Welcome to the world of paintball. The 32-year-old CEO of Burnham Marketing, a digital marketing consultancy, is as gung-ho about blasting away with marble-size gobs of paint as Sherwin-Williams is about selling cans of the stuff.
And he's onto something. According to Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association International stats, paintball is the third-most-popular extreme sport in the world, behind skateboarding and inline skating. SGMA says the sport boasted 9.6 million participants in 2004, nipping on the heels of baseball, which had 9.7 million in the same year. A quick tour of eBay shows more than 11,000 paintball items in the paintball guns and accessories category for sale.
Mr. Burnham, who enjoyed going to the shooting range for target practice as a teen, fell in love with the game via his wife, Michelle, who took him to his first event about five years ago.
Capture the flag
"Honestly, it's a rather safe sport," said Mr. Burnham, citing all the protective gear, including goggles, required for play. Yes, he owns three guns, for which the preferred term is "markers" instead of guns. "Every now and then you get some good welts if someone has their gun cranked up too high," he said, adding that rules regulate the distance people need to be from targets. Still, he estimates that with the guns shooting off about 20 balls of paint a second, he goes through about 200-300 balls in a 10-minute game. "I usually get hit in the gun or the mask" he said, because he's shielding other areas of his body.
Paintball games often take a capture-the-flag theme, with teams of individuals hiding behind bunkers, trying to eliminate their opponents by tagging them with paintballs. Mr. Burnham plays about twice a month, mostly at indoor facilities, where an average day could last from 10 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m.
Paintball strategies usually are sketched out like football plays, said Mr. Burnham, who played that game in high school. There are front, mid and back players, he said, with various assigned roles. "But that only works if you have people who know the game," he added. "If you get someone who doesn't understand the position, it turns into a free-for-all."
Not all commandos
Despite the militant image that paintball connotes, he said, it's quite the contrary. "That's always the perception -- that you see people in the woods with their camouflage gear on." Certainly those exist, he said, describing all-weekend events in which the commando crowd brings in refurbished tanks, Hummers and helicopters for a game of paintball or a re-enactment of a famous historical battle.
But the reality is that it's more mainstream these days, with 150,000 spectators recently showing up in Huntington Beach, Calif., for a National Professional Paintball League tournament and exhibition, with 125 teams, and levels of play ranging from amateur to professional. Mr. Burnham said almost 30% of the 350-400 members of the e-mail list he maintains as part of the Interactive Paintball League he founded last year are women.
Sponsors, from DoubleClick, Knight Ridder/Real Cities and 24/7 Real Media, backed the league's NYC Paintball event, which attracted about 100 participants, and nearly 100 spectators. Mr. Burnham said he's also organizing another event for the league. He noted the twentysomethings of the interactive community especially have embraced the sport because it's a great networking vehicle. He also enjoys the adrenaline rush of the indoor game. "It's a really social sport," he said, adding, "It's great team building and something everyone can play."
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