'I fully understand and appreciate that axes of any size are potentially dangerous objects."
So begins the rather unusual 11-point liability waiver visitors must sign to enter what is, perhaps, the newest sign of gentrification in East Kensington: Urban Axes, the nation's first indoor, competitive, BYOB ax-throwing arena.
It's backed by four partners: two Philadelphia men, and a couple who moved from Philadelphia to Toronto in 2013 and encountered a quirky, distinctly Canadian brand of fun they didn't know they were missing.
"They discovered this whole culture of indoor ax-throwing, and they were like: 'Why doesn't this exist in America?' " said Lily Cope, who manages the business, set to open officially Sept. 15 in a minimally renovated segment of the Viking Mill complex. The sport, begun 10 years ago in Toronto, has an avid fan base there and has spread to other cities around Canada.
Co-owners Stuart Jones, 47, of Bella Vista, and Shaun Hurley, 45, of Huntingdon Valley - both information-technology workers by day - imported the sport, partly because they wanted the chance to play more frequently.
"It's addictive," Hurley said. "I'll play golf if I have to, but this is more fun."
It took about nine months to find a willing landlord - not to mention an open-minded insurance provider.
"One insurance agent just hung up on me," Jones said.
Finding a manager was easier. Cope said that when she got a text suggesting she apply for work in ax-throwing, she blamed autocorrect.
"I thought it was a typo," she said. "When I found it wasn't, I was terrified."
But she quickly came around to the idea of a hatchet job.
Urban Axes, which so far includes four lanes separated by chain-link fence, is in a soft-opening phase, hosting weekly tournaments for staff, friends, and diehard ax aficionados.
On a recent evening, two groups of eight to 12 players faced off, two at a time, to hurl axes toward twin bull's-eyes, first in a round-robin, then in a single-elimination bracket.
Each group of players was assigned a coach and a scorekeeper. Charles Perkins, 30, gathered a group together.
"I'm a trained 'axpert,' " he assured them before explaining the preferred stance, grip, and throwing technique, as well as ax etiquette ("tap axes before each game"); scoring (the ax must lodge in the bull's-eye to earn points); and safety protocol ("Do not retrieve your ax until both people have thrown").
Then he invited two players to step up for target practice.
One ax landed with a satisfying thwack in the wood. The other fell with a clunk to the ground.
Both sounds continued through the evening. Some novices spent most of the night producing the weaponized equivalent of gutter balls. A few discovered latent talent - and left with a newfound obsession.
Kayli Moran, 35, of Center City, said she had been to Urban Axes several times already. Ax-throwing wasn't anything she'd pictured herself doing, but it had its appeal.
"It sounded like something out of The Hunger Games. It's fun, a little different, and it kind of makes me feel like a badass," she said. "Similar to any sort of league - darts or bowling - it's a chance to relax and build community and hang out with friends. The difference is, ax-throwing sounds a lot cooler than saying, 'I'm going bowling tonight.' "
Alan Holmes, 30, of Fishtown, brought his father, Gary Johnson, 60, of Norristown. Holmes had encountered the game while in Toronto for a wedding. He was an instant hatchet man.
"I didn't know what I was doing when I started, and by the end I was throwing bull's-eyes - and drinking beer at the same time," he said.
He plans to host his girlfriend's 30th birthday party at Urban Axes.
Such group events cost $35 per person and last about three hours. There's also league play, starting in September and running $120 for eight weeks.
The venue, mostly exposed brick and plywood, will eventually include three more arenas, and a private room with another arena for corporate events. Other amenities to be installed by the time the site opens include bathrooms, air-conditioning, and a wheelchair ramp, as people of all abilities can play.
A beer refrigerator is, of course, already installed.
Urban Axes will also include a semblance of a pro shop, selling axes at $20 apiece. Jones said he and his partners tried a dozen ax varieties before settling on the house brand.
Each new staff member receives an ax as a hiring bonus. They're encouraged to personalize them.
Mike Moore, 33, of Audubon, Camden County, made his ax a macramé koozie with army-green parachute cord.
"I think Charles [Perkins] bedazzled his, and named it Sally," Moore added. "He said his wife did it."
Rachel Iwanowicz, 27, of Brookhaven, Delaware County, pulled out her phone to show off a picture of her ax. "It's covered in purple glitter right now," she said. "It needed a feminine touch."
After all, Hurley said, one need not be a lumberjack to excel here.
"There's nothing excessively macho about it. It's not about strength," he said. "It's not a high barrier to entry as a sport. Most people get the basics in three or four throws. It's a Zen thing: You pick it up quickly and then spend as long as you like perfecting it."