The Hippo


May 25, 2020








Merrimack Valley Paintball in Candia.

Where to play organized paintball

AG Paintball (158 Deering Center Road, Weare, 529-3524, opened in 1988 and today is one of the longest-running paintball parks in the Granite State. The park encompasses 30 acres with nine woodsball fields and one speedball field, and also offers an onsite pro shop with guns, masks and other accessories for sale. Walk-ins are accepted every Saturday and Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Wednesdays during the summer. Reservations for private games and parties can be made seven days a week. Rates range from $25 to $78 per person and include rental equipment and pricing for paintballs. You can bring your own equipment but paintballs must be purchased onsite. Additional paintballs can be bought, with prices ranging from $20 for 500 to $300 for 10,000.
BOLP Paintball (114 Mast Road, Lee, 765-9852, is a 5-acre park with three woodsball fields and one speedball field. Open play is offered on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for both speedball and woodsball, on Monday from 5 to 9 p.m. for speedball only, and on Fridays from 5 to 9 p.m. for woodsball only. In addition, reservations for private parties are accepted Monday through Friday, 5 to 9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Registration ranges from $5 to $15 depending on the day of the week. Rental equipment is $10 and includes a gun, a safety mask and CO2 pod packs. Paintballs range from $15 to $45 depending on the quality, but bringing your own equipment and paint is permitted.
Laconia Paintball (492 Endicott St. North Laconia, 366-0999, opened in 2015 and has three different woodsball fields, each encompassing a couple of acres, with the biggest one spanning about four. It’s open from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except Wednesday for both walk-ins and private parties and often accommodates both together. Rates range from $45 to $75 and include a gun, a safety mask, and between 300 and 2,000 paintballs. Additional paintballs and gear can also be purchased, ranging from $5 to $70 for paintballs and from $2 to $15, depending on the type of extra gear, which may include gloves or an upgraded gun. Bringing your own outside paint is not allowed.
Merrimack Valley Paintball (274 Old Candia Road, Candia, 370-7459, opened in 2014 as an 11-acre park with three woodsball fields and one speedball field. Walk-ins are available on Saturdays and Sundays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m. for speedball only. Private reservations for birthday parties, bachelor parties, corporate events and more can be made seven days a week by calling in advance, with a minimum of eight players per game. Rental packages range from $45 to $70 and include a gun, an air tank, a safety mask and between 500 and 2,000 paintballs. You may bring your own equipment, but bringing outside paint is not allowed.
• OSG Paintball (1053 N. Barnstead Road, Center Barnstead, 1-800-707-7529, is the largest paintball park in the Granite State, at 44 acres and 12 playing fields. Every field is themed, including Star Wars, Pirate Cove, Empire Castle, Hamburger Hill and more, and games can also have themes of their own, like Westerns, Call of Duty, The Simpsons, Family Guy and The Goonies. Walk-ins are available every Saturday and Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and private games can be reserved seven days a week for a minimum of 10 participants. Rates range from $15 to $35, depending on whether it’s a half day or full day of play, and rental packages include a gun, a safety mask and 100 paintballs. Additional paintballs can be purchased for between $5 for 100 and $70 for 2,000. Bringing your own paint is not allowed.
Competitive paintball
Most people play paintball for fun, but there are also leagues and tournaments players can be a part of, playing games in teams and competing for different prizes, depending on the division.
Adam Zippin is a captain of the New England Crusade, a competitive paintball team that meets every Sunday at AG Paintball in Weare to run drills and practices and to mentor new and upcoming players. On Sunday, July 23, members of the New England Crusade and also of the New England X-Ball League will participate in AG’s next three-man tournament, offering professional insight and playing strategies. The cost to register is $95 per person or a $100 entry per team and registration is available through July 21.
“X-Ball is a competitive format of paintball with a field that standardizes the length and width [of the game] … kind of like a football field,” Zippin said. “The three man series events are more for beginners to grab a couple of friends and put together a tournament.”
The New England Crusade is a Division 3 paintball team, which is one of more than five divisions that are ranked, according to Zippin.
“A lot is based on experience of the players, and that tends to be the way the divisions sort themselves out,” he said. “It starts at professional, and then under that is Division 2, then 3, 4, 5 and 6, which is kind of like the entry-level division. … Each series has five events that are dispersed throughout the year.”
Games are played on speedball fields, with prizes as much as $1,000 or more, depending on the divisions of teams involved.
“In the most raw sense of it, you’ll have five guys on each team play, but the amount of time you’re playing will vary,” Zippin said. “Typically the higher the division, the longer the games will be.”
Organized paintball teams, according to Zippin, have a larger presence in southern New England states like Massachusetts and Connecticut. But he added that three-man tournament events like the one on July 23 are great opportunities for players to learn about the competitive side of the sport.
“Some people just like to play for fun, but others really thrive on something to compete for,” he said.
Low-impact paintball
Worried about what it feels like to get hit by a paintball, or that it might hurt? Almost all of the parks in the state offer a specialized type of play called low-impact paintball, commonly played by both kids and adults.
The guns used in low-impact paintball are as little as half the weight of normal markers, and the speed with which they are shot is significantly reduced as well, thus minimizing the effect you would feel from getting hit, according to Alex Koppelkam of AG Paintball in Weare.
“The biggest difference is weight,” he said. “Because it’s a smaller tank of paint [in the gun], it doesn’t need as much air to fire.”
Brenten “Cowboy” Cupp of CS Paintball in Allenstown said that a player’s safety is always improved dramatically as long as they keep their mask on — even if they have been eliminated from a game and have not yet exited the playing field.
“I would describe getting hit by a paintball as a bee sting that goes away in about 10 seconds,” he said. “There definitely are some places on the body where it may hurt a little more than others, especially the more sensitive regions … but your face is always the most vulnerable.”
Koppelkam added that low-impact paintball is especially great for beginner players to get their feet wet in the sport.
“A great majority of our players are first, second-time or rental type players,” he said. “Most people might see someone wear a lot of camouflage clothing or something, and they don’t realize like hey, that guy just played for the first time last weekend. He’s just as new as you are, but he just happens to not look the part.”

