Paintball Ruined My Life...and I Couldn't Be Happier
Adam Nobbe lies in a shallow ditch, covered with leaves, across a trail from a plywood fort. The taste of plastic fills his mouth as he breathes nervously through a JT Proteus goggle system. He aims his Tippmann 98 Custom up the trail. Twigs crack under boots, and someone rustles absentmindedly through the leaves. The blue team approaches.
A player in tattered camouflage walks into Adam's line of fire, marker up, scanning the woods for movement. Two experienced players shoot paintballs into the empty fort, laying suppressive fire for a third to sweep the structure. "Clear!" he yells, and the men walk on. The rest of the group meanders slowly behind, some sweeping the trees with Tippmann markers, others holding Brass Eagle Tigersharks and Autocockers lazily at their side...mistakes they won't make in the next game.
Pop pop pop, Adam's marker rips to life. Thwack whack thud, someone yells "hit!" and the first two players are gone. The group scatters, a laser-steady stream of paintballs stitching their backs and peppering the trees. Experienced players, feeling the hits and realizing they've been had, raise their markers and walk quickly out of the action. Everyone else runs crashing through the underbrush or rolls on the ground like they're on fire.
No one escapes the ambush.
“Paintball is my way of life. Beyond a recreation, beyond a job, it is my identity. How can we know ourselves, unless we test ourselves? Every time I play, I learn something new about myself...”
Adam just executed a textbook maneuver...and it's his first game. Today he discovered the underground world of paintball—America's third most popular "Extreme Sport," a multi-million dollar industry, and a social phenomenon.
I took that same step in 1997, with a Tippmann marker in my hand, JT goggles on my head, and that exact same field underfoot. That was my move that Adam executed, and I couldn't be happier for my protégé. Paintball is my life. I decorate my apartment in "Early Poverty: Paintball," I pay my rent with paintball money, and I have even eaten paintballs. Paintball started for me in 1997. It started for the world in 1981.
"I'm telling you, Charles, I know my way around Wall Street, and those are the exact same skills I'd need in the woods," Hayes Noel says between bites of bluefish. Across the patio table sits his childhood friend Charles Gaines. They are enjoying an evening of wine and bluefish caught that afternoon in the waters around Martha's Vineyard. This is their fourth year of their annual getaway, and the second year of their friendly debate.
"You've never even been in the woods, how can you say that?" Charles counters.
"Surviving has to do more with instincts than it does with learned behavior. I have the instincts, I am a natural survivor. I can survive on Wall Street, and I can do the same thing in any environment. I can take those instincts and make them work."
"You wouldn't stand a chance!" They go back and forth, arguing the question raised two years ago: who has the superior survival instincts, a New York stockbroker or a sports journalist from New England? The argument segues several times and is lost, again, to the boozy night...but not forgotten.
Months later Gaines leafs through a rancher's supply catalogue looking for fence mending equipment and trips across "paint marking pistols" from the Nelson Corporation. They shoot a .68 caliber ball filled with paint so farmers can mark cattle and trees. He thumps the page and sits upright, grabbing the phone to call New York.
"Hayes," he says, "Get up here next month. We're going to settle this once and for all."
Dueling For Honor
Some people are naturally competitive. The urge to compete, in sports, for mates, against oneself, against one's father, is as natural as breathing and walking. Professional athletes are not accorded respect and adoration simply because they can throw a baseball or run fast—we respect Nolan Ryan because he can throw the ball past other people. We respect Jackie Joiner Kersey because she runs faster than everyone else. It's in the comparison that we form respect...and it's in the besting of another person that we often find our own senses of power and efficacy.
June 27, 1981, on private land outside of Henniker, New Hampshire, Charles Gaines and Hayes Noel squared off with the NelSpot 007 model cattle marking pistols and ten paintballs each. They met to test their survival skills, but also their competence, intelligence, and daring. Only through the struggle could either man truly find his limits and know his own resources. They loaded 12gram powerlets and several paintballs into the bolt-action pistols and wished each other luck before entering the forest from two distant points. They had three hundred acres, two hours, and one opponent: each other.
