen different axes to throw. We coach on how to throw the small, medium and large axes.”
The venue features a movie theater-style concessions stand selling popcorn, chips, candy and mocktails instead of alcohol. There are also four suggested games — 21, WATL, Odds and Evens and Around the World — guests can play with axes. Whoop Axe hosts leagues throughout the year for high schools and the general public that are called WAR (Whoop Axe Rec).
Coaches at Whoop Axe, as well as at other axe venues, play a big role when it comes to safety. (On dance nights, Whoop Axe removes all the big axes and only has the small hatchets available.)
“Our coaching does most of the work,” Johnson said. “A few of our easy-to-follow rules really protect our throwers. Don’t throw axes at axes. Don’t bring axes beyond the red line. Don’t throw when someone is next to you, or when another person is down range.”
Not all axe-throwing venues exclusively feature axes. Sauced BBQ and Spirits restaurants have axe-throwing in a few locations, including Orange. King’s Eye Escape in Westminster has an Indoor Axe Throwing Lounge.
“We opened our first escape room in 2020 with plans for two more, but then a giant pandemic-sized wrench got thrown into the process,” said owner Marc Reyes. “I decided to pivot to axe-throwing since we adhered to the government shutdowns and couldn't generate the capital to finish our escape room builds. I found that utilizing some of our space for axe-throwing was significantly faster and cheaper than opening an escape room.”
The lounge can comfortably fit 10 people at once. Reyes said because of the privacy of the lounge, King’s Eye gets a lot of guests visiting for date nights and family outings. He said children as young as 8 have come to learn to throw at King's Eye.
“It's tough to put it into words, but there's just something so satisfying about throwing stuff and getting it to stick,” Reyes said. "I think it goes way back to our ancestors. Whenever they threw and landed something, it meant they got to eat. Or in even more extreme cases, they got to take down the thing trying to eat them.”