Paint Battle
How paintball got its start in NH, plus how and where to play

By Matt Ingersoll

 A combat sport played on a battlefield by millions around the world, paintball originated right here in the Granite State in 1981 — and it all started as a bet. 

“You basically had a New Hampshire faction of people and a New York City faction of people, and the bet was that people who lived in the city lost their survival instinct as humans,” said Alex Koppelkam, owner of AG Paintball in Weare, one of the longest continuously run paintball parks in the state. “Obviously you can talk a lot about that, but you can’t really prove it. So for years they talked about it, and they finally found this paintball marker that said, hey we can actually go do this.”
In paintball, players shoot at each other with balls of gelatinous paint projected via compressed air at more than 250 feet per second. The first organized game took place on June 27, 1981, a document from the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources shows. It was dubbed “The Survival Game” and involved 12 players trying to capture flags of four different colors without being hit. 
The guns were air-powered pistols used by foresters for tree marking and the game was played in the woods on one of the players’ property in Henniker. Richie White, one of the New Hampshire residents involved in the game, was declared the winner, according to the document.
Robert Gurnsey, another player in the original game, would less than a year later establish the first commercial paintball field in Sutton, followed by the first manufacturing company in New London.
“Back then, the goal of the game was to be the guy that ‘survived,’ but it wasn’t teams, it was more like an ‘every man for himself’ sort of thing,” Koppelkam said. “As it … grew [in popularity] across the country, it stayed in that same format for a while, where some guys would just go out and have their own equipment and do it.”
It was not until the late 1980s, according to Koppelkam, that more organized paintball fields began to break ground. One of them was the now closed Canobie Paintball Games in Windham.
“That was really the first time that you started to see people say, hey, I think there’s a business here, and it started turning into the more family-friendly kind of play that we see now,” he said. 
Safety first
As paintball got more popular, safety quickly became a priority.  
“From a safety standpoint, one of the first things that happened as the industry was being created was that paintball masks came out, which cover your whole face, your ears, your forehead and your eyes,” Koppelkam said. “Initially there was no safety equipment other than, like, wearing a pair of logging glasses.”
Even the paint used for the sport started to be manufactured in a specific new way.
“It used to be that it was an oil-based paint with no real standardized manufacturing,” Koppelkam said. “Nowadays, the manufacturing is such that it’s a paintball with a really brittle shell, so it just breaks on impact instead of hitting you and bouncing off, so it doesn’t hurt as bad.”
Despite the combative nature of the sport, paintball is statistically safer than soccer, football and even golf when played in an organized, professional facility, according to Koppelkam. Every game is always overseen by referees making sure the game is played safely.
“Paintball is incredibly safe as far as actual injuries go,” he said. “We require that all players, whether it’s your first time or your 17th time playing, to go through a full safety briefing on how to use the equipment … [and] we also have employees here that receive training on all the insurance regulations.”
Paintball fields across the state come in varying sizes and layouts, with dozens of different gameplay options available. Local park owners say it’s easy to try; in fact, new and first-time players are the bread and butter of most of their business.
All of them offer several standard rental packages for guns — which are usually called “markers” — paintballs and required safety masks. Some even have their own onsite pro shops for players to enhance their equipment. Most do allow you to bring your own equipment, as long as it meets that park’s safety standards, but prohibit the use of outside paintballs.
