It feels like paintball has been a part of my life forever. I've been in so many games, been shot so many times and had so many adventures that it's really impossible to remember them all. There is one part of the game, though, that simply doesn't get old.
I recently took a group of over a dozen boys from age 12 to 17 to play paintball. Some had played a few times before, some had never played and none were regulars. We played on some private land under a large canopy of trees a few hundred feet across with a nice stream winding through the middle. The evening was hot and humid, a few of the paintball guns were having issues, the ground was kind of muddy, but nobody cared. We played for a few hours before heading off to get some pizza. Despite none of the games really being, in my mind, particularly remarkable, the boys kept talking about what had happened and constantly rehashed and re-evaluated their decisions on each game.
If you've spent much time with teens and near-teens, you know that between 12 and 17 there's a world of difference. What I love about paintball is that it brings them together. Very few other activities have the chance to bring all sorts of people from different backgrounds, different ages, different professions and different locations. In the end, everyone is just playing a game with friends. Playing and having fun with friends - that's why I play paintball.
The song "My Favorite Things" randomly popped into my head. While humming along, I started to think about paintball and what parts of it represent my "favorite" parts of the sport. I came up with a list, but I should point out that it's not listed in any particular order. A few of my favorite things include shooting paintball guns, strategy, tinkering, teamwork and friendships. It's amazing how many things I love to do are represented in one sport.
What are your favorite things about paintball?
Everyone has to start somewhere with paintball. Many players' first experience comes with rental equipment at a field or by playing with borrowed gear on an outlaw field. In either case, a significant part of the first paintballing experience is the gear that is used. If a player spends all day with a gun that is chopping paint or doesn't fire at all, then they will likely leave with a bad taste in their mouth. A problem with this, though, is the accompanying challenge that most rental equipment and loaner guns are not the highest quality. How, then, do you make sure a player has a good experience while still not breaking the bank on equipment? I have a few suggestions.
One of the quickest ways to ruin a first time paintball experience is when the player can't see. This usually occurs with a mask that fogs. If possible, provide new players (and all players, for that matter) with a thermal lens that is less likely to fog.
Beyond the mask, choose a gun that shoots well and is reliable. Players can deal with a gun that isn't perfectly accurate, but a gun that doesn't fire consistently when the trigger is pulled can really turn people off to the sport. While there's no gun that is perfect, Tippmann 98s are often a good choice (though individual guns may have problems) because of their reliability. A disadvantage, though, is that these guns are relatively heavy. For younger or smaller players, a Spyder or Azodin may be a good option. In fact, most newer, entry-level guns perform adequately for an average game of paintball. Older guns that were designed for the entry-level player have a tendency to chop paint and I generally wouldn't recommend them.
One other option is to let the new player try out something a little nicer, such as an intermediate gun. The player will likely have a very good experience with the higher-end gear. One slight concern is that if they do go and purchase their own equipment, they may find that the gear they buy will be a downgrade.
In the end, the goal for a first-time paintball player is to make sure they have as good of an experience as possible. If you are introducing someone to the sport of paintball, provide them with equipment that will work, work well and will not be a hindrance to players wanting to play again in the near future.
Sportsmanship is not very popular to talk about. Not only do people not really get excited to have another sportsmanship lecture, but they don't go and read about it on their own. (I know that because I can look at page views of my articles, and sportsmanship articles are never very popular - similar to safety articles.) It is, though, something that people need to be reminded of, so here I go again.
Sportsmanship is a big deal in sports. It refers to how players interact with other players and how they act on and off the field. It's also a big deal in Paintball. Particularly when players carry a paintball gun that can literally hit someone from a hundred feet away, they need to be good sports and play the game as it was meant to be played. This means that you play fair, play nice, treat others, and yourself, with respect, and you always play safe. Sportsmanship is not simply a one-time event, but it is a process where you continually try to better yourself without belittling anyone else.
To look at it from another side, nobody likes a poor sport. People that are unsafe, unfriendly, overly competitive or simply too full of themselves are not fun to play with or to be around. People who come just because they think its an excuse to party or come to show off their manly abilities are not good for other players or for the sport.
A somewhat unique aspect of paintball, compared to other sports, is the sophistication of the equipment that is required to play the game. Even an extremely basic setup requires a gun with many moving parts, a hopper, a mask and a tank filled with high pressure CO2. A higher-end setup will likely include a motor in the hopper, a high pressure air tank (basically a small scuba tank) and a sophisticated circuit board in the gun. Because paintball requires these complicated parts working together in harmony, you have to keep everything running in peak condition, which requires some effort.