In thirty minutes Charles located his friend's trail, a path marked by broken twigs and the half moon imprint of the edge of a boot heel. Patiently, he walked in step with Hayes to cover his footsteps. He stalked behind Hayes and slipped the pistol between his friend's shoulder blades.
"So who wins this debate?" he said, prevailing without firing a shot.
National Survival Game
"We thought it would be interesting to get a bunch of guys together, all of whom had proved some ability to survive in their area, and turn 'em all loose in a big field, with some object in mind, to see who wins," Charles explained in his acceptance speech for the Lifetime Achievement Award at the International Amateur Open Paintball Tournament last summer. "We got out some paper and started fooling with this idea, and wrote down some names. We decided to take a big field, over a hundred acres big, and divide it up into quadrants, and each of those quadrants would have a flag station in it. There'd be a red, blue, green, and white flag, as many flags at each station as there were players, and we'd hang 'em up. We'd give each player a map, compass, marker, and by then we figured out that we needed a pair of goggles. The first person to get each of these four flags, and back out to a neutral place, would be the winner. We worked this out in a matter of two hours."
Their friends came from all over. "There was an investment banker from New York," Charles detailed, "a turkey hunting friend of mine from Alabama, an elk hunting friend of mine from Colorado, a movie producer, a brain surgeon, a forester, a guy from a construction company… I can't tell you what a good time we had! We made a whole weekend of this. We had 'em up the second or third weekend in June, and all brought their wives and children. We played croquet, had volleyball matches, touch football matches, and on Sunday we played this game."
"My friend Dr. Bob Carlson was just a killer by nature," Charles continued. "He was aggressive, a type A, big, animal of a guy. He figured that the way he was gonna win was by shooting everybody, and then he'd just go and pick up all of the flags and get out. Then there were other guys who had strategies that were totally defensive. Everybody had a different strategy, and everybody played the game according to who they were and what their idea of how to succeed in life was. It was fascinating psychologically."
Familiarity with stealth, woods craft, and an endless reserve of patience decided the winner: the forestry ranger from New Hampshire. The more aggressive types found the action they were looking for, and eliminated each other in the process. Timid players never made the moves they needed to win...but the man who combined the right balance of aggression, control, cunning, and patience captured all of the flags. His name was Richie White.
So overwhelmed by this novel pastime were these players that they told their stories to friends and wrote magazine articles about the experience. In early 1983 Charles and Hayes received the first trickles in what became a deluge of mail from hunters, bankers, brokers, teachers, doctors, and others all over America. They heard about this game and wanted to play it for themselves...and could Charles or Hayes help them?
Their letters bespoke a demand Charles was eager to supply. He and Hayes joined with a third friend, Bob Gurnsey, and formed the National Survival Game. They bought caseloads of markers, shop goggles, and paintballs, typed up instructions for playing several variations of their game, and sold starter kits by mail. Paintball debuted to the world from a tiny mail order company in New Hampshire.
How They Play
The game concept is quite simple and flows intuitively. Players equipped with a paintball marker, paintballs, and goggles report to a wooded field. They break into two teams and use colored tape or other visual markers to indicate which player is on which team. The fields are most often patches of forest with creeks, hills, ditches, and plenty of trees. Many field operators augment their fields with bunkers: structures players take cover behind. These vary in size and type from pieces of plywood nailed together to form cracker box forts, to large sections of drainpipe, to elaborate forts and plywood castles painted to resemble Camelot.
Each team has a flag, which they hang at their starting station. At game on, players charge, sneak, or crawl, according to either strategy or raw personality, from their starting station towards their opponents' starting station. They use markers to eliminate opponents from the game by shooting players with paintballs. Players are eliminated when one ball breaks and leaves a U.S. Quarter-sized mark anywhere on their body or gear. That player is then "out" for the game. Players push all the way to their opponents' start station, steal the flag, and run it back to their own station to win the game.
A typical day at the field consists of at least six games. This basic format survived in theory and practice from the first multiple-player game in New Hampshire clear to the modern day...with as many creative variations and inspired permutations as one can imagine. Go to any paintball field during open play, or private church group or birthday party outings, and you can see this format alive and well after all these years!
