Axe-throwing makes an impact in Oak Harbor

One of Oak Harbor’s best known purveyors of fun recently launched a new business.

One of Oak Harbor’s best known purveyors of fun recently introduced a trendy new attraction to the city’s entertainment scene.

James Croft, owner of the Roller Barn and Toppins Frozen Yogurt, launched an axe throwing range, aptly named Tossin’ Axes, at the Midway Traders Village. Following a soft launch earlier this month, Tossin’ Axes saw a successful grand opening on June 16.

Recreational axe throwing has surged in popularity in the U.S. over the last decade. When Croft heard about it, he knew it was something he wanted to bring to Oak Harbor — after all, Croft has long been in the business of all things fun.

His businesses, current and past, have offered hands-on entertainment to Oak Harbor residents of all ages. His first business, Neighborhood Amusements, supplied arcade games to venues around the island and beyond. The space that now houses Tossin’ Axes once held Bouncin’, a bounce house locale that Croft operated from 2015 to 2020.

Croft is perhaps best known now for his restoration work at the Roller Barn, which he purchased in 2019. Activities offered at the historic barn include roller skating, laser tag, pickleball, arcade games and an annual haunted house attraction. Tossin’ Axes joins the Roller Barn and Toppins under Croft’s umbrella corporation, which bears the same name as his first company, Neighborhood Amusements.

The latest installment in Croft’s empire of fun will focus on axe throwing, an activity that Croft said is far safer than it sounds.

“At first, we were like, ‘It just seems kind of weird to throw axes,’” he said. “But then once you start doing it, you realize, ‘Wow, this is actually incredible.’”

The lanes at Tossin’ Axes feature more than just a simple target to hit; Croft utilizes a video system that projects different games onto the boards at the end of the lane. In addition to the traditional target projection, the system includes games such as tic-tac-toe, Battleship, Connect Four and Zombie Hunter.

“It makes it just really fun, creating a little bit more of a challenge than just always going for that middle target,” he said.

Croft left out the auto-scoring feature, however; he joked that arguing about what counts as a hit and how to score a game is almost more fun than the axe throwing itself.

Employees — “axe-perts,” as Croft calls them — teach visitors techniques to help them master their throw. They help patrons adjust their grip on the axe, figure out where to stand and decide whether a one- or two-handed grip will work better for them.

“That’s the part that makes it really fun for just about everybody,” Croft said. “You find out you can actually throw axes really easily with this system.”

The space features more than just axe throwing, too; patrons who are waiting their turn for a lane, or who have finished throwing but still want to hang out, can enjoy Pinball and Skeeball machines, oversized Jenga and Connect Four, a tiny putting green or Atmosphere TV.

Croft plans to grow the space’s offerings in the future; he said his vision includes a private karaoke room and blacklight minigolf.

However the business grows, Croft said what matters most to him is that everyone who enters has a good time.

“I love seeing people smile,” he said. “That’s like my favorite thing in the world.”

James Croft hits the bullseye. (Photo by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times)

James Croft hits the bullseye. (Photo by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times)