UNFORTUNATELY, A MOMENTARY LAPSE in concentration allowed the little traitor to sneak up behind me and shoot a paintball smack into the back of my head … the one place without protection! Luckily I’ve got a thick skull, but it didn’t stop the sting – nor the thick yellow goo that splattered through my hair. This was now WAR, and Nigel’s shiny bald head was my new target!
When my friends and I were young, we (like lots of boys in those days) spent most of our time playing outside. Computer games and over-protective parenting were still relatively unknown, and political correctness was in its infancy. In fact, kids could still make wooden guns at kindergarten, and then run off playing Cowboys & Indians! Ah yes … those were the days!
As we got older, we moved on from Cowboys & Indians, preferring to wage war ‘military style’. The humble bow-and-arrow was no match for the new toy machineguns that had arrived, with their cool sounds and looks. And sadly, running around yelling BANG! BANG! with a die-cast revolver or‘whooping’ our way through the trees with bamboo bows, no longer cut it.
Fast forward a few years (actually, a LOT of years!) and this grown adult, if I’m honest, still has the odd hankering for a game of ‘shoot-em-up’. The problem is, a 30-something-year-old running through the bush with a toy machinegun isn’t a good look. And finding mates to play with? It’s just not going to happen!
So what do you do if you still have an urge to relive those childhood memories? Well, short of joining the army, there is some good news:
Paintball is the grown-ups version of Cowboys & Indians – but way better! It was originally invented in the 80’s as a way for farmers to mark their cattle, but people quickly caught on to the fact that it was much more fun shooting each other rather than their cows. Word soon got out, and the rest (as they say) is history.
Loosely coined a ‘sport’, the game is played by two opposing teams using a version of the famous childhood game, Capture the Flag – except this time you’re getting shot at! Each player has a gun (often called a ‘marker’) which fires non-toxic gelatine capsules containing food colouring. And, when you’re shot, you’re left with a brightly coloured mark … and a welt! Because most paintballs leave the gun travelling between 200 and 300 feet per second, a full-face mask is also a great idea – in fact, it’s pretty much mandatory!
The most common version of Capture the Flag involves two teams at opposite ends of a playing field – each with their own flag hung at ‘home base’. The object is to get the other team’s flag and bring it back to your base – doing your best to avoid getting shot! When hit, you’ve got to temporarily stop playing until you make it to the ‘safety zone’. (Inevitably, there are a bunch of variations to this, depending on where you play.)
It had been years since I’d last played a game of paintball. But, during a routine Google search for some fishing info on the Coromandel, I stumbled across ‘Combat Zone’ – a Whitianga-based family adventure facility, specialising in paintball. It immediately grabbed my attention, so I gave the owner, Eric, a quick call to find out some more details.
I was quickly sold on the idea, and now just had to see if I could rally the troops. An opportunity to inflict pain on your mates? It wasn’t going to be too difficult!
Our first organised weekend was rained off, but the following one dawned fine and clear. So after meeting at the rugby club, we headed up the coast to Whitianga. A few guys had pulled out at the last minute, but the seven of us who remained were all keen to unleash … mostly on the younger guys who were talking it up!
‘Combat Zone’ is a picturesque property seven km south of Whitianga. The beautiful Kaimarama River flows through the middle of it, and is a feature of the two paintball courses – one a bush block, and the other a ‘trench warfare’ field. But paintball isn’t the only thing to do here: they’ve also got archery, laser-tag, quad rides and target shooting, plus an eight-wheeled amphibious vehicle called an ‘Argo’ that’ll go almost anywhere. And for those who’d rather relax by the BBQ, there’s a menagerie of friendly animals around the property who are happy to stop and chat.
The owners, Eric and Sandy, have obviously put plenty of effort into their 100 acres, and as we drove onto their land we were greeted with beautifully manicured grounds – the place looked great!
We were all itching to get into it. The boys had already sorted out teams, suggesting that they take on the old fellas. There was lots of talk about ‘showing no mercy’ – and someone even suggested playing without shirts!
I was keen. But, hey, it was winter …
Eric was there to greet us, and after giving a safety spiel he kitted us out with our gear. The guns were issued, along with our safety kit consisting of overalls, mask and neck protection. But, being a manly bunch, we refused the chest armour. (It’s amazing what a little testosterone does to rational thinking!) With 300 paintballs each, we were ready to begin.
Our first game was on the bush course – and we were taken by tractor over the river and into a forestry block, all set up for paintball. There were two bases at each end of the course with a ‘safety zone’ situated in the centre of the playing field, protected by a four metre high, ‘paintball proof’ fence. We were given the game rules from inside this area, then sent off with our flags to the respective bases. Finally, an air-horn sounded to start the show.
Our game-plan was pretty simple. We left two guys behind to defend our base, while another two were sent off to try and secure the opposition’s flag. This was serious life or death stuff (well, maybe not death – but it was serious!) … and the adrenalin was pumping as we quietly disappeared into the bush, the words ‘no mercy’ still ringing in our ears.
A gun fight broke out somewhere in the scrub ahead of me, and I could hear the yelps of pain as the paintballs found their mark. It was all on: boys versus men … youth against wisdom … Cowboys & Indians!
The first game was taken out by the old fellas – youthful exuberance being the lads’ downfall. Well, that, plus their non-existent strategy! Although they were learning fast …
Another win to us men saw Nigel turn his back on our team, and join the enemy. We figured his traitorous behaviour needed punishing, so it was an all out effort to make him pay. Creeping through the bush was hard work – and my senses were working overtime, trying to pick out his bald head so I could unleash my fury. But unfortunately, as it turned out, I was the one who copped the punishment … ouch!
We played another couple of games in the bush – including a fun variation where each team had to carry a rattly old can. There was plenty of carnage – including lots of girly screams from the boys – before it was time to head to the trenches …
The trench warfare field was completely different to the bush. Being much more open, you could see the enemy from a distance – and the game was played at a much faster pace. And, just like the old WWI movies, both teams employed the ‘up and over’ strategy – with hails of paintballs raining down on us! This was unbelievable fun!
Our last game was all-out-war – everyone against everyone, putting everything on the line. And the finale was brutal: paintballs splattered clothing and masks, welts appeared on smooth skin, and the mantra ‘no mercy’ rang loud and clear as we emptied our guns at each other. This was the Wild, Wild West – and we were looking for the last man standing!
Josh, Nigel’s son, lost the game and was made to ‘run the gauntlet’ – a quick sprint past while we fired our remaining ammo at him. His mate, Thomas, decided to join him, thinking it’d be fun. And it was – for us!
We were pretty knackered as we ambled our way back to the adventure centre – but buzzing from the adrenalin-packed fun. While getting out of our gear, we spent time comparing bruises and reliving the gun fights we’d just had. In fact, the whole way home, stories were told about battles fought and ambushes laid … each of us coming to the conclusion: we were all keen to do it again!
IF YOU’D LIKE TO GIVE PAINTBALL A TRY, CALL ERIC OR SANDY AT COMBAT ZONE, 07 866 0038 OR VISIT THEIR WEBSITE: WWW.COMBATZONE.CO.NZ.