Feeling a little glum? Try slinging a hatchet end-over-end, and embedding it in a thick slice of tree trunk.
It’ll make you smile, as I learned recently, when I sent a flurry of hatchets zinging through the air at a wooden target. Plus, I’m pretty sure it helps keep arms toned. Paul Bunyan was buff, wasn’t he?
I signed up for a hatchet-throwing class at Travaasa, a spa and retreat near Lake Travis, where guests can do everything from ride a mechanical bull to spin through a bicycle pump course. I couldn’t resist the hatchets, so I enlisted local massage therapist Michelle Hittner to join me for the 45-minute session. Four spa guests with slightly wild looks in their eyes also participated.
Travaasa started offering the class in February. It’s proved so popular that the company’s Hawaiian property plans to offer its own spin on it — spear throwing, says general manager Mark Stebbings.
We meet instructor Jaime Solis, who lays out the ground rules: No standing in front of someone about to throw a hatchet. No standing behind someone aiming a hatchet. And no retrieving of hatchets until everyone is finished throwing.
“Every once in a while someone will ask if they can bring a picture of their boss in,” he jokes, then gets serious.
Focus is important. Hatchet-throwing takes physical and mental concentration. You’ve got to keep your eye on the target and your grip loose and fluid. “To really get it down, you have to have your breathing right,” Solis says.
Hatchet-throwing is all in the wrist. Ideally, the hatchet — which was traditionally used as a lumbering tool, not a weapon — makes two rotations, then sticks by the corner of the blade to a hunk of wood.
“If you’re using your whole arm, it takes a lot to get it to stick. Or you can do it with your wrist, using the weight of the hatchet,” Solis says.
We stand 15 feet from the target and hold our hatchets near the base of their handles with a lose grip. “We do not have a death grip on it,” Solis says, demonstrating. “It’s not about powering through; it’s about getting that rotation.”
Hips, face and one foot forward, we raise the hatchet with a smooth motion over our heads a few times, then release it at eye level with a nice snap. Theoretically, it will sail through the air and embed in the target with a satisfying thunk.
But it doesn’t work like that at first. Unless you are Joel Bratcher.
Bratcher, 46, is here with his wife, Olga Araujo, 40. They came from San Antonio to stay at Travaasa for a few days to celebrate Joel’s birthday. His first hatchet flies through the air and lodges perfectly in the plate-sized target. So do several more.
‘Take that, log,” he says, hatchets whipping from his hands.
When Solis suggests trying two hatchets at a time, he leaps at the opportunity. “Two is more fun. When else are you going to have a chance to throw two?” he says.
When his wife steps up to the throw line, she’s a little more hesitant. “Don’t be afraid, there’s nothing over there that can get hurt,” Solis coaches.
After a few tries, she locks one onto the target, too. “After 40 years of being told, ‘Don’t throw that!’” she shouts. “Yes!”
I’m going to keep an eye on these two.
Throwing developed as an art not for fighting, but to practice skills. Today, it’s popular among scouting groups and at lumberjacking competitions.
The hatchets we are using weigh 1.5 pounds each and are specifically designed for throwing. Their handles are wrapped in neon orange tape to prevent splintering and keep them visible. You can buy a similar one online for about $35.
Hittner, 44, who owns Austin Massage Co., goes next and hits the target, but her hatchet bounces off and lands on the ground, like an errant gymnast tossed from a trampoline. And when I try, my first three hatchets miss the target entirely — air hatchets.
The next round is better. The first time I wedge a hatchet into the wood block I feel like bellowing. I want more, and I get them, lodging several more hatchets in the wood. Suddenly I’m envisioning myself whacking sandwiches in half and felling hundred-foot trees.
Hittner’s into it, too. “I want one of these in my backyard,” she says. “That would get rid of the stress of the day.”
We grab two hatchets at once, and our reign of terror continues. “I totally feel like I should be running toward the target screaming,” Hittner says.
It’s possible we’ve alarmed Solis. He’s trying to calm us down. We do, eventually. But I’m left with a satisfied feeling of empowerment.
If you need me, check out back by the woodshed.
IF YOU GO
Travaasa is located at 13500 RM 2769. Day passes cost $229; overnight stays start at $275. For more information, go to travaasa.com/austin.