Painting the town

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A player moves across the field at top speed, slowing down to crouch behind an inflatable bunker.

He’s got a gun in his hand — but the gun has no bullets. He’s a paintball player, and he’s hiding behind a Los Lunas Paintball Park bunker.

Jason W. Brooks-News-Bulletin photo: Los Lunas Parks and Recreation employees Chris Gomez, left, and Jeff Baca, right, demonstrate tactics at the village’s paintball park. The park is in its fourth year of operation, and is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays or by reserving a time.

The park, now in its fourth year of operation, offers a unique form of recreation for players ages 10 and older — and players whose experience ranges from beginners to seasoned veterans, who have their own equipment.

“It’s a little bit of an adrenaline rush,” said Chris Gomez of the village’s Parks and Recreation Department. “We don’t allow outside paint; players have to buy ours, and they can rent guns and safety headgear, or bring their own.”

The outdoor facility, located at Morris Road and N.M. 314 adjacent to the Los Lunas SportsPlex, is used primarily in the warmer months. The fenced-in arena has a grass surface with inflatable bunkers that are moved around from week to week.

Most use of the facility happens by reserving a time by phone, though the park does have a regular Sunday schedule from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Teams compete to defeat each other by shooting one another with paintballs, with each exploded paintball on clothing or equipment counting as a kill that eliminates a player.

There are variations to play, such as a “capture the flag,” and it only takes a minimum of two players to get a game going. Gomez has seen a game as large as 8-on-8 inside the 20,000-square-foot arena.

Jason W. Brooks-News-Bulletin photo: Jeff Baca, a Los Lunas Parks and Recreation employee, takes cover — and aim — behind a “tombstone” inflatable bunker. The Los Lunas Paintball Park is located on Morris Road, adjacent to the Los Lunas SportsPlex.

Players don’t stay at the facility for a set amount of time. The pricing is based on which package the group chooses, with the price based on how many paintballs are purchased, how many CO-2 fill-ups of the guns, and how much equipment must be rented.

The fences are about 20 feet high and are lined with a mesh screen that contains most paintballs, although a higher fence or a backstop-like angled top would help contain paintballs better. Players are encouraged not to point their guns above the fence.

Most games begin with a countdown, with players touching their weapons to an iron stand that serves as the base or starting point. They then run behind inflatable bunkers named for their shapes, such as pills, tombstones or “Doritos.”

Groups have included everyone from bachelor parties to children’s groups, such as MESA field trips, and the village’s summer program includes paintball.

Gomez says he goes over safety rules for everyone, whether he’s talking to beginners or serious players who have their own gear.

Two important tenets include keeping the mask on at all times while in the arena, and not shooting someone in the head or at point-blank range.

“The mask rule is the one we have to enforce the most often,” Gomez said. “It can be uncomfortable, especially in the summer, and it tends to fog up.”

There is an injury risk to paintball, Gomez admits, but the most serious incidents he’s seen have been bruises and a sprained ankle suffered during running.

He said it’s not for everyone, but while there have been “one or two girls who didn’t like getting shot,” most newcomers are excited about their experience.

Jason W. Brooks-News-Bulletin photo: Los Lunas Parks and Recreation employee Chris Gomez displays one of the paintball guns the village rents to players. Anyone ages 10 or older can rent all the equipment needed to compete at the facility.

Jeff Baca, another village employee, says he enjoys watching the more experienced players.

“I like the intensity of a more fast-paced game,” said Baca.

Serious players often compete in tournaments at paintball parks or less-structured outdoor events. Gomez said many of the Los Lunas regulars weren’t around on Sunday, April 29, because they were competing in an event at Albuquerque’s Hinkle Family Fun Center.

Los Lunas, Hinkle and New Mexico Tech in Socorro are the only three New Mexico places with designated paintball parks, Gomez said.

The facility started out with two cages, but one was taken down after it was tough to grow grass there, and it wasn’t used as often.

There are four packages in the village’s brochure, ranging from $21 to $47. A number of lower add-on prices are for various equipment rentals and extra paintballs.

A reservation requires a $100 deposit, payable by check.

More information is available on the recreation page of the village’s website, www.loslunas nm.gov, or by calling 352-7662 or 839-3846.

Baca said he took one for the team when he was shot in the neck during the filming of a Comcast cable TV commercial used to promote the park.

“I’m not big on getting shot in the throat,” he said.

Baca said while the veterans are entertaining and require less guidance, the village seeks to get more beginners, especially young ones, and other recreational-level players to come out.

“Sometimes the younger kids cry,” said Baca. “But others love it the whole time. Either way, most of them have a good time, and they’re learning to overcome their fears.”


-- Email the author at jbrooks@news-bulletin.com.