Paintball grows as a sport while promoting an inclusive community atmosphere

While many view paintball as little more than a game, a fun way to spend a birthday or a bachelor party, to many in Alberta it is much more. It is a competitive sport, a community, a way of life.

It’s a community with a subtle balance between fierce competition and loyal friendship. There are a number of competitive leagues and tournaments in Alberta for all ages and skill levels.

Players get into paintball for many reasons, but a common reason for sticking with the sport involves being brought into the fold of an extremely tight-knit community. Underneath the intimidating appearance of these players with their mirrored visors and battle-stained jerseys, is the heart of a community that simply wants to enjoy their sport and watch it grow.

“Just the family of it, the community, how tight everyone was and how generous everyone was, it really made me want to keep going with the sport,” says Adrian Bader, a member of local Team Vengeance and the Calgary / B.C. hybrid Team Toxic. “Just the fact that you could show up to the field to play and even if your gear doesn’t work there is 20 random strangers who have never met you before but they’ll let you use their $1,000 equipment so you don’t miss out. Everyone is just so good to each other on and off the field.”Adrian Bader (kneeling, left) of Calgary’s Team Vengeance has been playing competitive paintball for nearly 10 years. He says the inclusive community and strong friendships he has made kept him coming back year after year. Photo by Krystal Shuhyta / Fly Free Photography

This is a sentiment echoed by many in the community: an implied sense of trust and a willingness to help other players get the most out of the sport regardless of whether they might eventually be competing on the field.

“On the field, its an all out fight. After the game, everyone is giving props for a great shot or move,” says Matt Frost, a player from Camrose. “How many other sports can say that their players actively help out their opponents with tools, advice, and equipment? Where else do you see anyone pass a $1,000 piece of equipment to a complete stranger, and say, ‘Here, have fun?’ You come play paintball, you’re part of the family.”

Though some might be unaware of the long-standing competitive paintball community in Alberta, the CPPL (Canadian Professional Paintball League) has been hosting events across Canada for 26 years and is still going strong. Events are held throughout the year in Calgary, Edmonton and Bragg Creek with hundreds of players from dozens of teams competing for cash, equipment and bragging rights in divisions ranging from the hardened professionals to first-time competitors.

Teams from British Columbia and Saskatchewan regularly travel to Alberta to compete in these events, with the huge distance between other major competitions in Ontario or the United States making Alberta the hot-spot on the Prairies for the sport.

“The CPPL has been going for 26 years, it’s still growing and there is no sign of decline,” Bader said. “We are kind of secluded from the rest of Canada, especially Ontario events, but Alberta itself is going strong. It’s our own little community within the larger community.”

Members of Calgary’s Team Vengeance come in for a fist bump before a match at the CPPL Warburton Classic tournament, held at Bragg Creek Paintball July 24. Win or lose, shows of sportsmanship are an important part of maintaining a tight-knit community. Photo by Krystal Shuhyta / Fly Free PhotographyWhether a young first-timer, a weekend warrior who plays just for the fun, or a hardened competitor looking to get serious, the paintball community in Alberta offers something for everyone, and welcomes players of all stripes.

“The tight-knit community within competition paintball is way different from any sport I’ve been a part of. As for the sport itself, the adrenaline rush when you step on the field and you shoot that first ball… It’s an instantly addicting feeling,” says Adam Turnbull, a long-time player in the Calgary area. “From young to old there’s a part of paintball for you, regardless of your athletic conditioning. It just brings people together, and leaves them with huge smiles.”

One of the most unique facets of the sport, according to long-time player Mike York of the Central Alberta team Tainted, is the diversity and inclusivity of players both on and off the field.

“Paintball is amazing because it is one of the only sports where young and old of any gender can compete against each other on the same field,” he says. “There isn’t a need to separate players by arbitrary means; all that matters is skill and a willingness to compete.”

There are no men’s and women’s leagues in paintball, and no division between old and young. All that separates players is their skill on the field, and veterans of the community work hard to make it an inclusive sport and encourage new players to get involved.

A unique feature of the competitive paintball leagues is there is no division between genders on the playing field. Men and women often compete against each other, or together on the same team. Photo by Krystal Shuhyta / Fly Free Photography “I just want to grow the sport as much as I can as far as the younger generation goes. As a vet who has been playing for a while, you’re not going to do anything to discourage them, you want them to have a good memory and to walk away with respect for the community,” Bader said. “When you give someone who has never played serious paintball the chance to see what it is like at higher levels, you see their eyes light up and that can make a whole world of difference for them, even get them into the sport more seriously.”

Regardless of skill level, athleticism or knowledge of the sport, anyone looking to get involved in paintball will find a welcoming community of players excited to see a new face on the field.

“Dive in headfirst, go into it with an open mind, and once you get that first rush of adrenaline you’re going to realize that you basically feel like a jet fighter in the sky,” Bader said. “It truly shows you what you’re made of, are you going to sit back and hide or are you going to run in and change the game?”

Thumbnail image by Krystal Shuhyta / Fly Free Photography

jbrak@cjournal.ca