I crouch behind the wall, listening to the sounds of my breath inside my mask. Sweat trickles down my neck. I poke my head up a few inches, peeking out the rough window cut into the wood. Then I spot “him,” one of the enemies lurking behind a bunker of his own.
I lift the muzzle of my marker, but before I can fire, I hear a “pop-pop.” A yellow paintball blurs across the field before exploding inches from my nose in the window’s side. Heart thudding, I duck behind my bunker again. I’ve never been shot at before, not even with a gelatin ball.
I scramble to the side and spy another opponent. This time, I’m quicker, getting off my first shot of the game. I succeed in blasting paint all over a tree trunk about three feet from me, terrifying myself in the process.
My skill level quickly rockets. I manage to fire across the field a couple of times, marking a bunker, a patch of grass and yet another tree. And get this! My team wins the game – though they might have been able to accomplish it without my help.
I was at M.I. Paintball, in St. Augustine, to experience paintball firsthand and see what the buzz is about, since this popular sport was played more than by 5.4 million people in the United States in 2007 (according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturer’s Association estimates). Here’s what I learned:
What to Expect
Paintball can be a game of great skill between accomplished players, but even if you’ve never played before, you can join in the fun. At M.I. Paintball, all you need to do is show up on any weekend. They’ll rent you everything you need, such as a marker and mask. Rentals include 500 paintballs. Then, they’ll brief you on safety and teach you the basics.
After your briefing, you’ll be divided into teams and will head out to the recreational field. The game will begin at the referee’s signal. You will probably play a simple elimination game, where the game continues until all the members of one team have been marked (splattered by paint) or surrendered. The referee will insure that the rules are followed, not only so the game stays fair, but also so it remains safe. Most games of elimination are fairly brief, between five and 10 minutes.
You can play paintball anytime. If you play in the winter, you can layer up on clothing so it’s less likely you’ll get bruised. If you are playing in the summertime, it’s smart to go early in the day for the same reason.
Restrictions and Physical Requirements
Children younger than 10 years old may not play.
Sheer strength and size have nothing to do with a paintball player’s success. The markers are a great equalizer, and a 100-pound woman might well best a 200-pound man. Paintball is an active sport where players often run, crouch and kneel, so you should be reasonably fit. This doesn’t mean you have to be a triathlete: The owner of M.I. Paintball’s father is more than 80 years old, and he loves to play.
According to insurance statistics, paintball is safer than bowling and golf. * M.I. has never had a serious injury, and one reason their safety record is so stellar is their strict safety rules. For instance, you are not allowed onto the playing field without a mask (a vital piece of equipment that protects your face), and before you leave the field, your safety must be on, as well as the “sock,” a sleeve that fits over the muzzle of the marker.
Possible injuries are similar to the ones you might incur in any sport that involves running; for example, you could slip, fall and twist your ankle.
However, do not imagine that the fact that you are more likely to suffer a serious injury while bowling than playing paintball means you may not suffer a few bruises or welts. This brings us to the next topic.
What to Wear
Though paintball does wash off, you don’t want to wear anything you are too fond of. You also don’t want to wear clothes that are hot or restrict your movement. Baggy clothes will give you much more protection than thick clothes.
M.I. sells camouflage jumpsuits for $5 that you zip over your clothes. The jumpsuit can be reused or tossed in the trash at the end of the day. A good alternative is a sweatshirt and pants.
You can wear shorts and a T-shirt – many of the teenage boys I played with wore them – but unless you have elephant hide for skin you will, umm, notice when you are hit. (Brave soul that I am, I dressed like I was going to be traipsing through the North Pole in search of polar bears.)
What did I think about it?
Paintball is fun. It is also most certainly an adrenaline sport, involving stealth and bravery. A good aim doesn’t hurt, either.
For more information on M.I. Paintball, visit www.jaxpaintball.com.
* The National Injury Information Clearinghouse of the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in Washington, D. C., estimated 0.2 injuries per 1,000 paintball participants, including all types of injuries; sprained ankles, cuts, heat exhaustion, etc., on and off the playing field, at organized play sites or otherwise, as well as any eye injuries. The estimated figures are calculated using data from a sample of hospitals in the U. S. and its territories.