“Paintballs are typically stored between 50 and 80 degrees and if you’re not storing it correctly, it will usually deform and shoot poorly … and could potentially get harder, so [getting hit] may hurt more,” said Tony Fiore, owner of Merrimack Valley Paintball in Candia. “So we don’t allow outside paintballs, because we don’t know the manufacturer, we don’t know how old the paint is, that sort of thing.”
Creative ways to play
There are two main types of paintball often found at many of these parks: woodsball and speedball. Woodsball is any sort of game involving large man-made structures to represent a natural combat zone, using anything from old makeshift buildings to wood, tires, hoses and other props players can hide in or behind.
Speedball, which is primarily used for competitive tournaments but is also available recreationally at some local parks, is played on a much flatter and softer course using artificial blow-up bunkers.
Fiore said close to 90 percent of his players are either first-time or relatively new to the game, and most have to be talked into trying speedball for the first time before they end up finding they enjoy it.
“One of the things that’s interesting about speedball is that a lot of our players who come … have already decided that they are going to like woodsball better, but once they try speedball, they end up wanting to do it again,” he said. “The reason is that [a speedball field] is much easier on your body than playing in the woods. There are no hills to navigate, there are no rocks or stumps or anything to worry about, it’s nice and flat. … A lot of times there’s this perception that a bigger field is better too, and that’s not always the case, because it could get a little out of control sometimes.”
But woodsball has advantages of its own. At OSG Paintball in Center Barnstead, the largest paintball park in the Granite State, each of the 12 playing fields has its own theme. You could be playing on a Star Wars-themed field with seven elevated platforms and an authentic two-story AT-ST walker replica to shoot out of. Or you can be playing in the Pirate Cove, which contains a full-sized pirate ship replica, six boats and a lighthouse, and the Empire Castle, a 25,000-square-foot castle field with five stairways, six entrances and an underground passageway. And the fast-paced games often allow you to experience several different fields in one day.
Sometimes costumes will be provided to add to the games, like Peter Griffin from Family Guy versus Homer Simpson from The Simpsons, or even characters from Call of Duty, Revenge of the Nerds, The Goonies and other iconic pop culture figures.
“We tend to get very creative [with the games],” OSG Paintball owner Dave Preston said. “I actually have a background in theater, so that helps to bring a lot of drama and action to the game. … It’s a wonderful sport and we’re always looking to push the boundaries.”
A standard elimination game, in which members of two teams attempt to hit the other until there is one remaining player, is actually one of potentially dozens of ways to play the game of paintball, according to Koppelkam.
“We certainly do a total elimination game … but then we will do Capture the Flag in different types,” he said. “So whether that would be a flag in the center [of the field] and both teams are trying to grab it and take it back to their base … or maybe the flag is hidden in a castle or something like that, where one team is attacking and one team is defending. We’ll also do flag football, where each team starts with a flag and they have to get it to the other team’s base. … And then we’ve done like a D-Day field scenario where you’re attacking the other team up a hill, and if you get shot at, you have to go back to your starting point at the bottom, so that can be a lot of fun.”
Popular games at Merrimack Valley Paintball, according to Fiore, include “Protect the President,” in which teams must move one designated member of their team from one base on one side of the field to the other without getting hit, and “Move It Or Lose It,” in which players only have a limited amount of time to remain at their bunker or post before everybody must move to a different one.
Koppelkam said the games are much more fast-paced than most first-time players might think; they may last anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes or more than 20, depending on the number of players involved and the type of game.
“You wouldn’t play on one field all day,” he said. “You’ll rotate around all the different fields … so, you might come to one field, play one game there, then head back to the staging area and then to a different field, so it’s kind of a rotating thing.”
