Tired of hiking? Get splotched!

More and more people are ditching tranquil forest jaunts for the
thrill of diving behind bunkers, dodging enemy fire and taking out
an opponent.
But it’s not a video game or a war simulation that is attracting
more and more kids and adults, just a simple game of tag with
paint.
More and more people are ditching tranquil forest jaunts for the thrill of diving behind bunkers, dodging enemy fire and taking out an opponent.

But it’s not a video game or a war simulation that is attracting more and more kids and adults, just a simple game of tag with paint.

What does it take to play paintball? First and foremost, you have to be willing to get stung by a bath-bead-sized paintball. Sometimes by a storm of them.

“Getting hit by a paintball is like getting snapped by a towel,” said Jim Lemos, who runs Gilroy’s only paintball shop with his sons, Jim Jr. and Joseph. They all agreed it’s a small price to pay for the adrenaline rush of the game.

“It’s not just a business,” Lemos Sr. said. “It’s a passion of ours.”

Paintball is played in a number of ways, most often in a capture-the-flag style that pits two teams against each other. Each match generally lasts five to eight minutes. The rules are simple: You get hit with a paintball and it breaks, you’re out; if it doesn’t break, keep shooting.

Lemos recommends buying a marker —yes, a marker, not a gun — and other equipment if you intend to play more than twice a year.

Lemos sells more than a dozen models in his store, JJ’s Paint Ball Supplies at 7350 Monterey Street. There are also paintball stores in San Jose, Salinas and Moss Landing.

One-time rental prices range from $60 to $80, Lemos said, while basic single-shot markers sell for as little as $69.

For under $200, you can up the intimidation factor with a semi-automatic marker that fires bursts of three or six rounds.

The realm of $1,000 and beyond will buy you a “smart” marker that contains an electronic chip capable of reading the handler’s intentions. On a marker manufactured by Nerve, for instance, quickly feathering the trigger kicks in the automatic rapid-fire, releasing a continuous spray of paintballs. High-end markers also sport perforated barrels, which help straighten the shot, and auto-stop mechanisms that prevent paintballs from chopping in half while rapid-loading into the chamber.

All the markers use compressed air or carbon dioxide tanks to propel the paintballs.

Other than price, the best way to pick your marker is by personality. Are you a front player or a back player? In a typical paintball match, two teams face off on an obstacle course of inflatable bunkers. The forward positions play aggressively, taking fewer, more precise shots under a hale of backup “cover” from teammates in the rear.

The players in back generally use rapid-fire markers and can tear through 200 pellets in a matter of minutes. An itchy trigger finger can start adding up, as a case of 2,000 paintballs costs $44.

“Some players can make a box last all weekend,” Lemos Sr. said. “Some players make them last five minutes.”

Joseph Lemos, 12, is the youngest of the family but already has six years of paintball experience under his belt. He represented the family store in a major tournament in Huntington, but he still tips his hat to his older brother Jim.

“We were playing every man for himself and nobody wanted him to play,” Joseph recalled with a mix of pride and admiration. “So Jim said he’d play with a pump gun. He won anyway.”

The family is trying to build a league in Gilroy and open a storefront on a permanent field north of Home Depot, although so far he has not had luck with the county. But there is reason to be hopeful, Lemos Sr. said, pointing out that the family’s weekend paintball tournaments are attracting more and more players. His first tournament four months ago drew about 40 players; the third and most recent drew more than 100.

“It’s already the next extreme sport,” Lemos Sr. said. Teams and leagues are sprouting up around the country, including in the Bay Area. Lemos advertises his tournaments at sacball.com, which provides tournament and other paintball information for the region.

The best paintballers earn about $45,000 a year in professional leagues, Lemos Sr. said.

But perhaps the greatest proof that the sport has grown beyond the status of a fringe hobby is its entrance into mainstream culture. Paintball is featured in an X-Box video game and shown on Spike TV, a cable television channel.

There’s a bit of stigma attached to the sport, acknowledged Lemos Sr., who says some people “kind of frown on it” for promoting violence.

“It’s not like war,” Lemos said. “This is a game of tag.”

And there’s a simple reward to be had on weekends if the sport takes root in Gilroy.

“The kids could go play paintball and the moms and dads could go to the Outlets,” Lemos said. “All these kids are staying out of trouble and having a good time.”

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