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Couple of years ago me and a friend tried to introduce paintball to Croatia, but it didn't work out 'cause, we were too inexperienced to organize such a feat and, besides, the war still raged on, so it seemed inapropriate to invite people to "play war" at the same time.
So, paintball didn't appear in Croatia until this year, and I was very eager to finally experience it for real (I haven't played before, only saw pictures). The tournament was held near Pula, a pretty sea-coast town with a Roman amphitheater, but also with a large military base in the vicinity. The result was that most of the teams were groups of professional soldiers, military policemen, and such. Then there were two veteran Slovenian teams (Croatian-Slovenian border is very near Pula), and us - couple of students from Zagreb, the capital. Actually, even the friends I was with have strong military/martial arts/sharpshooting interests, so I was alone in the multitude of people merrily discussing AK-47 recoil. Everybody was in camo, and some even wore official insignia of their military units. No teenagers or clumsy students... no, make it ONE clumsy student - me!
The field was 100 * 100 square meters, a dense wood. The game was CENTER FLAG, and two teams of three fought for the maximum of 5 minutes.
Some problems appeared when it came to getting ammo - we were commenting how the wood was very dense, lot of bush, so that lots of ammo has to be spent 'cause most of the balls would splat into leaves and bush before reaching the target. The Slovenian team came and took 6.000 balls, while other teams bought 1.000 at most! It seemed very unfair, especially taking into account that they had their own pro equipment and everybody else used the eq provided by organizer. Yes, I know, that's how it's done, but it was obvious that we stood no chance and that left everybody grumbling.
Actually, the Slovene teams looked a lot like Imperial stormtroopers, with helmets, huge tanks of CO2 carried on the back and other special outfit, so we hummed the Star Wars theme song when they would pass by... My first impression of paintball was - lots of shouting and noone knows what's going on! As the observer, I had a lot of fun, although there was not much to see 'cause of the foliage. We stood on a ridge elevated a meter above the field, laughing and commenting. When a player would run by, the shots from the middle of the field, aiming at the runner, would spray all over the observing post, (sometimes hitting the cars parked behind) making us duck or run away.
Soon it was my turn. I grabbed a gun and shot a few rounds. I was impressed by distance and accuracy of the shots. I thought that these little rubber balls propelled by air can't be aimed effectively. Unfortunately, a second before going to our base, a friend gave me a better gun, which I didn't bother to check.
I was instructed to go to the left, which I did in a frenetic run. Very soon I came upon a guy (say, 20 meters away) standing on open ground. I shot immediately but the trigger didn't pull - the safety catch was on! Bewildered, I turned and ran back, finding a cover and finding where the !"# was the safety catch. When I regained the previous position, I saw my opponent standing behind a tree, but aiming and taking cover at another direction - he didn't see me. There was also a referee directly in the line between the two of us. Without hesitation, I shot at my opponent, the balls flying inches above the referee, splatting all around him and making him leap for cover. It was a right decision - the ref didn't seem to mind and I hit the opponent (and for some reason the refs wore camo like the players, so it's their fault, isn't it). As it turned out, when I ran away, the opponents used the situation to eliminate our middle guy (since I didn't cover him from the left), but he also managed to get one in the process. I got the other one, and our right guy took the third. It was a splendid victory!
Unfortunately, the rest of the games didn't go that well. My phrase of the day seemed to be "Where did THAT come from!?". Instead of moving a lot, I prefered to stay in one place and I would soon get flanked. However ineffective my running was, it still got me some muscle pain in the following days!
I learned a lot:
We ended 5th out of 7, or 3rd out of 5 if you don't count the Slovenian teams who didn't loose a single game except against each other. A fine result.
Since lot of the games ended quick, with players managing to fire only a few rounds before being eliminated, the end of the tournament found many of us with lots of unused balls, so the organizer allowed us to play some extra. I liked those unofficial games the most! We divided in two random groups of five and went in without much thinking. There was chivalry and fair play, unlike during the tournament. Nobody swore teammates or opponents or was nervous. The downside was that we didn't know and didn't recognize each other in the woods.
Still, I had a good time and I look forward to springtime and tournaments
Zagreb (in the less military atmosphere)...
.... and don't shoot the redheaded guy in black overalls!
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