Upon first consideration, giving a group of 12-year-old boys a bunch of axes to throw for fun might sound like a pretty crazy idea. But at a recent birthday party at Bad Axe Throwing, a newish venue that offers opportunities to — you guessed it! — throw axes at targets, it was actually really great.
I first heard about Bad Axe Throwing last spring when a friend told me she’d attended an adult birthday celebration at the venue in northeast DC. Until then, I’d only seen the sport in action at Ren Fest, so of course I was immediately intrigued (because, Ren Fest). However, I didn’t try it myself until a few weeks ago when Owen attended a friend’s birthday party there. His mom (my friend, Torey) invited a few parents to join them for some target practice, too.
The facility where it takes place is fairly bare bones. It looks like an old warehouse or garage with two cavernous rooms with a few axe throwing “cages” on one side and, on the other, some tables and stools where guests can hang out, eat, and drink (all BYO) while they wait their turns to throw. Chain link fencing separates each cage, and plywood goes halfway up the target wall. Two targets hang side by side in each cage, and cork board and rubber matting line the floor in front of them. Concrete blocks or wooden stands about 10 feet back from the wall hold the axes right about where throwers stand.
The session begins with a short overview of the rules and a quick lesson on how to throw. The kids started things off, and after a few thunks against the boards and axes landing on the ground, they started to get in a groove, and the axes began to stick. We adults joined in soon after, and while it took me a couple of turns to really get it, once I did it was quite satisfying to hear that sharp “whomp” and see the hatchet buried in the wood as it hit the target.
After we’d all had some practice rounds, we played a few team games — mostly kids versus adults — similar to cricket, the popular darts game. (Happy to report we old folks beat the youngins! 🙂 ). There were also some one-on-one games, too, as players tried to reach a total score first by hitting rungs on the target with designated point values.
All in all, this was a really good time for all — a great tween birthday party, plus a fun and unique activity for the adults. And you don’t necessarily have to be with a big group to go. While we did see mostly larger parties there, walk-ins are welcome, too. As for ages, I did see some younger kids there with a family group, but I would probably recommend the activity for middle school ages and up.
Rates for groups vary: The Corporate rate is $35/person (minimum of 35) and includes two coaches and four targets for 2.5 hours. The Bad Axe Package is $44.25/person* (minimum of 6) and includes one coach and two targets. Walk-ins are $20/hour. *There is a HEROES rate for Firefighters, Nurses, EMT, Paramedics, Police Officers & Military — they can get the lowest rate of $35/person.
A little tidbit of info about me: I am afraid of heights. Like heart-dropping-into-stomach, knees-turning-to-rubber scared anytime there is more than about 15 feet of space between the ground and my feet. I have mini panic attacks when my kids venture within 10 feet of a mountain’s edge on a hike, always opt for the aisle seat, and have to resort to my happy place when riding in glass elevators.
This doesn’t stop me from pursuing activities that frighten the bejeezus out of me. I’ve zipped hundreds of feet in the air over rainforest dangling from a wire, repelled over cliffs, even ridden a mule into the Grand Canyon (yes, put my life literally on the back of an ass as it slowly trod the rugged path, about a foot of trail between us and a 7,000-foot drop into the red rock abyss). Because while these pursuits are desperately terrifying, I also find them amazingly exhilarating. And I believe it’s important to veer from our comfort zones now and then and, as they say, conquer our fears.
One thing I will never, ever, ever, ever opt to do is skydive. No matter how thrilling or boundary-pushing it may be, or what a transcendental experience flying in the sky would offer… nope. Just the thought of hurling myself out of an airplane with the earth thousands of feet below makes me, ironically, want to hurl.
So, when iFLY Loudoun reached out to introduce their new simulated skydiving experience location I was immediately intrigued. I had never heard of this before. I could experience the feeling of flying without having to step foot in (then out of) an airplane? And it would be indoors with a “safety net” below? Sign me up!
If this is new to you as well, here’s how this is possible: Flights take place in a vertical wind tunnel, where a smooth cushion of air enables people to float. This air is created by high-powered fans at the top of the tunnel that draw air through the flight chamber, then push it back down the sides and underneath, then up again, lifting flyers. An operator just outside the chamber controls the speed of the wind, adjusting for the flyer’s weight and skill level.
