Q: What’s your job title?
A: Paintball Journalist. It’s possibly the most fun you can have with a Liberal Arts degree.
Q: I have never heard of this before.
A: When I tell people invariably they laugh. I have had to build up immunity to it.
Q: What does it entail?
A: Take the image in your mind and then picture a referee with a camcorder and audio recorder.
Q: Who are you filming? Just people playing the game? Who is your audience?
A: There are two types of paintball. Half is speedball—the one you see frequently on ESPN—and the other half is woodsball—adults playing army.
Q: They show paintball on ESPN?
A: Yes. There are two professional leagues. One is NPPL: The National Professional Paintball League, which goes all the way to twelve-year-old kids. It’s broken down by skill though, not by age or gender.
There are seven people per team, two teams, seven minute games on a 150-foot long field.
There is one flag at each end of the field and they grab their flag and bring it back. If you’re shot you’re eliminated.
Q: And there are referees officiating?
A: There are plenty of referees. They are mostly there for safety, like if someone twists an ankle. But in the last four years the role of the referee has changed. Formerly it was injury prevention, but now people expect the refs to be the rule enforcers—to pull someone out of the game if they’re hit.
Q: Could you ever not know that you’d been hit?
A: There might be a situation where you didn’t feel it, but you should hear it. By and large you’d know it. You can tell a lot about how you need to play by where and how you’ve been hit.
Q: So who do you write articles for?
A: Paintball magazines. There used to be eight paintball publications in the U.S. I’m not sure of the number at the moment—some publications have gone online.
They don’t pay very well but I can write a LOT. They pay for text and photos.
Q: And this is your primary income?
A: I do other things on the side but this is how I make the vast majority. There are maybe two or three other full-time paintball freelance journalists that I know of.
Q: How did you start doing this?
A: I’ve been a writer my whole life—my childhood bed sheets were stained with ink.
The first time I played paintball was with my church youth group and I loved it. I was into the outdoors and instead of shooting at cans we were shooting at people.
In college I was working for the local paper and they said there was a local paintball tournament and did I want to cover it. The big name national editors were there and I introduced myself and then started writing for them. After that I started writing for other publications too.
Q: So you cover these two types of paintball tournaments.
A: Yes, besides the professional leagues I cover woodsball, which is in a forest or a pasture. It’s anywhere from 4-4200 people. The world record is around 4200 people. It was a reenactment of the invasion of Normandy.
Q: Where did that take place?
A: In Oklahoma. It was 650 acres of rolling hills. The owner spent years cultivating beaches, hills, bunkers, French villages… They do it every year, though two years ago was the biggest.
Q: Do the guns they use look like real guns?
A: The guns are called markers. There is a very wide range. Some are the spitting image of the real thing, others look like ray guns out of Buck Rodgers. During the reenactment, most look like modern arms.
Some players wear historically accurate uniforms but there is one strict prohibition—no Nazi paraphernalia. Even when it’s Allies vs. Germans. We keep in mind that we’re just “playing” the bad guys.
Q: What other kind of protective gear do you wear?
A: We wear paintball goggles. They meet ASTM standards. They’re shatter proof, impact resistant, and scratch resistant. We also have eye-, ear-, and throat-protecting gear….
Q: Can I ask this—do you wear a cup?
A: Yes, I do. Think of 204 miles per hour for a 68-caliber projectile.
Q: Have you ever been shot?
A: I’ve been shot over every inch of my body. When I’m out in the open I get shot in the strangest places. I also have a $3000 Nikon D3 I need to protect.
Q: How do you protect it?
A: With my body.
Q: Where do you buy paintball markers?
A: At Wal-Marts, paintball specialty stores, the internet. They are classified as air guns so you have to be 18 or older to buy one, or be with your parents if you’re younger.
Q: Do paintballs contain real paint?
A: There is no paint in a paintball. There used to be, in the ‘80s. People started to realize it was a bad idea and we switched to a non-permanent solution. They’re biodegradable now. The mark on your body will last longer than the mark on the tree.
It’s part vegetable oil, part food starch, coated in gelatin like a Tylenol gelcap. It’s completely natural and I’ve eaten them to prove the point.
Q: What did it taste like?
A: It’s horrible. It has the consistency of the worst toothpaste you’ve ever had.
Q: You sound like you know a lot about paintball.
A: I have played or covered paintball in Korea, the US, England, Malaysia, Thailand, Malaysian Borneo, and Russia. (If you want to make a Russian man smile, hand him a paintball gun. Though I cannot recommend being on the other end of it.)
Paintball has been good to me. Of the four books I’ve written, it was the paintball one that got published.
And wherever I go, I can tell when there are paintball players near. I’m like the narrator in Fight Club.