Calling themselves Assassin Ashley, Sniper Sarah and Bull's Eye Betty, these feisty femmes love hurling axes at targets. In fact, Wellington-based Ashley Lemasters, Sarah Hilyard and Erika Slaughter enjoy axe throwing so much, they are carving careers out of it!
"There's something really satisfying about sinking an axe into a chunk of wood!" says Erika, 30, who is a long way from her hometown of Austin, Texas. Like her boss Sarah and colleague Ashley, the flame-haired gal works as an instructor at Sweet Axe Throwing, New Zealand's first indoor venue dedicated to the sport.
For these target-piercers, a big part of the fun in being "axe-perts" is empowering other females to step outside their comfort zones.
"My male flatmate told me, 'You can drink your rum, you throw axes for a living and you stick up for yourself – you're the definition of a bad-ass woman!'" laughs Erika, who learnt to hurl an axe as a teen.
For Cleveland-born Ashley, 30, it was in New Zealand she first tossed an axe. "I wanted to try it in the States but never got a chance to," she says. "I really enjoy that people think it's a dude thing, then come in and see I'm their teacher. I love being able to show that as a woman, I can do this!"
Ashley says women can step into the venue a bit timid but often flourish when they discover they can do better than the men they're with.
"It especially feels good when the guys tease each other, like, 'You throw like a girl,' and I say, 'No, if you threw like a girl, you'd be winning right now!'"
For Sarah, throwing the 1.3kg axes started as a hobby in her hometown of Sydney. But after moving to windy Wellington in 2016 with boyfriend Lloyd Bombell, 38, the couple went into the axe business, which she now juggles with an admin job.
The biggest misconception about the sport, says the 32-year-old, is that you need to be strong. "The technique is close to a cricket bowl and the concept is kind of like darts on steroids! You can leave everything you know about throwing at the door and that's why women are often faster at picking it up – because they tend to listen better!"
Sarah admits there have been a few requests to put photos on targets, usually by people fresh from a break-up. She laughs, "But we're peaceful folk. Our big rule is no-one feels threatened or unsafe."
However, Erika admits to a bit of targeted visualisation. "When my messy flatmate has left polenta all over the kitchen, I'll meditate on that, throwing the axe at the board!"
The trio are part of the World Axe-Throwing League, which has hundreds of members from around the globe. Each week they record the highest scores made at their work, so they can send the top thrower to the World Championships in the US in December. Of course, they hope it's one of them.
They have advice for other women wanting to try axe throwing: "It's all about the body, not the strength, and you shouldn't be afraid," Ashley says. "Some people get freaked out about the sharpness of the axe or the noise when it hits the wood, but it's not going to hurt you if you listen to us."
She adds, "The biggest injury we've had is a splinter because there's a lot of wood around! It's very safe if it's done correctly."
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