When I first arrived at the big blue structure right off a main road in Ashburn, VA, I was still clueless about the inner workings with all of my focus on the idea that I was going to fly. I was greeted by very friendly staff and taken on a little tour. In the lobby is the front desk, where guests can register as well as several kiosks for signing up and viewing and purchasing photos and videos after flights. There is also gear for sale for those who want iFLY souvenirs.
All of the action takes place on the second floor. The large wind tunnel is at the center, with spectator benches just outside and an equipment area, a small classroom, restrooms, and a party room on the perimeter. The space seems compact compared to the building, but once you learn how it works, you can see how the facility is essentially built around the wind tunnel.
They didn’t waste any time getting my session started, and my instructor, Trevor, took me into a classroom to give me a rundown of what to expect, demonstrate the body position for flying, and show me hand signals he would use to direct me in the tunnel (he would also be in there) — signs for bending my legs, straightening them, relaxing, and keeping my head up. He also answered all of my questions and was very reassuring and enthusiastic, which quelled any nervousness I had.
Flight suits for all sizes
The lesson took about 10 minutes, and from there I suited up in my flight suit, helmet, ear plugs, and goggles, stowed my belongings in a locker, and prepared for lift off. Really, it was quick and easy as that, and in no time I entered the wind tunnel by leaning over and letting Trevor guide me. Before I knew it, I was flying.
And, yowza, was it exhilarating! Any trepidation I may have had immediately disappeared once I felt the air lift and carry me. The wind blew loud and hard, but I barely noticed because I was so caught up in the thrill of it. I was flying! I spun around the tunnel, sometimes dropped a bit when I was out of position, lifted up again. Trevor helped with hand signals and some guidance, re-positioning as needed. I could not stop smiling, which was great, but also odd because it felt simultaneously like I was drooling and my mouth was drying out.
There was a small audience during my session, as iFly welcomes folks to come in just to spectate. While I probably wasn’t the most exciting guest to watch, some flyers are skydiving enthusiasts who use the wind tunnel to practice skills and tricks, putting on a good show. While I took a break from one of my flights, Trevor jumped in a demonstrated just how artistic one can get in the air — quite an impressive show!
I took four flights, each lasting up to about 90 seconds, but it seems like they go on much longer. On the last two flights, Trevor flew with me and guided us high into the tunnel, at least 30 feet up and easily the most fun and exciting part of the experience. I didn’t for one second feel unsafe or disoriented. It seemed like I could gently bounce around on the wind forever. But, alas, my session came to an end.
If there’s anything dangerous about iFLY, it’s probably that you could get hooked — and it’s not a cheap hobby. I’m already thinking about when I can go back with the rest of my crew. Anyone age 3 to 103 can experience the thrill, as long as they weigh less than 250 lbs, are not pregnant, and generally have good health and fitness (those with neck and back issues should consult a doctor first).
This may be a special occasion kind of adventure, since it’s a bit of a splurge: Pricing starts at $79.95/person for 2 flights, and there are also Family Packs and group rates available. (All worth it, in my opinion!) There is also a Kids Club, which offers discounts for multiple sessions.
And if you’re looking for a fantastic, unique way to celebrate a birthday, they also offer parties. Packages include a party coordinator for your event, a flight training class, all the necessary gear, hands-on instruction with each flyer, and a video of the flight session. Extras include a party room, catering, and a few more services. Contact iFLY for details.
One quick tip: if you have long hair, be sure to tie it back tightly! My hair band must have been loose, because it came off during my flight, and my hair was a tangled mess afterwards. It took a lot of conditioner and slightly painful combing to get it back to normal.
iFLY Loudon is located at 20315 Commonwealth Center Drive in Ashburn, VA. Hours are Monday-Thursday 10am – 10pm, Friday 10am – 11pm, Saturday 9am – 11pm, and Sunday 9am – 10pm. It’s best to book in advance, they recommend a week ahead.
So, are you ready to fly?! Here’s a better look at what to expect…
Disclosure: iFLY Loudoun invited me in for a complimentary flight session, however, all opinions expressed here are entirely my own, and I only promote programs, products, and services that I truly believe in and/or think would appeal to KFDC readers.