Folks generally like taking things apart and seeing how they work. The same "let's see what this does" curiosity behind futzing around with old tools and machines translates well into working with paintball gear. Natural curiosity opened more car hoods and removed more bolts than most other human drives, so it was only a matter of time before paintball innovators took screwdrivers to NelSpots with the vague idea in mind of making a more suitable tool.
Paintball was a true tinkerer's sport, the kind of thing where you could spend ten hours tinkering with gear at home for every hour you spend using the gear on the field. The original cattle marking pistols were adequate, but far from ideal competitive tools. Early paintball-game-specific markers appeared in the mid 80s with the National Survival Game Splatmaster, and later the Rapide. Unlike most sporting gear or consumer goods, where what you get is about the best that can be done with the sum of the parts (ever try giving a coffee machine "more power?"), paintball markers were made by tinkerers, for tinkerers. Players removed the ten round tubes fastened parallel to the barrels and added small bulk containers that fed dozens of paintballs one by one directly into the chamber. They polished pump arms, sanded internal surfaces, tweaked springs, experimented with different barrel lengths and modifications, and added purely cosmetic flourishes. Most of the big names in the modern paintball industry, from Tom Kaye to Dave Youngblood, got hooked on paintball as much for the thrill of hobby tinkering as for the sport itself.
The first markers were all bolt or pump action, used 12gram disposable CO2 powerlets, and shot paintballs at velocities around three hundred feet per second. Original paintballs got their name from the oil-based paint encapsulated in a gelatin shell, the finished unit of which cost around twenty-five cents per ball. This paint did not wash out. Every stain on their ripped and frayed field jackets told a story, and over a worktable or a drink the paintball veterans would gladly tell you about each and every one.
They spoke with the camaraderie of pioneers: brave, if not crazy, explorers of a quirky new sport. People form social associations of all types and kinds: business societies, sewing circles, college organizations... Walk into any bar during Monday Night Football and you can swap stories about the teams with complete strangers as if you had been friends for years. Paintballers share that bond, but in a profound way: players don't just talk about the action they saw, they talk about the action they lived. "This bruise I got from..." and "See that stain?" stories are the fabric of paintball conversations. Players speak a language of abbreviations (CO2, HPA, FPS, BPS, ASA) and jargon ("I bunkered that newbie with my Timmy on the Sup'Air field"), underpinning conversations with reverent smiles and knowing looks. You can suspect paintball players in a crowd. Get them talking and they remove all doubt.
Curiosity and argument led to the first paintball game. Economics took over from there. By the late 1980s, several companies from the National Survival Game, to Nelson, to Crossman, marketed paintball-specific gear. Increasing numbers of players elevated the demand for gear. Companies met that demand and turned increasing profits, then invested more money into their production facilities. They introduced eye and face protection goggles, markers, paint, and accessories. With increased profit and production came lower prices, making the equipment more affordable, which increased the player population, creating more demand and...
Players had the gear. What they lacked was a formal introduction to the world, a touchstone beyond stories and bruises and invitations for friends to drive into the hinterlands and "see it for yourself."
That introduction came in the earliest paintball magazines. They added a form of legitimacy to the developing sport. When people asked about all the fuss in the woods, players gave them copies of Frontline or Action Pursuit Games. Flipping through the pages of paintball magazines through the years you get a sense of the development of an idea from a formal concept to a genuine international phenomenon. The earliest articles covered tactics for moving through the woods and outfoxing your opponents, how to modify a 12gram stockgun to cycle more smoothly, and the latest innovations for purpose-designed goggle systems.
The formula for paintballs changed, with the oil-based paint being replaced by nontoxic, biodegradable, washable food coloring, titanium dioxide, glycerin, and other nontoxic materials, inside of a gelatin capsule. This immediately increased the numbers of players (no more ruined clothes!), and since the new "paint" was completely harmless to plants and animals, increased the number of outdoor fields and the public reception fields received. The International Paintball Players Association formed in 1988 to promote focused development of paintball, networking among event promoters and fields, and to provide support for players and store owners. The National Professional Paintball League (NPPL) formed in November of 1992. By 1996 there were paintball fields from Canada to Brazil, England to Russia, Norway to Africa, and even in Korea and Israel. Paintball dug in on all six inhabited continents.
