It’s a bird…It’s a plane…It’s an… axe?
An unforgettable experience followed by an impressive interview at Game of Axes in Jupiter, Florida
By Denise Marsh
You know when you want to do something and you cannot get it out of your head? Well, that was the feeling that I had about visiting Game of Axes. I knew I had wanted to visit there for months but something always got in the way. I would always say to my friend and editor Krista Martinelli, “I just want us to throw axes already”. The waiting felt like an eternity…until it wasn’t.
The day approached and bullseye-it was time! It was a windy and rainy Sunday but that didn’t stop us from literally, getting our “game on.” Krista and I both wore closed toe shoes and prepared ourselves for our adventure. Oshry Magee, one of the owners had been in touch with me over the last few months, planning this experience. She was unable to be at the establishment because it was her and her co-owner husband, Joey’s family day. I told her that I wanted the “hands on” time before the interview and she conceded that this was definitely the “way to go.” She told me that I would love it and she was excited about the article. I was told that we would have an Axe Master (sounds cool, right?) to teach us the basics and then we could explore and practice on our own. I think the last time I was that psyched about something was …well, I cannot even remember-it’s been that long. The establishment is in a Publix shopping plaza and looks like a typical storefront when you first see it but then you enter…
“Meeting” the Big, Bad Axe
Krista and I found that the establishment had a relaxed and comfortable vibe when we first entered, masked up and covid-safe. The interior looked like a traditional bar scene except that there were lanes and well…axes. Lots and lots of axes. My adrenaline was pumping and the rush was exhilarating! Krista and I filled out waivers on a computer (but if you are anxious about touching a computer because of Covid-19 the staff up front can assist you via their own computer system). I immediately noticed a very cool sign titled “The 10 commandments of throwing axes” which captured the authentic yet whimsical nature of the establishment. Melissa, the manager was extremely courteous and friendly. She let us know that we would have our own lane and that Junior would be our “Axe Master” (okay, I kind of like the sound of it. Very Dungeons and Dragons). I looked around me and saw all these lanes and all these axes and thought, “wow, we are really doing this” and weirdly I felt a little…scared…but in a good way. All of the staff wore masks and had hand sanitizer at various stations and at every lane there were several hand sanitizers. For a bar type setting, it was extremely clean and organized.
The Master teaches the Teachers
Junior, a young man who looked like he was in his late twenties was kind, funny and extremely patient as our “Axe Master.” (Yes. Just love the ring of it, so you’ll hear it a lot..deal with it. Lol). We learned that axe throwing was definitely not what we had anticipated at all. Junior showed us an array of axes on each side of us in 13 different lanes. We also had a spray bottle of water in case the target board got stiff. He explained that we had to give each other space in our designated spots in the lane. There are two sides. One person stands to the right and one to the left with ample space in between. However, the rules dictate that you should NOT be throwing at the same time for safety reasons. Also, you have to wait to throw your ax until the other person has collected their ax from the target or the floor. Or you could make a “plan” to do it simultaneously. Safety is obviously a big issue when you deal with axes. Junior showed us the axes and explained that throwing was about precision and “following” the complete range of motion to throw. Krista and I both thought you needed to throw the ax hard (I imagined I would picture my ex boyfriend’s face on the target) to reach the bullseye or at least one of the focal points on the target board. He gave us a few pointers and then stayed for a good 15 to 20 minutes showing us where to stand, explaining the points ( I will go over later in the article) and the scoreboard. But we assured him we just wanted to throw for fun and not really keep a score (although that didn’t stop us really from keeping somewhat of a score). And then, he left us to check on other lanes and give us some space. However, he was always in an ear and eye’s shot of us.
Perseverance is Key
The great thing about coming on a late afternoon (4pm-ish) is that there are fewer people and there is more space. Also, fewer people to laugh at you when you screw up! But gratefully, no one actually did laugh at us. Instead, Krista and I looked at each other and laughed. We felt the heavy axes and realized this would definitely be an experience we would remember. I tried to remember all the steps about standing on the black line, holding my body straight, and throwing from behind my right shoulder. Junior explained that for some people it was easier to use both hands. He also showed us how to hold the axe which was securely at the end. When we first started throwing, I was actually getting points while Krista was struggling and then our positions changed. We noticed that the board would stiffen up and you could switch axes. We also remembered Junior telling us to unwedge the axe by moving it up and down or else it could get stuck in the board and you could get a nasty splinter. The game was truly about following the rules and remembering details.
