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Celebrating its reopening after being damaged by flooding from Hurricane Ian, Swamp Axe Co. in East Naples is throwing a party this weekend with new co-owners and big plans for the future.

The hurricane damage occurred a year after the local ax-throwing venue had to rebuild following smoke and water damage from a fire last year in a thrift store at the end of its commercial strip. This fall, Swamp Axe had to bail out 4 feet of storm surge from the Sept. 28 hurricane.

“The building has been through the wringer a little bit,” said Chris Jones, a new co-owner of the local business that launched in the fall of 2020 at 2487 Linwood Ave. “We were able to rebuild following the damage from Hurricane Ian. Now help us break in our new boards.”

The grand reopening party for Swamp Axe is from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, at the East Naples venue. The event includes contests, giveaways, prizes and live music by the Yabo Brothers. Addison’s On the Go food truck will be on-site from 6 to 9 p.m. and guests bringing canned food or pet food items to donate will receive a free can of Stella Artois beer. “We also are encouraging ugly sweaters,” Jones said.

The business offers six caged ax-throwing lanes for one-hour or two-hour sessions and a variety of targets. A single lane can be reserved for up to four players or multiple lanes can be booked for special events. “It brings people together,” Jones said. “We do tons of team building, date nights, groups, reunions, bachelor parties, corporate events and even have a mobile unit.” 

Jones and Henrik Lagergren, who co-own LowBrow Pizza & Beer, Industry Pizza & Slice Shop, Industry Beer & Barbecue, and the BBQ Shop in Naples, recently teamed up with Swamp Axe founder Sean Couturier to grow the local business into a much bigger operation. They want to move Swamp Axe to another spot with better visibility and pair it with their existing restaurant and bar concepts. The goal is to grow from six to possibly 18 targets.

“We’re actively looking for larger locations now,” said Jones, who wants a sports bar feel with food service in a venue large enough to host sizeable ax-throwing tournaments for the World Axe Throwing League (WATL), the sport’s global governing body founded five years ago. “The search for a bigger space is on. We really want to have food and beverage that is really part of the LowBrow brands, a bigger bar and a lot more sports on TV and a place you would go to for a bite and a couple of pints even if you didn’t want to throw axes.”

Although Swamp Axe participants have fun throwing hand tools at everything from swamp ape cutouts and piñatas to manikins and foam heads, its owners are serious about ax throwing, an extremely fast-growing sport. In fact, televised world championships for the sport start today.

“Ax throwing has larger prize pools now. It’s growing and we’re super excited about it.” said Jones, comparing the international sport to bowling or dart leagues. “It’s a fun sport. It’s amazing how it has grown.”

In addition to hatchets, Swamp Axe offers throwing big axes and knives, which have their own competitive categories and disciplines. Local leagues have about 40 members or “leaguers” now, Jones said.

Jones, who was introduced to the sport by Swamp Axe, has personally become quite skilled and competitive at throwing axes at targets. He has traveled to Ohio, Tennessee, Pompano Beach and St. Petersburg to throw axes competitively. He hopes to compete in as many as eight to 12 tournaments next year.

“I’ve never honestly had a hobby like this outside of cooking,” said Jones, who previously was a chef at local country clubs. “Cooking was always my hobby. I have ax throwing aside from the restaurants that really takes me away outside of the restaurants.”

His goal is to make the WATL Pro League — the top 64 participants in the country. “When you make that status, you get a lot of opportunities for tournaments. For me, that’s the goal, to not have to worry about qualifying,” Jones said. “I missed the world’s by two throws this year.”

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