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For a day of family fun, Samui’s paintball playground takes some beating.

For a day of family fun, Samui’s paintball playground takes some beating.Once upon a time, somewhere back in the ’70s, paintball was invented. And for years it was hugely popular. Of course, in the early years, it was somewhat rough and ready. Technically it was crude; it was hard to limit the power of the guns, and the real paint that it splashed on you made a bit of a mess. But as time went on, quality improved and standards were established, and the sheer fun of paintball spread all around the world.

          

Except for Japan, where for some reason it was banned, and this upset a great many people. The curious result was that Japanese manufacturers created an alternative, just for the home market. These were authentic replicas of real military weapons, but using low-power springs, and firing tiny lightweight plastic balls. Within a few years they’d progressed to compressed butane gas as a power source and were producing fully automatic rifles that looked and felt like the genuine item. This took not just Japan but also the rest of the world by storm. And to go with the new genre they’d created, a new name was coined – ‘Airsoft’.

Almost overnight Airsoft spelled the death of paintball. The original players, the teens and American college kids who craved increasingly more dangerous thrills and spills, turned away from paintball – in comparison, the quaint and clunky CO2For a day of family fun, Samui’s paintball playground takes some beating.-powered paintball guns looked like cast-off ray guns from a 1950’s space invaders movie. Plus they were low-powered and had a range of only about 60 or 70 feet. They were slow, too; you had to cock a lever by hand to load the next shot.

          

And so paintball faded out of the public eye for almost 20 years. Except now – new and improved – it’s back!

          

All those previously negative aspects – low power, slow rate of fire, short range – are precisely the aspects which are making it so popular today. For families, for mums and dads and kids having fun on Samui, it just couldn’t be better. There’s football and Frisbee and mini golf, volleyball too, and trips out with snorkelling and fishing and zip lines and safaris. But nothing is more of a challenge; nothing is more exciting or better fun, than chasing your father/mother/brother/ sister/buddy around a field – then symbolically blasting them!

          

You’ll be impressed right away when you get there, up Soi 1 in Maenam (hotel pickup is included in the price). It’s sensibly laidout and well-organised, and the owner, Dave Chou, is at pains to reduce any risk or danger to absolute zero. The playing field is a big rectangle measuring about 120 metres by 80 metres, surrounded by four metre-high netting. The paintball guns themselves (now semi-auto and full-auto firing)For a day of family fun, Samui’s paintball playground takes some beating. are carefully maintained and monitored, and not allowed outside of this area. And the lightweight safety suits, gloves and facemasks in differing sizes are neatly racked and stacked towards the entrance to the ground. But the first thing that will happen is that you’ll be greeted, provided with refreshments, then sit and listen to Dave going over the rules before you begin.

          

“I do this with everyone,” Dave explained. “It’s all quite simple and it’s just common sense, really. There’s not that many rules, but the main thing is that, in the excitement, players sometimes get in too close. These guns are not powerful enough to do any damage. Even if you were to shoot someone on their bare skin from a couple of metres away, it would only sting for a moment but not break the skin – the ‘paint’ is water-based, non-toxic and even edible! But I’m not taking any chances in any way. So faces are protected with a mask and light overalls cover the rest of the body, along with thin gloves. And if I see anyone shooting from less than about three metres then I’ll pause the game.”

          

Dave oversees every game personally from a neutral corner, using a battery-powered megaphone to project over the excited shouts, and backing this up with an attention-grabbing air-raid klaxon. The playing field is dotted with piles of tyres, crates, bunkers and trees in the middle. There are a couple of low towers for snipers, and it’s bordered by a trench which runs along the length one side of the field. But this is deceptively filled with hides and barricades,For a day of family fun, Samui’s paintball playground takes some beating. making its use a point of some strategy. Even the young trees and vines over at this side need to be deployed thoughtfully; they don’t appear to provide any cover at all but will actually get in the way of 60% of what’s being shot at you.

          

There are different ways to go about playing. If you insist, you can have a free-for-all, with everyone getting splatted and just carrying on. But the usual format is that, when anyone is hit, they drop out for a moment and report to Dave in the neutral corner before re-joining the game. However, if you’re playing with two opposing teams then it all becomes a bit more purposeful. “Quite a lot of Samui’s resorts come here to develop teambuilding – we had Four Seasons last month,” Dave continued. “And in my pre-game talk I always discuss the need for strategy and preplanning. In this kind of format each team has to try to work together and capture their opponent’s back line. And you just can’t achieve this without following an overall game plan.”

          

There’s not really an age limit but, again, it’s common sense. A big 8 year old boy might have more weight and strength than a more slightly built 12 year old girl. As a rule of thumb, if the kids can hold the gun, aim it and hit a target, they can play the game. And if there is any problem here, then there are simple, numbered, circular targets scattered around that can be used for supervised shooting practice to develop confidence and skill.

          

There’s no time limit on a game and players can simply carry on until they’ve had enough – usually about two hours or so, but sometimes four or even five. And, as well as the full deal with hotel pickups, Dave is also offering special resident’s rates, particularly over the low season, with schools more than welcome to attend. Maybe next it’ll be a pub team paintball league, like they have in pool? Goodness gracious – how much fun is that!

          

 Rob De Wet


 


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