Splat! You’re dead
If you’re going to get shot, it might as well be by a soy-based paint pellet. It’s much better than the real thing, no doubt, but even dying (or is it dyeing?) in paint warfare is a major disappointment because the game’s over. And when you’re having as much fun as I did playing paintball, you certainly want to be the last one standing.Some other time, perhaps. The shot that killed me hit me dead center in the heart. It is true; you never hear the shot that kills you. The obvious question: Did it hurt?It certainly gets your attention.From my “safe” vantage point, the 150-yard long, wooded area at Camp Hale with its manmade bunkers looks a bit watered down. But that was before I saw the great leveler the gas-powered Tippman 98.Resembling the old German MP-44 Schmeisser Assault Rifle, complete with semi-automatic capacity, the Tippman is capable of firing as fast as you can pull the trigger. For this game it was calibrated to fire between 260 and 280 feet per second which translates to the cartridge coming out at a velocity of 205 mph. What is even more disconcerting is the accuracy (which is almost pinpoint). Watching an unprotected player get lit up like a Christmas tree (by friend and foe alike) is a pretty convincing display of its power potential.As intimidating as the Tippman seemed, the overall paintball experience was relatively safe. Every sport has its risks, but according to Guy Cooper, owner of Prostar Sports Inc. and a player since 1983, paintball has the lowest injury rate per thousand of any extreme sport. Cooper has put together an extensive report on emergency room studies, and says that most of the injuries come when the bottle (which holds the paintballs) becomes unscrewed from the valve (which funnels the balls into the firing chamber).Judging from the look of the Corporate Team players I met before our game, it looked like the only injuries they would sustain would be from their cellphones.Then came the welts.As the game unfolded, pasty-white corporates were transformed into enemy combatants and courageous heroes. The situation rapidly became kill or be killed as they blasted each other (with some relish) from point blank range.And these were colleagues?Jaya Lange, founder and manager of the paintball division at Nova Guides, says there is a wide range of people who come to battle it out on his three simulated battlefields.”I see gray-haired, 60-year-old CEO’s, CMC students, local businesses,” he explains.I had harbored some grand hopes of unearthing a dangerous cell of Colorado militiamen, honing their skills and intent on seceding from the union but that idea got shot down (excuse the pun).”The majority of the people are just looking to have a good time.” Lange says.Making its markOrganizations such as the National Professional Paintballing League in Huntington Beach, Calif., amongst many others, dictate rules and run tournaments with cash prizes. Make no mistake people are serious about this sport and with serious money on the line, this should not be considered merely a pastime.”It has increased in popularity by 50 percent every year since 1997,” Lange reports. Cooper is a little more reserved in his estimate.American Sports Data Reports, an organization that tracks sport participation nationwide, found that paintball has a compounded growth of about 20 percent each year with about 11 million participants currently. Not bad for a sport that started with 12 players in New Hampshire. Having experienced its pure adrenaline rush first-hand, I can see why.”I feel safer teaching people tactics,” Lange reflects. “It’s like playing chess. It’s all about strategy.” It is apparently also statistically the safest sport.”It’s safer than golf and more popular than snowboarding,” Lange confirms, something that is confirmed by Cooper.”It is the third fastest growing extreme sport,” Lange adds. “It has more participants that mountain biking and snowboarding. It’s ahead of snowboarding by close to a million.”So what is its draw? Stress relief, catharsis, being able to shoot your boss? Maybe it is the desire to be young again and play war where you see the shots register but the only casualty is your camouflaged jump suit.So is it fun? Is it worth the dirt and welts? Playing responsibly and by the carefully scripted rules of engagement oh yes, it is. My advice, however: choose your teammates wisely. Getting shot in the posterior does not tickle. VTFor more information about paintballing contact Jaya Lange at Nova Guides on (719) 486-3594.By Darren Rudham
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