The key to taking care of your paintball gun is to take the time, get the right tools and just do it right. After a day of playing, it's really easy to throw everything in your gear bag and forget about it, but you just need to adjust, maintain and fix when the problem arises. Of course, you could choose a simpler setup that requires less maintenance, but even the most basic guns will require regular lubrication and new o-rings. If you have an electronic gun, don't forget to have batteries with a full charge. And whatever you do, make sure to keep your gun clean at all times.
Paintball maintenance isn't all that much fun since it's the grunt work of tinkering. It is, though, something that has to be done. Take care of it and your equipment (and your performance on the field) will thank you for it.
Most people think of warming up as it relates to getting ready to play a sport: stretching, jogging, etc. For me, though, warming up means that it's getting ready for paintball to begin. Not in a matter of minutes or hours, but in a matter of weeks or months.
I'm well aware that people in the south and along the west coast of America generally never have a time of the year when they can't regularly play paintball in the great outdoors, but for those of us that live in the Midwest (and many other parts of the country and world), there's a long period when paintball is hard to play due to the cold. In fact, in Ohio where I live, there are about four months of the year (middle of November to the Middle of March) when paintball is almost impossible to play. It's not that it's too cold and snowy that whole time, but on the few days when it is a bit warmer, the field is so wet that it turns into a soggy mud puddle by about the second game.
Because of the long winter, it always gives me a little breath of fresh air when I can sense that the season is finally changing. It's not that there's just a warm day, but there's something in the air that makes it feel like the end is in sight. With the warming up period, it really feels like the weather is warming up for paintball season. Just like you warm up before you play, the season is getting ready to begin.
There's a lot to like about paintball. Action, adventure, exercise, strategy, tinkering, etc. One of the overlooked sides, from my perspective, is that paintball encourages me to get out and enjoy nature. While there are indoor paintball facilities, I prefer to go outside where there's the wind, sun, trees and grass. I, like many Americans, spend most of my working hours indoors and when I do go outside, it's often in my backyard or around town, where I'm constantly surrounded by well-developed modern society. When I go to a woodsball field, though, I have a chance to experience a more natural environment. While the game of paintball itself is not very conducive to studying nature, the time between games and before and after is a great time to be in environment. In fact, I quite enjoy increasing my time before playing by a day and camping the night before playing. It's a great opportunity to connect, for a time, with nature.
Another year has come to an end, but paintball carries on. No one knows for sure what's in store for paintball in the coming year, but here are a few things that you might consider for you. The first, is to try out some new equipment. If you're a new player and using the same mask that came with your first gun, I highly recommend an upgrade. Otherwise, it's time to look for a new gun. There are many models to choose from, but make sure you try to get a good deal and save money, and get one that suits your playing style.
Another thing to try in the New Year, is to experiment with a new kind of paintball. If you are primarily played outlaw paintball in your neighbor's backyard, try out a speedball game. If you are an expert at tournament paintball, go to a large scenario game. If you only play in the mountains, go to a professional field and try one of their many games.
One last thing to try, is to invite someone new to the sport. The strength of paintball comes from its numbers, and the best way to get people to play, is to invite them and ensure that they have a wonderful first experience. Anyone can play the sport, so think of people that you wouldn't normally invite to play, and you just might find a new paintball buddy to last a lifetime.
For whatever comes the New Year, I wish each of you a wonderful year of paintball to come.
During November, like most Americans, my thoughts are brought towards Thanksgiving and thinking about what I'm grateful for in my life. Paintball has played a significant part of my life, so I thought that I would think about what parts of paintball I'm thankful for.
The first thing that I'm grateful for is the friendships I've made through paintball, and, coming in second, the memories of the games I've played. Thinking about the game itself, I love the action, the movement and the strategy. Then, to complete the experience, I love the equipment: tinkering with gear, upgrading guns and creating my own style.
Paintball is a very safe sport. Actually, let me make a caveat: paintball is a very safe sport if you wear your mask. There are occasionally other injuries in paintball, but the serious ones are basically always from someone who took off their mask and got hit in the eye (or someone not using a barrel cover when they should). Also, if you properly chrono your gun, then you will even eliminate serious welts. When people follow the rules, paintball is a great, safe way to pass your time.
Why, then do I harp on safety all the time? It's because too many paintball players aren't very interested in it. They have a "it won't happen to me attitude" and they do stupid/illegal things with paintball guns that can end in really bad results. I've been around paintball for quite a while now and I know how much people like to be told, time after time, to be safe. But, since players, as a whole, still break the basic safety rules, it bears repeating, again, and again, and again.