My personal list of observations about Axe throwing:
- Don’t half listen to anything that the Axe master says….EVERYTHING IS IMPORTANT.
- Axes are very, very, very heavy.
- Wear supportive shoes.
- Get plenty of rest before this sport.
- Make friends with your axe (okay…I thought it was funny…)
- It’s not about power, but about proficiency.
- The target is not your ex-boyfriend or any other negative influence.
- Decide if you are going for points or just fun at the beginning-have a focus!
- Stop thinking-it ruins things!
- Don’t drink and throw (which I didn’t do)
- Don’t make lists…
The Axe Master returns to film footage
Well, we needed video and photos for this article and Krista and I were determined to get a bullseye or at least close to it. There were many, many missed shots for me. I was thrilled when I got very close to the bullseye and was happy to realize that Junior was secretly recording me each time till I got it right! My arms started to hurt as well as my back. But Krista and I didn’t want to stop until we were successful. She was definitely more successful than me. I think that the greatest challenge was that I had too much power in my throw…too much thinking about my ex-boyfriend as the target and also too much thinking…period. Junior said to “just do it, without thinking” and toss without throwing. I listened to his advice. Even if it was throw #100, I was able to do it and there was live footage of both Krista and I doing it and succeeding! There’s something very personal, very liberating, and empowering when your throw reaches the target and sticks, even when you don’t get the bullseye. I cannot explain it, you would have to do it yourself to understand the power behind it. I just know that I loved and it and the feeling was totally gratifying! It was a form of entertainment that took you into another dimension where focus was key and the outside world disappeared.
All in a day’s work
When we were finished throwing, we took photos with Melissa and Junior and some of the staff. The bar had very beautiful two-toned wood that Krista and I asked about. During my interview I found out that the wood was actually refurbished wood from Hurricane Irma-I thought of how wonderful and symbolic that was to have something negative recycled literally into something positive and creative. The bar offers alcohol in disposable cans. I had a delicious, light white wine and Krista had a Stella. I asked Melissa jokingly, “Do you let customers drink prior to throwing?” She said that they monitor alcohol consumption prior to axe throwing to protect everyone involved. We were also offered snacks from the variety of chips, beef jerky, bags of popcorn, etc. at the bar. We had worked hard and definitely earned those refreshments. We had a blast, met some very interesting people and learned that axe throwing is definitely a “more than meets the eye” approach. I will never feel the same way about axes again. This was an experience to come back and revisit again and again…
Part II/The Interview
Although I was so grateful for my “hands on” day I was equally thrilled about the actual interview which would give me greater insight into the masters behind the axes. And, I quickly realized that for once in my life, doing things out of order was a wise decision! Originally, I had scheduled the interview with Oshry but since she was busy with their two and four-year-old toddlers her co-owner and husband, Joey did the interview with me. Joey Magee and his Wife, Oshry are the proud owners of Game of Axes. My interview with Joey was not only informative but fascinating as well. He was a man of great integrity with an amicable and witty nature-it didn’t even feel like an interview but more of a pleasant conversation with a new friend.
AW: Please give me the “nuts and bolts.” What is your mission statement and what made you decide to open up a Game of Axes?
J.M: We are basically a mom and pop organization which many mistake for a franchise (I was one of those people!). We have 4 locations. Currently this (Jupiter) facility is open, as well as the one in Boynton. The locations in West Boca and West Palm Beach are still under construction and will hopefully be ready in the next few months. It takes a while to get things inspected with licensing, etc. Oshry and I are excited about the new openings and anticipate a good turnout. My wife and I were in a situation where it was basically a “gut reaction” to start something new in a way that worked for us. We wanted to offer the public a sport that wasn’t just a “one and done” game but something that would offer continuity, effort and longevity.