Most paintball parks in the state are popular venues to host all kinds of group events, like birthday parties, bachelor parties, corporate gatherings, military personnel team-building exercises and much more, often integrating creative games to match the occasion the park is serving.
But even if you come to a park during its open play hours and are not a part of a large enough group to form your own team, you will still fit right in.
“The biggest misconception about paintball is not understanding what a great bonding and teamwork [building] type of sport that it is,” Preston said. “When you put, say, five to 10 people together who don’t know each other, it’s amazing to see how they start to work together instantly.”
Fiore said he has observed over time how much of a bonding experience it can also be between parents and children, whether it’s mothers and fathers or sons and daughters.
“Typically for most mainstream sports, you know, the parents are watching from the sidelines, and the kids have their own friends, so it’s always separating in that way,” he said, “so that’s why [paintball] can be a good family sport.”
DIY paintball
Several department and sporting goods stores like Dick’s, Modell’s and even Wal-Mart sell the necessary equipment and tools to create a makeshift paintball field in your own backyard, as long as you are not playing on state-owned or someone else’s private property, according to local players and park owners. Onsite pro shops are also available at several parks.
One of the newest stores is CS Paintball in Allenstown, which opened last February as the only retail shop in the Granite State devoted solely to the sport and independent of any park. The store carries more than 140 worldwide brands of paintball markers, masks, paints, equipment and more for both new and experienced players.
Epsom firefighter Brenten “Cowboy” Cupp, a seasoned paintball player of 18 years that included three years on a professional team from 2007 to 2009, said he opened the Allenstown store to operate seven days a week at a location within convenient driving distance of all of the state’s paintball parks. The business also offers a repair service for all of its products.
“The most important thing to have in a game of paintball …  is a mask,” Cupp said. “You only get one set of eyes, so you must make sure the mask is comfortable on your face. … The more breathability you have for the mask the better, because you don’t want it fogging up. … So, the better ones have a lot of ventilation.”
Cupp said that beyond the mask, “about 95 percent” of the sport is based on a player’s own personal preference. Other equipment you can add includes chest protectors, elbow pads and knee pads.
Nate Miner, owner of BOLP Paintball in Lee, said backyard paintball players benefit greatly from using a chronograph, a device used to measure how fast paintballs are shot.
“Most guns can easily shoot over 350 to 360 feet per second … but we usually keep ours around or below 270, and that’s a pretty safe speed,” he said.
Paintballs are designed to wash out of clothing, but Fiore said he still recommends wearing clothes you wouldn’t mind getting dirty, and to cover as much exposed skin as possible without getting too hot.
“Even if you don’t get hit by paint, you still might get dirt and mud into the knees of your pants or socks, depending on where you’re playing, and you’re probably going to get all sweaty if you do any crawling or running or anything like that,” he said.
For paintballs, Cupp said they are best used when stored properly and rotated in stock. Paintballs are biodegradable and are usually made out of non-toxic materials like corn starch, gelatin and food coloring.
“The average life expectancy for the paint is about six months,” he said, “and it’s important to make sure it’s fresh and not sitting around for longer than that.”
Depending on the layout of your property, if it includes woods or fencing or even other private homes nearby, Fiore said having netting set up is also an important thing if you are starting your own backyard paintball game.
“There’s a lot to it,” he said. “You need to ask yourself, is there netting, and if not, then you have to tape off an area and it has to be a distance away from your neighbor’s property so you don’t have to worry about missing a shot and having it go into somebody else’s yard or hitting somebody’s car.” 

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