The first semiautomatic paintball markers rocked bunkers in the field. Players were accustomed to the slow rate of fire from pump and bolt-action markers, theretofore the only markers in existence. A predominant theory of play was the "one shot one elimination" mentality of outsmarting opponents and then carefully shooting them with a single ball. Semiautomatic markers changed everything from gear to tactics with the introduction of "accuracy by volume." Stockgun players seldom used more than one hundred paintballs in an entire weekend. The new breed of marker tore through endless amounts of paint, most wasted in wild shots that missed opponents while players relied on the sheer power of mathematical odds that one ball out of ten, then twenty, then forty, would strike their opponent.
Companies like JT USA offered goggle systems that were designed to stop the standard .68 caliber paintballs traveling at the international paintball speed limit of three hundred feet per second—just over two hundred miles per hour. The American Society for Testing and Materials determined safe standards to which paintball goggles should be constructed. Paintball goggles evolved to include full eye protection, ear, nose, mouth, and some throat protection. The "best" place to get hit with a paintball traveling at two hundred and four miles per hour is the goggles: you hear a telling "thwack!" but don't feel a thing.
Soft goods companies emerged to offer paintball-specific safety equipment. Other companies developed tubes that hold one hundred and forty paintballs and slip into special harnesses so players can reload bulk hoppers on their markers during games. The semiautomatic technology progressed through the nineties, in step with other emerging trends.
Who's the best team in the AFC East? Who makes the best car on the road, or serves the best chili? You probably have good reasons for your answers, reasons grounded on experience, observation, or the relative valuations of "experts." From sports to consumer goods, we like to know who or what is the best. Could we be the best at something? This curiosity drives business, influences choices in the supermarket, and permeates just about every aspect of life: we want the best, to be the best, or at least: to know what is the best.
That creates the active competitions between siblings, high school sports teams, Kraft vs. Price Chopper macaroni and cheese...there is competition everywhere. Charles Gaines and Hayes Noel wanted to know whose wits were keener, and inadvertently invented a phenomenon. Paintballers wondered who the best players and teams were, so they developed tournaments to see just who really belonged atop the pedestal.
The PanAm tourney series, the NPPL, and a whole host of leagues and associations were created to find out. The tournament format made comparisons actually mean something: fifteen players per team, pitting two teams against each other on a standard wooded field with manmade bunkers. Each team has a flag at their starting station, thirty minutes to play, and whatever gear they bring. At the start horn, players charge the field to capture their opponent's flag, return it to their own base, and eliminate as many opponents as possible. Each eliminated opponent is generally worth a set value of points, as is each "surviving" player. Returning the flag carries a significantly larger amount of points. These values add up to a total of 100 points possible for each game.
This competition took hold of the minds and weekends of many players. Leagues broke teams into smaller units, shrank fields, and reduced time limits to accommodate more games and more teams at their events. In the closing years of the past millennium the fifteen player teams disappeared in favor of ten-player, five-player, and three-player teams on proportionally smaller fields with time limits of ten minutes and less per game. The pace of play picked up, and action moved out of the woods and onto concept fields: open, grassy fields jumbled with all sorts of manmade bunkers instead of natural terrain. For the faster action and shorter time limits than found in woodsball, players called this new format "speedball."
Some fields used corrugated drainage pipe, the large diameter kind, to build bunkers and special features. A new bunker emerged: the "snake," a low to the ground, elongated bunker that stretches across the field quite like a snake. Players developed tricks for hiding behind these bunkers. Aggressive players favor the snake, which they slide into baseball-style, then crawl the length of to gain yardage and angles on opponents.
Speedball developed on modified football-field-type-land as a sport based on the speed of soccer, the strategy of chess, and the manipulation of angles from billiards. No one brings a slide rule onto the field, but every speedball player is aware of the geometry that rules the game: every move changes the angles around other bunkers, exposing parts of opponents. Charging, falling back, moving laterally, standing over the tops of bunkers...every move you make changes the angles you see, changes which opponents you can shoot at, and which opponents can shoot at you. Where formerly the sport was all about stealth and tracking skills, small group strategy and patience, now pure energy and creative body contortions rule. Total Greif introduced flashy tournament jerseys and the camouflage clothing disappeared from speedball. Markers with progressively faster rates of fire, up to ten or twelve balls per second, added another element to the mix: firepower, and the upping of the Paintball Arms Race to almost Cold War proportions. This realm has nothing to do with hunting or military day dreams...it is the "sport" in paintball's "Extreme Sport" title.
