Saturday was a beautiful day in Los Angeles. The sun was shining, and the mercury hit 82 degrees – it was perfect weather to get a group of people together and spent all day aiming guns at each other with the hope of splattering them with paint.
I was invited on a paintball excursion by my friend Tiffany – who also planned the wonderful kayaking trip in August. I’d never played paintball before and, frankly, I’d never even considered playing it before, but I’m always up for something new. It sounded like fun. I turned out to be an OK shot with a pistol when I went to the firing range in February, so who knows? Maybe I’d be a decent paintball player, too.
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We met at the paintball park bright and early on Saturday morning. It was in Castaic, 25 minutes away, in the mountains just outside Los Angeles. Once you get off the freeway, you head down a canyon road lined with barbed wire. Maybe it’s to keep people out, or maybe it’s to keep people in:
There’s a couple spots where the road was washed away by rain, but I finally reached the parking lot, in a valley between two ridges. It’s beautiful up there:
Having never played paintball before, I had no idea what to expect. Tiffany’s boyfriend, Manny, is a paintball veteran, so I got some tips and warnings earlier in the week, when Tiffany and Manny had a dinner party with many of the paintball participants. Wear clothes you don’t care about. Bring a change of clothes for afterward. Bring plenty of water. Wear a cup. Manny warned that getting hit by paintballs can sting and cause bruises, and also mentioned, a couple times, getting scars a few years ago that still haven’t gone away. Good times.
Here’s something else to expect at a paintball park: lots of camouflage. Camouflage everywhere. Camouflage tents, camouflage buildings, camouflage clothing. Some people are really into paintball: there was some sort of tournament happening while we were there, and there were teams with matching camouflage uniforms, people decked out in all sorts of padding and armor, people with military-style vests covered in pockets filled with paintball-related accessories. There’s definitely some good people-watching at the paintball park!
Our group was large – about 20 people, most of whom were friends of friends or connected somehow to Manny’s office – his friend and coworker, Hai, planned the trip. We picked up our rental guns and suited up. Ready for battle:
Paintballs are the size of grapes, roughly, and come in all sorts of bright colors. These paintballs are loaded in the hopper on my gun and ready to get shot at unsuspecting opponents:
After all the guns were tested and adjusted for speed (guns that fire too quickly can really injure someone, and if they fire too slowly, the paintball won’t explode on impact), we split into two teams. The rules of paintball are easy: each team starts at opposite ends of a field. If you get hit, you’re out. The team that lasts the longest wins. When only one team is left, the game is over, and you play again.
The paintball park we went to, called California Paintball Park, had 8 or 9 different fields to play on, all of them covered in obstacles, barricades, and things to hid behind: piles of tires, a bunch of old cars, RVs, and boats, giant spools and sandbags and half-destroyed sheds. A couple pictures from the park’s website:
Our group was large enough to warrant having our own referee, a park employee named Alex. He was a nice guy that had worked there for two years, and had a way of casually issuing warnings that made me laugh:
- “This field has a couple RVs. Don’t go inside the RVs, because we once had an accident, and it was pretty gross, and I’ll leave it at that.”
- “You’ll see tubes on the field. Don’t go in the tubes, because I don’t know what’s living in them and I don’t know the last time they were cleaned.”
Referees like Alex don’t play – they’re bystanders – but that doesn’t mean they can’t get accidentally hit by stray paintballs. Alex, it seems, was in the midst of some bad luck:
- “I’ve been getting hit in the nipple for two months straight.”
Sure enough, by the end of the day, he had a new nipple hit to add to his list.
At the first field, I headed with my team towards our starting positions. I’ll fess up and admit that while I was in my car driving up, I had a little fantasy that, despite having never played before, I’d be some sort of whiz with a paintball gun and spent all day leaping around, ducking and dodging incoming paintballs, like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, while picking off my opponents, one by one.
Here’s what really went down: Alex started the first game, and within seconds it was like the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, with paintballs flying everywhere, from every direction. I barely fired a few rounds before BAM! I felt a sting on my arm and looked down and see paint running down my shirt.
In the second game, I took a paintball to the back of my head. The yellow paint ran down to my neck, but the casing actually got stuck in my hair:
I did get better as the day went on, lasting longer and longer in the games, although I did tend to get hit in the head a lot. You can see three different colors of paint on my face in this picture (although I’m pretty sure two of them were splatter from paint hitting things around me):
As the day went on, I got more and more into what I was doing, and I improved. I’m a warrior!
There were two times that I ended up being the last member of my team alive, squaring off against two or three members of the opposite team. My friend Stephanie captured one of those moments on film. Here I am, peeking out from behind a boat, trying to locate the enemy…
…and not noticing the guy sneaking up behind me:
That second photo is just after I got hit – when you get hit, you throw your hands up so they stop firing at you.
We played from around 10am until 3pm or so, although there were a lot of breaks, while we waited for fields to become available, and because we needed to continually reload our ammunition and add pressurized air to our guns.
This photo is from the end of the day – that’s Tiffany on the left, then Stephanie, my friend Donovan, and me. I don’t know why I’m not smiling. Probably because I’m trying to act tough:
The very last game of the day ended with a spectacular hit: someone got me right in my forehead. I showered when I got home, but it left a mark that will stay with me for a few days:
That scrape at the base of my ring and pinky fingers was also the result of a paintball, and during one game, I slid and fell while running, doing this to my knee and hand:
That’s a minor cut on my hand, but it’s super annoying because it’s on the thickest part of my hand, which means I’ll be feeling it every time I pick up a weight at the gym, like I did on Sunday morning. I’m proud of my injuries, because they’re the result of embracing something new and giving 100%, and it turned out to be a really fun day. I can’t remember the last time I’ve done anything so down and dirty, and I’d play paintball again in the future.
OH! The fields at the paintball park are separated from the parking lot by a short but steep hill. It’s exactly the sort of hill that would’ve had me completely winded when I was at my heaviest, but on Saturday, I ran up it every chance I could, and it felt great. Then, after I got home and cleaned up my wounds, I headed out to the gym, spent 45 minutes on an elliptical, and did my burpees for the day. Paintball is definitely a very active and physical activity, but because of the frequent breaks, I didn’t feel I could count it as a dedicated workout.
Keep it up, David!