Happiness Is a Warm Paintball Gun

National Professional Paintball Leaguers take aim at the future

Photo by Nadia AfghaniTwo weekends ago Saturday, while 20,000 people protested the Iraq war in Los Angeles, 40,000 people flocked to Huntington Beach to run around on the sand and shoot one another with paintball guns.

It was the National Professional Paintball League's annual Super 7 Paintball World Series, held March 18 to 20, and when the splatters dried, it was the largest paintball tournament ever, thanks to the men and women (mostly men) who'd flown in from all over the United States and Europe for the chance to compete in a series of eight-minute battles.

The rules said that if you were hit with a pellet atall, you were out. They also said you had to be at least 10 years old to play . . . and something about capturing the other team's flag to win. Teams of seven paid $350 per group to enter for a chance at winning $25,000. Paintball is still a hobby; it's the way they used to mark cattle. Colleges have paintball teams, but you can't major in it—and yet there were people there who did this for a living.

"Dude, I can't believe you shot me in the foot," one said to another. "Why'd you do that?" His assassin shrugged: "I don't know. I knew it would hurt." Like Fallouja, the battle raged on. You could see it from the Huntington Beach Pier—the "injured" wandering about, stunned, while kids darted between them like war orphans, sifting the sands for unspent shells (a pellet has to hit something hard to explode).

Opposite the front lines, beyond where Jason "Wee-Man" Acuna sat near his ride, the Monster energy-drinks truck, past the spectators in arena seating, were tents full of artillery. "We Kill Suckers," one sign read. But how, when you don't bring your own gun? The arms race was next door: you could buy a gun at any of nearly two dozen booths for $100 to $1,500—which made them more costly than a Bryco Arms special. Ammo was cheaper: $35 to $60 per box. Sales—and salesmen—were swift.

Malcolm Booze (his real name) manned the Reball stand, where the quick-of-draw could pay $5 to practice pulling and fanning WDP Angel Revolution's newest, the G7, "the world's fastest gun." "The trigger is fast, like double-clicking a mouse, left, right, left, right," Booze said. The line to pose with it, while saying things like "Say hello to my little friend," "You talking to me?" and "I'll be back," grew as the day wore on.

Happiness was a warm paintball gun. It was also Owen Ronayne, WDP sales head; he'd correctly chosen that weekend to launch the G7. The G7 isthe world's fastest paintball gun, capable of firing 31 pellets per second at a muzzle velocity of 300 feet per second andblowingyourheadcleanoff, so the question you gotta ask yourself is: Do you have the money? At $1,495, it's also the world's most expensive paintball gun. WDP had sold 1,000 G7s the week before—and it sold out its entire stock at the company booth.

On the battleground, the warriors formulated their game plans—some, presumably, around the G7—hiding behind bunkers with tasty names like Beer Cans, Doritos and Tacos. Their blood was up; they wanted to see the enemy through a sniper scope, to feel the gun jerk as they clicked off rounds, to watch bright red—and pink and green—paint run like blood from the target's wounds. Crotch shots were the best, for obvious reasons—beyond love, they were ecstasy, especially for the four all-girl teams competing, which had names like Destiny and the Femme Fatales.

"The girls play hard," Ronayne said, "because they strive for acceptance. They desperately want to be the best." Two all-girl teams actually made it to the quarter-finals, but San Diego-based all-male shooters Dynasty wound up winning the tournament. And then Mom made Kool-Aid.

 
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