About two weeks ago I was challenged to try something I had never really wanted to do before: play paintball. A good friend of mine was throwing a birthday party for her boyfriend, whom I’d met a few times, and because of his obsession intense interest in the sport, the theme was paintball. It was actually pretty cool, even the cupcakes had gumballs on top that looked pretty close to actual paintballs.
Up until we all went out on the field, I was apprehensive. I’m not athletic, I’m not someone who enjoys shooting or inflicting pain on people I know (or that’s what I thought). Hell, even first person shooter video games where I am dropped into the middle of WWII give me some heebee-jeebees.
If you’ve never been paintballing before, here are 2 things you need to know: First, your goggles will fog up and it will entirely ruin your abilities to play the game. Second, you’ll forget all that other stuff I just talked about.
From the first moment I stepped onto the field (outdoors, in Pennsylvania, at the end of January), I went into war mode. Maybe it’s because everyone had on face masks and ridiculous outfits, or maybe it was just my inner warrior coming out, but I got INTO it.
There were two types of fields that we played. The first was arena style. Relatively flat landscape with some barrels thrown in for cover and variation. It’s sort of like the old English style of war. Stand in a line and shoot at each other. There’s no sneaking around, no real tactics, just dive behind something, risk poking your head out, and lay down some heat. What really made it difficult was the limited ammo (seeing as we had to pay for it all there, about $45 for 500 pellets, which is a lot less than you think, especially when split among 13 people). That was the source of all strategy in the arena. Highlight: I got the first hit of the day, managing to tag the birthday boy from about ¾ of the way across the field. Of course afterward I felt like a jerk for hitting him in the face on his birthday, but we’ll get back to that.
The second field was “in” the woods. Again, there was a central area that had a flat landscape to face off, but there were also two makeshift bases and paths running through the trees between the bases and the central field. The difference here is that you have to move. Such a simple concept, right? Walk and chew gum at the same time. Turn it into walk, carry a gun, listen for other movement, minimize your own noise, try to avoid fire, and make shots of your own, and it’s an extremely intense endeavor. We all preferred this style due to the added strategy of hunting the other team down, and the limited encounters helped us to stretch out our ammo supply, instead of just constantly firing across the field. Highlight: I was creeping around one of the paths and suddenly saw someone on the other team lifting their gun. There were 3 of them and I somehow managed to avoid getting hit and tagged all three of them.
You’re probably thinking to yourself “OK, Mike, but why is this on an exercise site?” Well number one, I wasn’t sitting on my ass at home with a bag of Doritos. It’s one of the most basic tips that people give each other relative to exercise: you don’t have to go to the gym if you don’t want to, just find fun things that get you moving.
Another point is that it’s active. It’s combining multiple aspects into one activity. You’re hiking through the woods. You’re running, you’re aiming, strategizing, diving, all sorts of things. Despite the winter weather, I worked up a sweat throughout the day. Especially in a couple of instances when we used “house rules” that there would be a 5-10 second ceasefire at the beginning of the round to get us into better tactical positions. The first one, I tried to be a hero and run halfway up the field (of course getting shot about 15 times when I had no cover at the end of the ceasefire). After that though, there was a frenzy of movement to get into place, then diving between covers to advance on the opposing team.
Putting your body into heightened states like you can achieve through paintball really benefits your health, when done in moderation. Activating your adrenal gland ups your metabolism and increases your energy, at least momentarily, but usually for a period of time following the activity as well. Not to mention the fun that you’re having with friends, coupled with the physical activity, releases endorphin into your system with other mood-boosting chemicals. Personally, when I go to the gym it’s often alone and that gets old. There’s no opportunity for social interaction to break up the monotony.
So with all of that said, if you’re looking for a chance to get off the couch and kill about 4 hours while being active with a bunch of friends with absolutely no prerequisite skills, paintball can be a hell of a lot of fun. Look at it this way, my friend’s 50+ year old parents were on the field playing with us, and one of them clinched the first round for our team (her mom also managed to hit me about five times one round after I was out – I’m still holding a grudge, Lil). Even her grandparents considered playing and were being encouraged to by the location staff. The best part? You get to put your FPS skills to the test in real life. Who doesn’t want to prove they can be Master Chief or Samus Aran or any other number of heroes. So what are you waiting for?
Final note: in a real life “bonus round,” the birthday boy actually suited up in all of his padding and gear and decided he wanted to see just how much fire he could withstand. We all filled up our hoppers (the little container for your paintballs that sits on top of the gun) and walked over to an open field. He went to one end, gave us the Hi-sign and started running to the other end. We unloaded every remaining pellet aiming for that poor guy (waste not, want not!) and only actually hurt him with one ball that managed to hit his neck between his helmet and his shirt. So if you’re ever looking for a way to replace the traditional birthday spankings…