By Joseph Robertia
On the central Kenai Peninsula, the term “combat” is often used to describe the hordes of fishermen that line the banks of various streams when salmon are running. But May 25, combat took a more literal meaning in a field of grass, sand and obstacles off of Kalifornsky Beach Road.
Other than the preponderance of camo gear, the group of guys gathered Saturday morning didn’t seem out of the ordinary, being students, employees, employers, sons and fathers. But as operations began, they donned another mantle — that of soldier, armed with their weapon of choice, the paintball gun.
“Who’s hungry?” shouted one player while taking to the 110-by-250-foot field of the new Pointblank paintball course. “Because I’m ready to feed somebody paint!”
Behind him, the rest of his team and the opposing crew were outfitted in SWAT-like protective gear and masks — at least one bearing a resemblance to a skull to strike fear into his enemies — and all carrying various forms of paint-propelling firearms, including a few designed to look like AK-47s or AR-15s.
When the official sounded the start of the match through a bullhorn, controlled chaos ensued. A hailstorm of hundreds of small, blue rounds flew in all directions as some of the guns — technically called “markers” — had the ability to shoot as many as 16 balls per second at a speed of nearly 300 feet per second. The growling shouts of teams directing their assaults were punctuated by the frequent “pop-pop-pop-pop” of rounds being fired.
There were intense, close-quarters maneuvers throughout the field, peppered with stacks of tires and large wooden spools providing scant cover. An assailant would turn a corner to find himself face to face with an adversary he had to shoot before getting shot first. Shooters often found themselves close enough to see the whites, and surprise, in the eyes of their opponents.
“I’ll probably go through 4,000 rounds today,” said John Revis, 25, of Sterling, who was playing with several of his AK Ragnarok teammates. Having gotten into paintball roughly 11 years ago, Revis has evolved into an upper-echelon player of the sport, competing in numerous tournaments around the state and in the Lower 48, some with as many as 7,000 players.
“I go to the gym, run and exercise year-round to stay in shape for this,” he said.
This is part of the purpose for establishing the new Pointblank paintball course, according to Robert Eighmie, who owns the course along with his son, Joshua Eighmie, and fellow paintball enthusiast Andrew Hochhalter. They want to not just draw in experienced players, but also provide an area for people of all skill levels to learn the activity and hone their skills.
“A big part of this was to get kids away from the television and video games and get them doing something fun and athletic, and paintball is great exercise. It’ll work muscles you never knew you had,” Eighmie said.
Watching just one match demonstrates Eighmie’s point. Players start off at a sprint to avoid being shot right from the opening horn, and the running rarely stops as they move up the field, diving and rolling to take cover behind various obstacles and barricades.
The one playing field is all that has been developed so far, as the owners are trying to do everything out of pocket, rather than relying on loans to build the course. They already have made substantial investments for insurance and to purchase and develop the 5.6-acre area, Eighmie said.
“It’s not done yet,” Eighmie said. “This is just the first field, but next year we will be putting in another, larger, 400-by-500 field.”
“We’re also hoping to draw in new players,” Hochhalter said, “and to draw in kids and adults since this is one of the few things where they can both play together at the same time. Because of size and strength differences, there’s not a lot of sports where you could do that, but at paintball you can. Kids are so much smaller that they’re harder to hit, so I’ve even seen novice kids take out experienced adult players.”
And while the experienced players were in abundance May 25, Eighmie said that the business also caters to those who have never player paintball before. They have gear to rent for those who want to try out the sport before making the financial commitment to purchase their own, since markers can range between $100 and multiple thousand dollars, depending on how many bells and whistles a player desires.
The field and gear can also be rented out for various groups or special purposes.
“We want to draw in new people because safety is the other big part of this. Without proper instruction, these guns can be dangerous, even taking out an eye,” Eighmie said.
He said he’s had kids come in who bought markers and had been playing in the woods near their homes with the pressure of their markers turned all the way up. They had no idea of how to set the pressure of their markers to safe speeds, nor the importance of wearing protective gear.
“Markers set to high can hurt people, but too slow and the paintballs just bounce off, so we have an air station here and a chronograph to measure ball speed. We check all the markers at least three times a day to ensure they’re set for (less than) 300 feet per second,” he said.
The same safety is applied to the ammo, according to Eighmie. No paintballs are allowed to be brought in from home to ensure the safety of the players and the environment they’re playing in.
“We use Ecofill paintballs, which are actually died cornstarch and water, so it washes right out of clothes and is biodegradable,” he said.
But it’s more than just teaching use of the gear. Eighmie said his goal is to make the activity fun for everyone, even though being hit is an almost-certain eventuality.
“We stress sportsmanship and we take new players out and teach them the fundamentals, such as different bunkering techniques, and different tactics such as blitzing versus sitting back and really picking and choosing your shots,” Eighmie said.
“We also advise people to wear — in addition to the protective gear we provide — loose-fitting clothes to absorb some of the shock. You can’t be afraid to get hit,” Hochhalter said, adding this is an exaggerated fear of many new players. “Being hit with a paintball is comparable to being snapped with a rubber band or a towel in the locker room, and when your adrenaline is really going sometimes you don’t even feel it.”
Pointblank opened May 18 and will remain open on weekends through Oct. 1. Registration is at 9 a.m. with the first match beginning at 10 a.m., and the field closing at 6 p.m. Midweek functions can be arranged with a week’s notice. Players must be 10 or older.
“We’ve tried to keep the price affordable,” Eighmie said.
It’s $30 for an all-day field fee, which includes markers, masks and air. Paint is $20 for 500 rounds or $60 for 2,000. Point Blank Paintball Field is on Compass Street off K-Beach, in between Helmsman Avenue and Kalgin Drive. For more information, visit www.pointblankpaintballfield.com of call 252-9855.