PORTAGE PARK — It doesn't take as much strength as you'd think to hurl a spinning piece of sharp metal against a plywood board, but coordination and focus are key.
In other words, Scott Hollander said, it's a lot like golf.
"It's all about figuring out the rotation of your body so that you're getting power from everywhere, not just your arms," Hollander said, swaying the baton-sized tomahawk between his legs. "But everyone knows you can't take a golf swing while keeping 10 tips in your mind at the same time, and it's the same way when you're teaching people axes."
Hollander is hoping to pass the skill on to an eager class of pupils on April 19, when he opens Thunderbolt at 4842 W. Irving Park Road, bringing the Six Corners shopping district an attraction unlike anything it's seen in its long history.
The single, brightly lit room is set up like a bowling alley in miniature, with 10 throwing lanes separated by chain-link fences and rear-guarded by wooden cubbies.
Fifteen dollars, or $20 on weekends, buys each customer an hour with a one-handed ax and free reign to punish one of the tricolor bull's-eyes mounted on the wall. Visitors can either hone their technique on their own, or engage friends in a serious rule-based game of competitive ax-throwing.
Those new to the sport will get a 10-minute tutorial from Hollander or one of his employees on the basic method, and from there they'll be left to keep trying until they can get the blade to sink into the target about 15 feet in front of them — no matter how long it takes, he said.
"What we find is that the longer people spend without sticking, the more excited they are when they finally get it," Hollander said. "I've seen it hundreds of times where someone doesn't think they can do it, then they get it on the board after 30 tries, and they're jumping and yelling for joy."
The sport of ax-throwing was born in Canada, and Thunderbolt is one of a handful of places dedicated to the pursuit to open south of the border in the last few years, Hollander said. It's the second range to plant roots in Chicago, with the Ontario-based chain Bad Axe Throwing having set up shop in the West Loop in September.
The dozens of ranges already operating around the United States and Canada have impeccable safety records, which Hollander intends to copy by adopting their same policies, he said.
The cubbies are intentionally placed to keep a wide space between throwers and spectators, Hollander said. And the blades aren't "knife-sharp," so it's "easy to handle them safely, he added.
Once people get over any initial trepidation, participants will find the camaraderie alone could be enough to get them hooked, Hollander said.
"We see a lot of successful places creating a kind of subculture, and that's an ideal situation for us, too," he said. "Where instead of just trying it and leaving, people can sign up for leagues and make new friends. That's why it's exploding in Canada, and we think the same thing can happen in Chicago."
"After all," he added, "Where else in the city do you get an open space to throw a sharp object as hard as you can?"
Starting next week, Thunderbolt will be open from 5-10 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays and noon-10 p.m. weekends.
Groups can book special events outside regular hours by emailing email@example.com, Hollander said.