Mention the word "paintball," and the inevitable response is that it's painful, something about bruises, or a horror story about getting shot in the head/finger/rear end. Having been informed ad nauseam how much the small balls of paint hurt, I ventured to True Paintball Adventure Park with Boise Weekly reporter and veteran paintballer Andrew Crisp.
First impression: This place is a little scary. My mental version of paintball was the Hollywoodized, Julia Stiles vs. Heath Ledger kind, and this building on a dirt lot out by Gowen Field definitely wasn't the backdrop I'd had in mind.
Inside the facility had more of a high-school feel. The slew of 15-year-olds crowding the equipment rental counter had me adding up exactly how many years ago I'd finished high school. After suiting up and listening to the rapidly rattled-off rules, it was time to hit the field.
I followed the gang of teens past an impressive indoor course and through a back door to a spacious outdoor locale. The field was strangely stunning--littered with old cars, plywood platforms, partitions and tires, all covered in smatterings of paint that reminded me of a poor Jackson Pollock impersonator. We divided into teams, picked our sniper locations and waited to hear go.
Many pitiful games of laser tag and Buck Hunter caused me to realize my lack of shooting skills long ago, so I tucked in behind a partition and pointed my gun through the cutout. Five minutes later, a paintball grazed my gloved right hand, and I slunk off the course.
The next two rounds resulted in a shot to each thigh, and in between I crowded at a picnic table and learned a little about the other players--a group a students from a tech school with infectious paintball enthusiasm. One girl had taken a paintball to the neck and was still smiling.
The next round was played in semi-darkness and with a foggy mask, which made aiming nearly impossible until the lights were turned on mid-round. I thought I was doing pretty well, until an opponent snuck up behind me and said "surrender or die." I chose surrender.
Crisp and I ventured to another field to use up our remaining paintballs, and I was thankful for my impaired vision when a kid showed my co-worker a dead rat. I took a paintball to the hand within minutes of starting our one-on-one round, and elected to shoot the last of the paintballs at random objects on the field.
True, paintballs smart when they meet your skin. Also true: Paintball guns are a lot of fun to shoot, which made it easy to tolerate the bruises I discovered later. I'd definitely play again, and my desire to get good increased when I spied a paintball ammunition belt on a mustached pro and couldn't help but think how bad-ass it would look on me.
In a derelict airplane hanger just south of the Boise airport, we donned faded fatigues and masks, picked up our Tippmann 98 Custom paintball guns and made our way out onto the field. Our hoppers loaded with paintballs, we caught up to a group of Meridian Technical High School students heading out onto the field. We were twice the senior of another group of kids on the adjacent field.
We moved to the outdoor field, filled with burnt-out cars, plywood structures and giant tires--everything splattered with red and green shades--like some bizarre post-apocalyptic art project. In the first round, I ducked to the left of the field, positioned in a pillbox-type structure against the fence. From there, I laid paint down on either side of the field. One by one, my teammates were hit, raising their arms and walking off the field. I couldn't see or hit anybody from the pillbox, so I jumped down to the ground.
From that position, I saw two enemies across the field who hadn't seen me move. I sent a flurry of balls, hitting a teen in the shin. I sent another volley down the middle lane at a second enemy, eliminating him. With one opponent left, I turned into a structure in the middle of the field and found myself face to face with the final opponent. I shot twice directly into him, the balls hitting his torso, protected only by a Boise State sweatshirt.
I apologized to the kid, who gave a less-than-thrilled response, while his pals commended my sniping skills. Between rounds, I realized how ridiculous the situation was. We'd been checked-in by a pair no older than our teammates, given few rules and even fewer restrictions.
We were told not to shoot the lights, that was about it. Once, right before our final round wherein my BW partner/opponent Sheree Whiteley engaged in a one-on-one deathmatch, a kid age 10 or so came up to me and said, "Look, a rat." I responded, "What the hell are you doing!?" The kid had a dead rat in his outstretched palm. "I'm wearing a glove," he said and threw the rat up and over the net back into the field.
Our subsequent rounds were less than successful. I could blame the greasy goggles of the head mask I wore or curse the more experienced kids, but honestly after crouching behind wooden boards as the evening waned, my thighs ached pathetically.
Right before Whiteley and I left, we emptied the remainder of our paint onto the wall of the aircraft hanger, holding our guns at our hips as we fired maniacally like Tony Montana from Scarface.
As the sunlight dipped below the blades of a pair of Black Hawk helicopters parked yards away at Gowen Field, one of our enemies/teenyboppers remarked not to shoot at the towering Tracon facility looming over the field, lest we be riddled with real bullets. I hate kids.