In 2014, Adam Schilling was in Canada for a wedding when he heard there were, in his words, “crazy Canucks (Canadians) throwing axes for fun in a warehouse in the outskirts of Toronto”.
“I wanted to give it a try,” he says. "But it was completely booked out.”
Straight away, the enterprising pilot spotted a business opportunity. If axe throwing was popular over there, surely it would take off here? “Canadians and Australians are on the same wavelength,” Schilling says. “I was determined to bring it back to Australia.”
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Back in Sydney, Schilling set up a target in his Coogee backyard and invited his friends over to try their hand. They spent rowdy nights around the firepit working different axes and honing their techniques. Australia’s first competitive axe-throwing organisation – Maniax – was born.
When the neighbours inevitably complained about the constant thudding of axes as they hit the target, he decided it was time to find a warehouse and see if this axe-throwing thing had legs. “We went searching in the inner west of Sydney and luckily found a landlord that shared the passion for taking risks,” he says.
So things were peachy on the axe-throwing front. But it was only when Schilling submitted a development application to the council that cold hard reality hit, he says. A group of locals was quick to express its opposition to having an axe-throwing venue on its doorstep. “They didn't want a bunch of people running through the streets throwing axes at each other,” he says. “It was the picture they had in their minds, and there was no convincing them otherwise.”
It took almost a year to persuade the local council to give Maniax the go-ahead. “There were certainly times when I thought axe throwing might be too un-PC for Australia, but we persevered and fought hard,” he says.
The long, drawn-out battle turned out to be a blessing in disguise, catching the attention of news outlets around the country. “The media was all over it,” Schilling says. “It really gave us a leg-up.”
Today, locals’ initial opposition to Maniax is a distant memory. It helps that Maniax is active in the community. “We sponsor schools and local businesses and try to promote the area,” says Schilling. “We’ve found that most of the residents have been in and competed in the sport. They’ve all changed their tune.”
The fear that hooligans would take to the streets armed with hatchets thankfully never eventuated. Maniax, which is alcohol-free, hosts just as many family get-togethers and corporate groups keen to try left-field team-building activities as it does bucks’ nights and hens’ dos.
A two-hour booking includes a safety briefing, one-on-one coaching (to fix up any issues with technique, explains Schilling) and an axe-throwing competition. “Someone is crowned the axe champion at the end of the day,” he says. “I never get bored of seeing people throwing an axe for the first time and hitting that bullseye – the cheers, yells of excitement, pure primal noises that bellow from deep in their stomach.”
Maniax has since opened in Melbourne, and a Brisbane venue recently opened its doors in the inner-city suburb of Newstead. “It’s a cool weatherboard space that screams Queensland,” says Schilling. He has no intention to slow down Maniax’s expansion, with plans for outposts in Adelaide and beyond. The Maniax team now numbers nearly 50 and Schilling’s wife Renee, a child psychologist by trade, has come on board as the company’s business development manager. Life is busy for Schilling, who is still an airline pilot (albeit part-time) and father of two young children. “I can't remember the last time I had a day off,” he says.
Nevertheless, it’s a passion project that has paid off for the entrepreneur: “It truly is rewarding to know that all the battles that we fought to bring axe throwing Down Under were worth it,” he says.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with James Squire. In the Full of Character series we talk to makers who embody the same entrepreneurial spirit James Squire prides itself on. To learn more about this pioneering character, read on here.