The National Professional Paintball League (NPPL), as well as other leagues that boast professional divisions and competition for everyone from seasoned players to newbies, uses this speedball format for competition. Professional level pay developed in the early 1990s with the formation of the NPPL and the popularity of PanAm and other emerging tournament circuits. Players wear their team jerseys, paintball specific uniform tops that often have their names and numbers printed on the back like in most other sports. These are fashionable, to players at least, both on the field as well as off. Several paintball companies like DYE and JT USA offer fashionable casual wear specifically designed for paintball players...specifically, the clothing is designed to reflect the styles and flash associated with spectator-friendly, high-intensity speedball. With the development of tournaments, the creation of fashion, and the spread of speedball on television programs (such as aired on FOX Sports Net in early 2005), the speedball and tournament scene developed into its own sphere directly opposite that of the roots of the sport: woodsball.
Speedball appeals to the gung-ho younger crowds, the kids bored with traditional sports and not entirely keen on crawling patiently through the forest. Yet a large part of paintball's appeal is that players get to enjoy nature, spend time in the woods, and play at their own pace...all of which are hard to do in super-competitive, five-minute games played on flat fields with manmade bunkers. The hardcore woodsball contingent preferred to stay in the forests with their camouflage and continue to develop the pure, historical form of paintball. This is the realm of the weekend warriors, the format of choice for birthday parties and the staple market for fields that cater to the every day business of walk-on players. But just the same old game for twenty years was not enough to satisfy event promoters. They wished big—for games with hundreds of players—and they dreamt in color: fantasy scenarios enacted by paintball players.
Scenario paintball was born of the imagination loosed on the wooded fields and dreams of players across the country. Special events pitted teams of the "101st Division" against the "Wehrmacht" and "SS," like the annual Oklahoma D-Day scenario game in Wyandotte, Oklahoma. Players with fantastic imaginations flocked to Wayne Dollack's space fantasy games, where humans battled aliens for control of Earth. The 2004 International Amateur Open tournament featured a side scenario game between Jake and Elwood's Army of Blues and the Government team. Spirited players dressed like their favorite Blues Brother, right down to skinny neckties and Sharpie prison tattoos.
Scenario games can last anywhere from a few hours to over a week, and eliminated players recycle back into the games every thirty minutes. Teams earn points for capturing props, such as "nuclear weapons," a winning lottery ticket for the Blues Brothers, or areas of the field. Every scenario is different, and players choose roles from generals to wizards to fantastic creatures...or they can play straightforward capture-the-flag games. Some intrepid players convert old cars into fully mobile armored paintball tanks, complete with marker ports, compressed air cannons, and full painted insignia. Scenarios are like role-playing games brought to life. Test your leadership by commanding players, let your creativity run wild on making costumes, or just test your aim as you engage dozens (or thousands) of opponents.
Speedball tournament players and woodsball scenario players do not get along perfectly. The tourney folks carry thousand-dollar markers in bright colors, wear special jerseys with their team names on the back, and sweat it out during intense action on small fields. They don't understand the appeal of dressing like the Black Knight and storming the Castle Anthrax with no prizes or sponsorship deals on the line. The scenario folks love toting their all-black markers around themed fields, talking through throat microphones to teammates, or just running through the woods with a church youth group and a Tippmann rental marker. They don't see the need to pay hundreds of dollars in entry fees to run around a tiny, brightly colored field for short bursts of action. Paintball fashion follows speedball players. Tinkerers still create their own accessories for woodsball gear. They are opposite poles on the same paintball planet, and sometimes argue over which format is "better" for whatever reasons.
Despite this bickering, paintball is stronger for the variety of opportunity these formats offer. Soccer is soccer is soccer. Ditto baseball—there's no remarkable variety there either. Truly addicted players, however, can play an international speedball tournament one weekend, and then play as an alien wizard in a scenario game the next weekend. That variety simply does not exist in other mainstream sports.
