Paint in the Park
Nervous does not begin to describe how I woke up feeling a few Saturday’s back. You see, for months my boyfriend has wanted me to try out paintball but I’ve never completely committed to it, until now. It was a nervous excitement, but I’ll admit I was more than a bit worried about the pain! That and falling on my face.
In Nelspruit, paintball has kind of been an underground hobby slash serious competitive sport. At one stage, the paintball field at Manna Church, or the original paintball grounds known as the Sweet Spot at what is now Bagdad in White River, would be filled with enthusiastic teams ready to take a bit of pain for the glory of being crowned the most skilled. Because that is what paintball is all about at the end of the day: skill.You either practice and improve yourself or you never get any better at it.
It’s not just your tactical and shooting skills which can improve when you partake in a little adrenaline fueled action. Mentally, this sport can be therapeutic. Research shows that paintball can be great for stress relief as well as improve your social skills and self-confidence.
Although those fields aren’t seeing action anymore, the sport of paintball lives on in Nelspruit.
Put a bunch of men together and what do you get? Banter, full on banter, every few minutes someone cracks a joke, sometimes at the expense of someone else, but it is never malicious. These guys are out to enjoy a day of endurance, adrenaline, a break in routine and the company of good friends. When it’s time to get down to business, game faces are put on and by the end of a 15-minute round, the best team takes the field. There is real excitement to be had, from the moment teams gear up to the final shots fired.
It is a sport that stands out for one big reason, a reason that makes paintball special; camaraderie. Paintball is a team sport. Without the man by your side, your team has no hope of sticking it out. Games are fast paced, they will test your mental stamina (keeping a look out for an opponent takes more than a bit out of you) and it will, of course, test your fitness. So trusting the people on your team is one of the only ways to succeed (unless you are a cowboy with mad skills that is).
It’s an experience that is worth rushing into but one that Nelspruit is seeing less and less of. Finding a dedicated group is no easy feat so popularity has dwindled in recent years.
According to a long-standing member of the local paintball community, finding people to stick it out is one of the biggest challenges, along with finding a regular place to play. Venues quickly go to ruin as owners either lose interest or can’t afford to keep the place playable. And then there are the owners who are more concerned with making a profit than having a place for people to enjoy themselves. Entry prices to venues have, at times, been too high and as a result, new players don’t join. Eventually, people stopped playing or headed to the cities.
Paintball can be an expensive hobby and if you don’t take the game with good humour and nurse your bruises instead of complaining, this is not the sport for you.
The humble revival
Out of the ashes of dying teams and a lack of places to shoot, a new group came together purely for the fun of it. With permission from the authorities, they set up their playing field at the Old Reptile Park. A place of ruin, littered with jagged pieces of glass and the sound of the flowing Crocodile River in the background, this is a tricky set up for a game. The corners are difficult to see around, the players are skilled at camouflaging themselves in the rugged terrain and there is little protection from the beating sun.
Catching a glimpse of a player darting low along a wall and the distinct sound of a round being fired could be your only warning before you are knocked out of the game. It’s not easy to see people, but it is the challenge that adds to the thrill.
If you have ever played an apocalyptic shooter game, this is about as real life as it gets in these parts. To play paintball in Nelspruit, you need the right gear (such as guns (markers), hoppers, protective masks and if you prefer, protective clothing) and you need a group of people who are like-minded who are up for the challenge. The objective is not to hurt each other but to test your skills and be the last man standing. Having the right gear is important to stay in the game and to be protected.
My first time was probably a mild introduction, although I walked away with my share of bruises. It was certainly a lot of fun and something completely different to what you would normally do on a Saturday because let’s face it, our town is not exactly filled with activities for those looking to get outdoors but not travel far.
I was a nervous wreck being the new person, not knowing exactly how things worked, not knowing if I was making the perfect idiot of myself. But even if I was, there was no finger pointing or blaming, this is a genuine group of guys with some real skills.
This isn’t a sport for the faint-hearted! But it is the best sport to test your mental and physical endurance in a world where challenges to the body and mind are often limited, even if it is just for a morning.
As always, the photographs are courtesy of AlterNation. I highly recommend you get in touch with this talented photographer, she is one incredible artist and I truly appreciate her letting me use her images.