“It doesn’t hurt that bad,” said Robert Schaal, co-owner of Wyldside Paintball of Rockford. “It’s the fastest-growing sport in America. If it hurt really bad, you wouldn’t see all those kids playing it.”
Yes, you might get a small welt. But that will only impress your co-workers on Monday.
Essentially, paintball is a video game brought to life. Dozens of versions have been invented, but in its most basic form, paintball is a souped-up version of Capture the Flag. The object is to possess the opposing team’s flag and return it to your team’s side of the field without being “marked” — OK, shot — with a paint-filled gelatin ball that splats on impact. Paintballs are fired from “markers” — OK, air guns — and travel at up to 300 feet per second. If you get hit, you’re out.
Other games can involve capturing various hidden objects, or defending or attacking particular structures. Scenario games can involve complicated plots or even historical re-enactments.
While fans of numerous sports may claim that theirs is the fastest-growing, the Sports and Fitness Industry Association reported in 2006 that paintball was indeed the fastest-growing extreme sport in America, with about 3 million new players every year. That year, the average paintball participant was 22 years old; 83 percent were 12 to 34; 81 percent were male.
Paintball is played in a designated space — sometimes an open field, sometimes woods — often with inflatable or wooden bunkers. Wyldside, 4500 Rotary Road, New Milford, has 10 fields on 65 mostly wooded acres, with nets separating the playing areas so paintballs from one game don’t end up hitting players from another.
Players can rent guns at the playing field or bring their own. They retail from about $50 to more than $1,500, Schaal said. The selection is huge, from single-shot to semi-automatic to fully automatic machine guns that fire 13 or more paintballs a second. Some look like military assault rifles; others look like something a Batman villain would use.
They’re powered by small tanks containing either compressed air or carbon dioxide.
As for attire, players can show up in anything from a T-shirt and jeans (no shorts or tank tops allowed) to military-style protective gear, which can be rented onsite. Long sleeves are suggested. Many players favor camouflage garb to minimize their visibility. Heavy, loose-fitting clothing works best; it will absorb some of the impact when you’re hit. The paint is biodegradable and does wash out.
The one non-negotiable: Everyone wears a helmet with goggles, either your own or part of the rental package. They’re super-lightweight, but they protect the entire face.
Every Wyldside game starts with a safety talk, Schaal said, and rule No. 1 is that once a player enters the netted area, the mask does not come off. Ever.
Away from the playing field, gun barrels must be plugged with a brightly colored, easily visible stopper, indicating to others that the gun is disabled.
Wyldside does not allow players to bring their own paintballs. That’s partially for safety and partially for environmental reasons. They use white, biodegradable paintballs except for the pro-tournament field.
All games, whether open or private, have referees who not only keep track of who’s in or out, but also enforce safety rules. Air gun pressure is limited to 280 psi and a maximum of 300 feet per second. And yes, they check — with a chronometer before the games and at halftime.
A group can reserve a field and have it all to itself, or players simply can show up at 9 a.m. on a Saturday or Sunday and get placed onto teams.
“We have 200 rental guns, so we can go up to 100 on 100,” Schaal said.
Wyldside chooses the teams and pairings based on experience level.
“If you’re really good at paintball, we don’t let you play with
beginners and turn it into a turkey shoot.”
Where: Wyldside Paintball Store,
5920 E. State St. (inside Euro Tattoo)
Field location: 4500 Rotary Road, New Milford
Schedule: Starting April 6-7, open Saturdays and Sundays for open play. Check-in time is 9 a.m.
Private games and events are by appointment only, and can be scheduled weekdays or weekends.
Cost: Varies based on amount of equipment rented. For example, the Splat Pack I costs $50 and includes field fees, all-day air recharges, gun rental, helmet/goggles, a 2-pod harness (to hold paintballs) and 500 paintballs. Membership discounts also are available.
- Wyldside Paintball, inside Euro Tattoo, 5920 E. State St., Rockford (next to
- Dick’s Sporting Goods, 6380 E. State St., Rockford, 815-397-7115
- MC Sports, 7141 Harrison Ave., Rockford, 815-332-2032
- Blain’s Farm & Fleet locations
- Walmart locations
Wyldside is the only paintball facility in the Rockford area. That’s not to say that a lot of paintball isn’t being played on farms and in woods around here. That’s perfectly legal as long as it’s on private land — not in a public park or preserve — and you have the owner’s permission.
In Illinois, paintball guns may only be fired on private land or at a designated paintball site. And you can’t shoot across streets, roads or sidewalks, so forget about those yard-to-yard neighborhood feuds.
Paintball guns are covered by Illinois’ laws regarding air guns. The state prohibits their sale to and use by minors younger than 13 unless under adult supervision, guidance and instruction (a supervised paintball facility qualifies).
Paintball guns also can’t be used in any way that endangers people or property.