Several years into the new millennium, paintball is a two-sided amusement park of a sport that stimulates over a billion dollars of business every year. It is the number three "Extreme Sport," as rated by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, right in line after "roller skating" and "skateboarding." Over 10 million players in America alone took to paintball fields last year. There are professional leagues in two different circuits in the US, as well as an international professional league—the Millennium Series—in Europe. Players splatter their friends in more than forty countries and dozens of foreign leagues. The mechanical semiautomatic markers that replaced the stockguns are now being phased out in favor of electronically controlled markers that can shoot more than twenty paintballs per second. Large tournaments attract hundreds of players from the US and foreign countries, and the Oklahoma D-Day scenario game routinely attracts over 3,300 players.
From the New Hampshire woods to the jungles of Southeast Asia, through twenty-four years and a thousand "great ideas," paintball is an amazing, developing, and dynamic sport. Play, and you will see why.
The Author In The Frame
Paintball attracted me for the pure man vs. man competition, how it engaged every sense and instinct I possess, and because it wasn't "mainstream." Football bored me, baseball was worse, and the kids made fun of anyone who played soccer. No sport really fit me, until I discovered I was particularly adept at shooting and loved spending time in the forests. I spent long afternoons tromping through the woods behind my house, sometimes with my best friend Mike Culler, always with my BB gun, shooting cans and bottle caps. Over the years I competed in state and even international competitive rifle and pistol tournaments, but always returned to having innocent fun with a BB gun in the woods. The forest was my home away from home, and I loved the challenge of hitting a tiny target a long way off. Mike and I constantly competed. He usually lost.
Paintball appeals to kids and adults who like to run amok in the woods, and in high school I discovered the sport and these millions of kindred spirits. Mike and I pestered our pastor to take a youth group out for paintball. We kept at our tireless lobbying until he caved in—after a year and a half. One fall day we all drove to Wacky Warriors, rented pump Tippmann SL68II markers, split cases of First Choice paint...and discovered the game that changed my entire life.
We didn't play particularly well...we had no idea what we were doing. None of us had ever been shot with paintballs before, so in the first game we all charged mightily and blindly straight at each other. Mike and I huddled together behind a piece of weathered plywood nailed to a tree, getting shot at by several of our friends thirty yards away. The paint hissed past our bunker, but I leaned out to take a look anyway. Brian Riebling charged towards us, and I pumped several rounds in his direction. He jumped behind a piece of plywood.
"Hey Mike!" I said, "Cover me!" Mike shot bunkers, trees, dirt—everything—as I charged. Running around the side of his bunker, I leveled my Tippmann at Brian and shot him from about two feet away. He yelped. I hollered. Then I noticed two other people next to him....pointing their markers at me in terror. Crikey.
They shot me. I shot them. Brian shot me. I shot Brian again. They shot Brian. Everyone shot everyone else as fast as we could pump the markers and pull the triggers. We had no idea what else to do, and the "enemy" was only two feet away, so our bodies operated automatically.
Then it all stopped...and we laughed like four bruised madmen. Rather, we laughed like four new paintball players.
There was something in the way my paint arced across the field that day, something in how it broke so beautifully, so white, on my opponents' bodies, something about the feel of the marker in my hands and the smell of plastic through my goggles...something that grabbed at me from the back of my mind and screamed "this is where you belong!"
Mike and I never saw the benefit of fitting any mold beyond our own character. Finding one's identity is a childhood struggle as universal as recess—we just happened to embrace our quirks and individuality early in life, during the "lemming period" of our peers' development. For all the alienation this brought, we found identity and welcome tenfold in the paintball community.
With the anonymity of baggy clothing and face-hiding masks, in paintball you aren't the jock or the fat kid or the pimply kid or whatever: you are only as good or bad as the skills you demonstrate. The problems of the week didn't matter: they couldn't cross the boundary tape into this world. All we cared about was the guy on the ridge sneaking behind our lines!