Oshry and I are affiliated with the I.A.T.F (International Axe Throwing Federation) where the original Axe throwing began and was created in Canada in 2002. The other established league is called the W.A.I.L. (World Axe Throwing International League) which began in 2017. Obviously, we are the first in the business and we have been around longer-we take this sport seriously and hold great pride in our ability to deliver to our participants. We knew that our outcome needed to be heartfelt and that it would need to be about people coming together to enjoy, to play, and take a break from the outside world. Our mission is that the business is to promote love for mankind. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you are and your beliefs are your own. But, when you are at one of our facilities, you can be yourself and participate (as long as you are older than 6 – it’s for everyone!). We hire people who are skilled in knowledge and also have an affinity to spread cheer. Oshry and I are proud of our employees and they have formed a “family” with us as well as the people who are serving in our leagues – love is the key to our success. (I could definitely feel that passion and pride as Joey described his relationship with the employees and the members).
AW: Please explain the Admission process, hours, and food and drink on the premises.
J.M: We operate in terms of “groups”. A group of 1-5 people pay hourly. It is $22 per person.
For a group of 6-24 people you get 2 hours at $35 per person.
Kids between the ages of 6 to 15 ALWAYS throw for $12.
EVERYDAY is 50% off the regular price except for Fridays and Saturdays which are Full Price Days.
Unlimited drink specials on Friday and Saturdays!
Hours of Operation:
Monday- League Night
Snacks and Beverages:
We get all of our snacks from local vendors. We carry chips, beer, wine, beef jerky. Honey wine is one of our specialties. We have Kegerators and serve beer on tap from disposable cups.
Covid safety: Every guest must wear a mask during their stay and when they are throwing. The only time a person is unmasked is if they are at the bar eating or drinking. Every lane has sanitizer dispensers. There are 6 feet markings throughout the bar. We also have 3 air filters at each one of our facilities. Our bar is totally Cashless. Social Distancing is encouraged and Sundays are usually days with less guests than other days.
A.W: Are kids allowed to participate and throw axes?
J.M: My own children are 2 and 4 and I only let them play with Styrofoam axes (he says with a chuckle) and a play target. I am serious about safety for my own children and of course for my guest’s children. Kids ages 6 and older can throw from the Black Fault Line (it is very clear when you are in the lane). NO ONE can be close to the target for obvious reasons. If a child cannot throw from this line, we refund the $12 and give you a Velcro Axe target with Styrofoam to use in your lane. Any children that are 5 or younger cannot be in a lane or near a lane for safety purposes. For your safety and also enjoyment, it is suggested that very young children stay in a stroller or baby carrier.
A.W: What is the best strategy for throwing? (I guess in hindsight; this question would’ve come handy prior to “hands on” day).
J.M: Do not throw like a baseball or a football. You must keep your elbow parallel with your shoulder tucked into your body and be “square” with the target. It is definitely more of a “toss” than a violent throw. (Hence, don’t picture any exes on the target). We don’t want any accidents. The most we have had was a splinter and it was because the guest leaned on the target when trying to yank out the axe. We take safety seriously!
There is a “training period for each new guest or even a guest who is returning. Each person has an “Axe Master” that is included in their price of admission. This is to ensure safety and provide an optimal experience. The “master” trains you on how to throw and provides you with a comfort level before watching from afar. You can get a score card or just play without scoring – the option is completely your own. The Axe Master is in charge of two lanes and makes sure all is okay. He also comes by to check up on you and make sure all is well.
A.W. Is this sport dangerous?
J.M: that is all in the eye of the beholder. It can be dangerous if you aren’t shown the rules and the proper way to do things but we always provide that safeguard so there is no danger. Our Axe Masters are always around to assist and ensure safety. Our axes are made of hickory, so there isn’t a “wood on wood” type of situation which doesn’t work properly for a “bouncing” rotation. We take pride in the wood we use which is reclaimed wood from dead trees during Hurricane Irma.
We buy from an outreach program from a local church. We believe in supporting local businesses in Palm Beach County.
A.W: Can you please explain scoring to me?
