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MY VIEW - a personal perspective on Road to Aruba
by Bill Mills
July 2000

For my wife Dawn and I, our journey down the Road to Aruba started in the Fall of 1999 at the NPPL World Cup.  At a dinner meeting, Brass Eagle reps sat down with a number of paintball journalists to discuss the idea for this new 3 man series and get feedback.  The ingredients sounded great, 3 man format, which works well for newer teams to play at the local level, and of course finals on a Caribbean island, that's hard to argue with.

As the months went by, not a lot was said publicly about the event, and with the publicity campaign getting off to a bit of a late start, only about half as many feeder tournaments were held as were initially planned.  The late publicity meant some teams didn't know about their local events until they had passed, and some were dubious that the island tournament would take place.  Still others only got part of the story.  One Florida team that would have likely won the region passed because they thought they would have to cover the travel expenses to Aruba.  Still others of the regional winning teams didn't get the word that their airfare was covered from Miami, and were displeased when they discovered they would have to cover their flights to get there.

Typically, at a tournament, people show up when they show up, but for Road to Aruba, Brass Eagle had scheduled all of the players, staff and media on a pair of Air Aruba flights.  As everyone gathered at the airport, the tournament soon had a "field trip" feel.  Everyone was in on the adventure together.

The 1:00 and 2:00 Air Aruba flights were combined and rescheduled to around 4:00, leaving plenty of time for people to socialize at the terminal bar and outlandishly priced Cuban style restaurant (they do have the best oxtail stew in the airport.)

After finally boarding the plane, the pilot prepared to push back from the Jetway, only to have all of the power in the MD90 die.  The air conditioning went out, and the emergency exit lights came on.  After a few minutes, an announcement was made that a new ground power unit would be installed, causing a 30 minute delay.  Ron "have you got a dollar?" Kilbourne of the Bushwackers ended up losing a dollar bet, as the aircraft left the runway 1 and a half minutes before that 30 minute mark.

If nothing else, booking all of the tournament attendees on the same flight, makes for entertaining travel.  Additionally, Air Aruba had been alerted to the paintguns that they would be carrying, meaning there were no hassles checking paintguns and pressure tanks through.  The Road to Aruba tournament even merited a mention in Kwihi - the in-flight magazine for Aruba Air.  They had the dates wrong, but it's the thought that counts.

From the airport, it was onto a pair of chartered buses headed to the Holiday Inn.  The hotel was ready with extra clerks to check in the whole group - that was a bonus.  After a quick clean-up, everyone headed downstairs to the beach where a light buffet dinner awaited.  The scheduled evening activities were blown by, due to late arrival in the island, but the teams were issued their gear, and got a look at the inflatable field.

"It's small," was my reaction, and the same of most players.  It worked though.  The biggest trick wasn't room to play, it was fine for 3 man, but having room to get good photographs without being in the way.  Needless to say, the press left with more welts per game than usual, and there was plenty of press.  Dan Reeves of APG, and his wife Jessica Sparks of Paintball and Paintball Consumer Guide were on hand, as were Chris Haas and Chris Dilts from p8nt, Jim "Mad Dog" Morgan for Paintball Games International, Glen Hastings from Crossfire, and John Amodea from Paintball 2Xtremes, in addition to Dawn and myself for and PigTV.

In the morning, our day started with a short press conference.  Introductions went around the room, but most of the media folks all knew each other anyway.  Jossy Mansur was introduced, and he gave a little background about Road to Aruba.  While Brass Eagle as the main sponsor and organizer will get most of the recognition, it was a lot of legwork by Jossy that made an international tournament on Aruba happen, and he definitely played the role of host, going out of the way on many occasions to make sure people were having a good time.

Then it was out to the beach.  If you've seen the super blue-green waters of Aruba in photographs, you know it was a good beach.  The shores on the leeward side of the island have soft white coral sands with very little wave action.  They slope very gently out to sea, meaning you can walk out a long way, and the shallow bottom reflects back a lot of light to create the water's vibrant color. 

As Brass Eagle's Charles Prudhomme introduced the referees, he misread his notes and introduced Peter Bofill as "Pedro."  The name stuck, and by the end of the weekend, he was answering to Pedro as fast as to Pete.

I learned an important lesson at the GWS tournament in Hawaii last year: a tropical beach is a good place to hold a paintball tournament - when it's hot, you can drop your gear, take a quick swim to cool off, and then get back in the action.  The shallows also made a good spot for photographing some of the teams in pictures that looked cooler than the average banner shot, but I take no responsability to any saltwater damage to regulators.

After the tournament we were out on our own, unscheduled until the morning.  Jossy had hooked Dawn and I up with a car, so we proceeded to pack Chris Haas and Chris Dilts from p8nt magazine, the Donkey Punchers, and Melanie (AKA Nikki) onboard.  It was a tight fit, but we made it to the Benihana's restaraunt where we met up with the Bushwackers for dinner.

Our chef, "Butch" began chopping and grilling our food when he pointed his spatula at Little John, and in broken english exclaimed "You Boooshwackah!"

Taken aback, John said, "Yeah?"

"You all from paintball tournament.  I watch you today Boooshwackah, you jump over bunker like frog!"  From that point on, any silence in the meal preparation was punctuated by "Boooshwackah," and the portions were served onto the plates with "Wack! Wack! Wack!"

The next day we learned that a team made up of Benihana's chefs had competed in the South American regional tournament the week before, and come out to watch the championship games.

After dinner, the Bushwackers headed back to the hotel, while our carload went downtown, club hopping from Aruba 2000 and Mambo Jambo, to the E-Zone.

The next morning came earlier than it needed to.  While most everyone else frolicked on the beach, the press corps, Brass Eagle's staff, and the Bushwackers boarded a bus for a tour of the island, seeing sights including the island's first church, founded in 1776, a natural bridge on the windward coast, and much of the island's interior.  Surprisingly, the island overall is a friendly place.  Driving through neighborhoods in the middle of nowhere, people would lean out of windows and doors to wave and smile at the bus.  With the island's economy based primarily on tourism (aloe vera farming, and oil refining fill in the economic gaps) the locals seem intent on living up to the Ministry of Tourism's slogan - "Aruba, the happy island."

After the tour it was time for everyone to board the Pelican Tours catamaran.  This boat was big enough for the entire tournament crowd.  After backing off from the dock, the sails were unfurled and we were underway.  I hadn't sailed since I used to sail Hobbie Cats on Huntington Lake in California in the late 80s.  There is something indescribably right about ripping across the water with nothing but the power of the wind at your back.  Our two stops included a rocky beach, and a sunken German freighter, scuttled when the Nazis left Aruba during the second world war. 

After the cruise, it was time for the awards dinner - a nice, quality meal, with live music, and award plaques given to the regional winners and champions.  A representative from the Ministry of Tourism thanked all for attending, and reaffirmed the island's support for future paintball events.

In small talk discussion with Brass Eagle's staff, it looks like there will probably be a Road To Aruba tournament series in 2001.  Of course details still have to be ironed out, but the hope is to continue the format with regional winners receiving the trip to Aruba as their prize, but having the championship event be an open tournament, so that other teams can register and compete.  7 acres of land, one block inland from the same beach are available to set up multiple tournament fields to handle a larger number of teams.

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