In college I met the senior editors of Action Pursuit Games and Paintball Magazine, the two leading publications in the paintball industry. We talked paintball and writing, and I mentioned that I wanted to combine these interests. They took a chance on me. My first article appeared in a fall 2001 issue of APG. My assignments grew from writing about local events, to covering regional events and large scenarios. Now I cover whatever the magazines need. I've talked fluid dynamics with engineers, tactics with professional players, business with CEOs, covered events from Wyandotte Oklahoma to Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, been on the cover of Paintball Magazine, and used my work experience to get into Dartmouth.
Paintball has paid my rent and other bills for years and progressively taken over my life...and I'm all right with that. I've found my niche in the market, my identity with the players, and a place in the world walking the fields as "Landshark from APG." I work out to be a faster front player, I wear paintball clothing, network to meet new people, and identify equally with the stalwart woodsball vanguards and the trendsetting NPPL hotshots.
The Department of Natural Resources in Wisconsin tried to pass a ban on playing paintball on all state owned land. This would have affected well over a million acres, including fairgrounds and other places where tournament promoters often seek permits and hold crowd-pleasing tournaments. In a largely rural state with scattered fields, many families play paintball on local public forest land...without hurting anyone, or anything. To stop this ban, and stop legal precedent from opening the door to similar bans across America, the editors of Action Pursuit Games and Paintball Magazine and I loaded up in a car and left early on New Year's Day to make the public hearing on January 2nd.
During the course of the debates the legislators heard an attack from the DNR that claimed paintballs contain paint and are toxic. Then they heard testimony from a chemist at a paintball manufacturing company who gave the composition of paintballs and his iron-clad assurance that they were tested, and proven, nontoxic and environmentally safe. Even at this, it was just one man's word against another's, so I stepped up to the podium, said my piece, and put our side's money where its mouth is. Rather, I put a paintball in my mouth and ate it. The ban was defeated by a unanimous vote.
I used to want to be a psychiatrist, and entered college to study psychology as a formal discipline. Then I met the editors, started writing for money, and changed my entire perspective on journalism. Because of them, the opportunities they offered, and the reawakening of my long held desire to be a writer, I pursued an English degree as well as my psychology degree. I found my way onto the staff of the student newspaper, wrote copiously for the magazines, worked for a newspaper back home (and snuck in a lot of paintball articles), and became even more enmeshed in the paintball world.
When in high school I gave up on fitting in, paintball gave me a group to identify with. When I needed money in college, it gave me a job that paid for my first apartment, my real financial independence, and an extreme sports lifestyle. When I fell out of love with psychiatry, I ran fully into the world of writing...a world opened up by paintball. My application to Dartmouth's MALS graduate program was not academically stellar, but few other candidates could claim such magazine and publishing experience fresh out of undergrad. I got in. My first paintball book is being finalized right now, and I have a summer full of travel to major events across the country...neither of which I dreamt were possible. At every turn, paintball redirected my life towards brighter tomorrows. I have paintball, and Dan Reeves and Jessica Sparks at Action Pursuit Games, to thank. There is a t-shirt that says "Paintball ruined my life...and I couldn't be happier." It sure as hell changed my plans, and by Jove, I couldn't be happier indeed.
Last fall I went hiking with a friend. She looked at me coyly and asked with faux innocence, "What are you thinking right now?"
"If I get a back guy behind that log I can bump from that tree clear to the ditch and crawl it down to the riverbank. Why?"
Paintball is my way of life. Beyond a recreation, beyond a job, it is my identity. How can we know ourselves, unless we test ourselves? Every time I play, I learn something new about myself: I test my cunning, leadership, bravery, and creativity. Every time I write about it, I find a new connection to a welcoming, inspiring community as free and diverse as America.
There are caution ropes and signs around paintball fields that say "Goggles On!" I like the world they demarcate. Friends know me there. Most importantly, I know myself.
I report on sports, travel, and local news. I'll cover anything, anytime, anywhere. Let me know how I can serve your publication.
My fine art photography is on permenant display at Cuban Pete's in Montclair, NJ, and is represented in numerous private collections. I do commercial, documentary, fine art, and other photography by commission.
I write commissioned biographies and other works of any length (from short narratives to full length books), and have several book-length manuscripts currently under consideration.