J.M: Of course, each customer gets 5 throws per round. If you choose to play by the score card and not just “throw” here is the system:
Obviously, most guests try to get the middle or the “bullseye.”. Prior to your final throw and it MUST BE PRIOR you have a choice of calling out “metro” which is 9 points at bottom and look like little green dots. The sport originated in Canada. In Canada when you go into town, people say, “I am going Downtown on the Metro”. There is also something called “Clutch.” On your final throw, if you call “clutch” prior to the throw it is worth 7 points. These are the 2 BIG green dots/markers on the target.
Here is the quick point summary:
7= Green circles or “clutch”
5= Bullseye Black
3= Middle Red Circle
1=Outer Circle Blue
A.W : I am sure that you have had lot of interesting stories coming out of this Axe throwing experience. Can you tell me about the BEST one?
J.M: Actually, there are two stories that I would like to share because they are both valid in their own way and actually memorable as well as emotional for me. They connect with our mission of “spreading love and enjoyment with no barriers.”
In the first “story”, we got a phone call from a guy who wanted to book a party. He asked if it was okay if a couple who were blind could still participate. I said with great conviction, “yes, of course they can participate”. I showed no hesitation in my voice when I responded. The Axe Master trained the couple to throw axes. The couple were in their 30’s and they loved throwing axes and were able to do it proficiently!
In the second “story”, I got a very sad call from very emotional mother. I remember it being on a Sunday night right before Covid hit. She told me that her two sons had lost their dad a year ago that day and they wanted to do something to forget about all those sad feelings for a day, so we booked a special visit for them. I felt like I was part of their special day and also part of their healing – you cannot just get that gratification anywhere and I will never forget this experience.
A.W: What are you most proud of?
J.M: There are many things so I will just name a few. I am proud that Axe throwing is a sport that pretty much anyone can participate in regardless of race, creed, affiliation, creed, etc. It is similar to Spear fishing in that when you are participating you are involved fully and it is a great stress reliever. You learn how to do it with finesse and it affords you a way to relax.
I am also proud of our dedicated staff that make this experience safe, rewarding and entertaining. Oshry and I are very proud of our business. We also work hard to support local charities. Two of the organizations that we support are:
Community Greening which transforms urban green spaces. (https://comunitygreening.org) in Boynton Beach
Kids Saving Oceans (https:/www.kidssavingoceans.com)
A.W: How do the fans promote your business?
J.M. Our customers are our greatest fans. They usually promote us via Facebook (we have our own page on Facebook and Instagram), word of mouth and through the entertainment industry. I think that our number one fans are our league members which have become like family to us. On Monday Nights we have special leagues. To join a league, you pay $120 for 8 weeks. It is $15 per person per week. Also, you can join for 2 months which would be $120. On Monday nights, leagues get a maximum of 3 hours and 2 hours maximum on a Sunday.
A.W: What is the most Challenging part of your business? Most enjoyable part?
J.M: We have 28 employees and making sure everything gets done correctly is always tough. We weren’t allowed to operate as a business for 3 months in March, April, and May because of discrepancies with Covid zoning guidelines and financially that was a struggle. But our customers were ready and waiting for our reopening with arms wide open and axes ready to aim-lol!
The best part was the dedication from our leagues. We had the youngest female to throw a perfect game at one of our facilities and it was amazing! It is a genuine feeling of enjoyment when our guests arrive and can get enough relaxation and enjoyment to make their problems disappear for a few hours.
A.W: What are your future plans for G.O.A?
J.M: (with a laugh and a sigh of relief) To get through 2020 and have all our facilities open and operating.
Hit me with your best shot!
If you’re ready for some fun that will surely give you a little edge; perhaps a little rush of adrenaline, dare yourself and follow through – go axe throwing with your buddies, your best friend, an interesting first date (I am thinking that this may be in my future). Life is short, live a little, throw a little. Joey assures you that it will be “axe-citing!”. After my initial visit I am planning my next adventure with the axes. Game of Axes – put it on your bucket list . . . it’s totally worthwhile!
Visit the Game of Axes website.