The timing of the National Geographic Museum’s newest exhibit, Spinosaurus: Lost Giant of the Cretaceous, is rather auspicious — for them and for us. Just months after the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum began their five-year hiatus for major renovations, Nat Geo debuted this exhibition, and it’s sure to satisfy dino enthusiasts, young and old, jones-ing for a prehistoric beast fix.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is a life-sized skeletal model of Spinosaurus, the first truly semiaquatic dinosaur and the largest predatory dinosaur known to have roamed the Earth. At more than 50 feet long and 20 feet high, Spinosaurus measured more than nine feet longer than the world’s largest T-Rex. Little museum-goers will undoubtedly be enthralled by the colossal installation along with other reproductions of Cretaceous creatures on display.
For those with larger attention spans, the fascinating backstory of Spinosaurus is told through a series of interactive displays. Literally windows into history, they feature panels with “vistas” of various locations in places that were significant in the Spino’s discovery — the office of the paleontologist with the the first findings, a Moroccan fossil market, Milan’s Musuem of Natural History. Multimedia elements such as video from World War II when key artifacts were destroyed and the discovery of Spinosaurus bones in Morocco offer further insight. And real dinosaur fossils, a replica of the cave where most of Spino’s remains were found, and sketches of its first unearthed bones (that were later lost in the war) help complete the narrative.
Spinosaurus: Lost Giant of the Cretaceous will be on display at the National Geographic Museum through April 12, 2015. Admission is $11/adult, $9/senior, $7/ages 5-12, free for 4 and under. Museum hours are 10am – 6pm.
You all probably know by now how much I love the exhibits at the National Geographic Museum. They are always a perfect mix of entertaining and educational, with intriguing displays, fun interactives, engaging multimedia, and, of course, stunning photography that is practically their signature.
This is much of the reason why I am so excited about the new exhibit coming to Nat Geo in a couple of weeks. Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship will be on display from March 8 through September 2. I have a feeling it’s going to a popular one — with kids and adults alike.
The exhibit tells the story of a slave ship turned pirate ship and the diverse people whose lives converged on the vessel. Sunk in a fierce storm off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts in April 1717, the Whydah wreckage was found by underwater explorer Barry Clifford in 1984, becoming the first pirate ship discovered in North American waters to be authenticated and fully excavated. Here’s more background on the ship:
The three-masted, 300-ton galley was built as a slave ship in London in 1715 and represented the most advanced technology at that time. She was easy to maneuver, unusually fast and — to protect her human cargo — heavily armed. The Whydah’s purpose was to transport human captives from the west coast of Africa to the Caribbean, but it was fated to make only one such voyage. In February 1717, after the slaves were sold in the Caribbean, the Whydah was captured off the Bahamas by Sam Bellamy, one of the most successful pirates of his day. Bellamy and his crew hoisted the Jolly Roger, and the slave ship became a pirate ship.
Just two months later, on April 26, 1717, in one of the worst nor’easters ever recorded, the Whydah, packed with plunder from more than 50 captured ships, sank off the Massachusetts coast. All but two of the 146 people on board drowned. Some 270 years later, Clifford found the first remains of the ship. In a recovery operation that has spanned more than two decades, Clifford and his team have brought up hundreds of artifacts, not only gold and silver, but everyday objects that shed light on this tumultuous period of American and world history.
Many of the artifacts will be on display in the exhibit, including weapons such as swords, cannons, muskets and pistols as well as daily necessities such as tools, kitchen utensils, buttons, coins and personal belongings from the captain’s quarters. In addition, visitors can climb aboard a replica of the ship and experience what it was like in the captain’s quarters and below deck.
Pirate booty will be part of the display, of course
If you want to mark your calendar way ahead, there will be a free Pirates Family Festival featuring re-enactors, a treasure hunt, and more on June 22. Plus, the Museum will be offering Pirate Birthday Parties starting in March for kids ages 5-12.
The National Geographic Museum is located at 1145 17th Street NW. It’s open daily from 10am – 6pm. Photography exhibitions in the museum’s M Street gallery and outdoors are free, but exhibitions in the 17th Street galleries are ticketed. Admission is $11/adults, $9/members, military, students, seniors, $7/ages 5-12, and free for ages 4 and under and for local school, student, and youth groups (18 and under; advance reservation required). Tickets can be purchased online or at the National Geographic ticket booth.
Street parking can be tough in that area. If you drive, your best bet is one of the nearby garages. Metro’s Farragut North (red line) and Farragut West (blue/orange lines) stops are fairly convenient.