Splat Attack: Paintball Wars

9:17 pm Feature Stories

The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

November 6, 2003

BYLINE: DAWN SHURMAITIS, SPECIAL TO THE RECORD

Jim “Digger” Jenkins likes to shoot people. In fact, he’s obsessed with it.
But Jenkins doesn’t use a gun or real bullets. He prefers a 2003 Custom Cocker paint marker, a sophisticated $1,400 piece of gaming equipment used by aficionados passionate about the fast-rising sport of paintball.

“I tried it and I was hooked. It’s pure adrenaline,” says Jenkins, a 32-year-old tattoo artist from Browns Mills. He’s been playing paintball for three years, spending upward of $200 a week. The cost includes twice-weekly use of an On Target Paintball Games field in Pemberton and an average 2,500 rounds of paintballs per outing.

Paintball is a male-dominated sport, and up to 45 percent of On Target’s customers are parents with children. Or, according to On Target Paintball Games owner John Malham, “a professional who wants to escape from reality and pretend he’s a warrior. It’s a great way to release an enormous amount of stress. In the old days, companies had picnics. But this gives you an idea what people are made of. It invites camaraderie. Bowling just doesn’t fulfill that.”

Kids also get into paintball in a big way, researching tactics and strategy on the Internet and bugging their folks for uniforms and their own equipment, Malham says.

Another popular paintball field is operated by Cousins Paintball, which has four facilities, with a total of 60 private fields in New York and New Jersey, including an 80-acre facility in Manchester with 15 playing fields. Its pro shop sells all paintball equipment, including jerseys, packs, paintball guns, and paintballs. Equipment can be rented or purchased.

Paintball attracts everyone from weekend warriors to corporate executives to kids enjoying a birthday party. One billionaire who regularly rents out the Manchester field pits 180 of his executives against each other in an exercise designed to build teamwork and boost morale. Other players have included singers Barry Gibb and Bruce Springsteen, who hosted a children’s birthday party for his son.

“It’s an alternative to having another stupid golf outing,” says John Canida, director of marketing for Cousins.

A majority of paintball players are males age 10 to 35. Women make up about 15 percent of the sport’s players. But even nuns have played on the Manchester fields, as well as people in wheelchairs.

“You don’t need to be in good shape,” Canida says. “You can run around – or you can hide. People who are shy and timid at first? Guess what? They become unglued. They never knew they had that side of their personality.”

Costs range from $50 to $75, depending on how many paintballs you shoot. The average person shoots 700 paintballs per day. But you can shoot as many as you want. The typical field is one to two acres, generally with forts, woods, bunkers, and inflatable obstacles. Typically, groups of 20 or more can reserve a paintball field, or walk-ins can join a pickup game.

All players must undergo a 15-minute safety orientation, where they learn the rules and how to operate the equipment. Goggles must be worn at all times – no exceptions. “We’re very serious about safety,” says Canida. “We don’t have paintball injuries.”

Getting hit does hurt. Canida likens it to the sting from the snap of a wet towel. He says most first-time players experience the “fear factor.”

“People are excited about paintball, but when they show up, they’re scared of getting shot for the first time – whether they’re a 35-year-old dad or a 12-year-old kid. They’re both afraid, whether they admit it or not,” says Canida. “But in 10 minutes, they’re having an awesome time. You run around in Rambo mode with your friends, playing capture the flag.”

Like most paintball players, Jenkins bristles when anyone likens his sport to hunting. He’s also disturbed by the movie “8 Mile,” which depicted rapper Eminem’s character on a drive-by shooting using a paintball marker.

“That’s why we refer to the paintball gun as a paintball marker. We try to separate ourselves from guns that kill people,” says Jenkins. “We’re playing a game. Paintball has come a long way, and I think it’s going in a great direction. It builds team skills, confidence, independence – and it’s a great morale booster.”

(SIDEBAR, page 008)

How to play

* A game goes something like this: Play, switch fields, take a breather, reload, and play again. At Cousins Paintball fields, groups of 20 to 100 players are evenly divided into two teams. Each game lasts about 20 minutes, and players typically play eight to 15 games during the course of a day, which lasts from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.

* The semi-automatic paintball guns operate via a 20-ounce CO2 tank about the size of a cucumber. The compressed gas gives the gun the oomph to shoot the paintball. A hopper holds about 200 paintballs, each about the size of a milk ball. The guns shoot 290 feet per second – one shot per trigger pull.

* There are two games: capture the flag or capture the fort. The objective is to get the other team’s flag or to capture its fort by eliminating all opposing players. If you’re shot – anywhere – you’re out. You can’t shoot a player standing less than 20 feet away. There is also a surrender rule: If you confront opposing players and shout “surrender,” they must take themselves out of the game. Referees are on hand to uphold the rules. Most paintball fields are ruled by the weather. Guns tend to freeze if the temperature dips below 32 degrees.

Where to go

Three of New Jersey’s most popular paintball fields:

Cousins Paintball Fields and Pro Shop

Where: 750 Route 539, Manchester.

Information: (800) FLAG-007; playpaintball.com.

Hours: reservation office open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday.

On Target PaintbalL

Where: 32 Sheep Pen Hill Road, Pemberton.

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