Painting the town orange
Michelle Byrne got kitted-up for a spot of afternoon paintball carnage and discovered exactly how much it hurts when you get hit at point-blank-range.
Peering through a letterboxshaped peephole in the makeshift wooden barricade, my gun by my side, I wiped the sweat from my palms and tried in vain to catch my breath. Less than five meters away the invisible enemy were waiting patiently for someone, anyone, to make a move. An ill-advised sprint and slide through the sand to a well placed tree and I looked around once more for the elusive rival as members of my battalion seemed to have vanished.
A glint of midday sunshine reflecting off an opponent’s weapon caught my eye. I held my breath to line up a shot before, bam, he got there first. A rain of fire exploded off my protective tree (an orange-splattered, innocent, casualty of war) too close for comfort and the scream of ‘man down’ (there’s no politically correct terminology on the frontline) from the captain seemed inevitable as I prepared for the sting of a direct hit. Thankfully, on this occasion, I was saved by the sound of the marshal’s horn that blew across the dust, bringing the blue team to their feet from behind their hidey holes with the smug grins only victors can wear. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the compulsively competitive, and hugely addictive, world of paintball.
Almost two hours before, a group of 18 of us had arrived at Dubai’s Pursuit Games (050 651 4583) raring to take part in a spot of afternoon carnage. After some cursory questions about the ethics of simulating violence for entertainment, being a close-knit bunch of colleagues we brushed aside any moral implications when we realised that this would be the only chance we would ever get to shoot the hell out of each other – an especially tempting scenario when you’re the only person ever to make the tea.
The bruising started early, but only to a few egos, as we faced the humiliation of picking teams playground style. We were then each handed a fetching blue or beige boiler suit (with the beige team already tempting fate with their boasts that they’d be camouflaged in the sand) and a rather clunky face mask. The women were given extra padding to protect their upper bodies, and the men had the option to protect their groins for a mere Dhs10 – something none of them were tight fisted about. Our unruly rabble then lined up in a sort of pseudo inspection drill to be handed our last, and most important, piece of kit – the surprisingly heavy guns, preloaded with 200 bright orange paintballs.
Paintball has come a long way since it was invented as a way of marking timber and cattle in the ’70s, yet the rules are similar across the world. Fully-suited, the Pursuit Games organisers ran through how the games were going to be played and explained that during a two hour period you’ll usually be able to fit in five or six games. Options include: total elimination – where each team has to try and, well, eliminate the other team; president assassination – where two unfortunate ‘volunteers’ wear a garishly-bright bit of material round their necks while everyone tries to shoot them; and capture the flag – where you have to get said bit of material across to the other side of the field without getting shot. If you do feel the punch of paint, you have to leave the game, and if you run out of paintballs you’re also heading to the sidelines – and nobody is supposed (notice the word ‘supposed’) to shoot at you while you do so. You’re also barred from firing at point-blank-range, and you’re not intentionally allowed to aim for the head. One thing you will hear at every paintball club is the importance of keeping your mask on at all times. Although the paint is non-toxic you don’t want anything flying at 200 miles per hour going into your eye. If you have any difficulties, however, there are plenty of extremely brave marshals on-hand to help.
As we marched (well jogged, skipped and dawdled) off to battle, the nerves set in. After hearing myths about bruises the size of tennis balls, we started to wonder if those who were usually shy and quiet in the office would become deranged killing machines on the field. The two teams positioned themselves at either end of the near football pitch-sized playing area and waited for the horn to sound.
It didn’t take long for the tactic of running and hiding to become a natural response – although some masochists didn’t waste anytime getting into the thick of the battle. While hanging back might mean you don’t get hit, where’s the fun in that? It was that sort of attitude that got me my first hit to the elbow at point blank range. It stung (much like getting whipped by a wet towel), but the adrenaline saturating my pores dulled any real sense of pain.
More than 120 minutes of huffing, puffing and promising to go the gym more often passed, along with some down-right cheating (remember getting hit means you’re out boys), some over zealous army-style antics (including dabbling with war paint), and a couple of casualties (who got hit in ‘sensitive’ places). Then it was time to call it a day and we took a leave of absence to dissect the afternoon’s manoeuvres.
After a weekend recovering, back at Time Out towers, we compared our war wounds (a variety of one dirham-shaped bruises in shades of pink and purple) and colleagues were either eyed with suspicion or patted on the back with a camaraderie never before shared. We vowed we’d be back to Oud Metha’s battlefield – if only to settle a few scores.
Pursuit Games (050 651 4583), next to Wonderland Park, Oud Metha. Game fee is Dhs20 for a two-hour session including all equipment, plus Dhs50 for each 100 paintballs, for a minimum of four players. Discounts available for group bookings of 20 plus. www.paintballdubai.com.