THERE'S a steady, hollow drumming -- thwip! thwip! thwip! -- as if vinyl hail is falling. And the stuttering chatter of air bursts. And the occasional shouted command, or cheer of victory. But other than that, standing at ground zero as 300 people engage in rapid-fire combat at close quarters is surprisingly quiet.
It's all fun and games at HawaiiPaintball before politics
All-Star Paintball as players
come out of the woods to
celebrate their field of dreams
By Burl Burlingame
Opening day at Hawaii All-Star Paintball drew hundreds of players from around the island yesterday in a benefit for Hawaii Food Bank. Owner Brandon Cayetano estimated about 1,500 cans of food were collected.
"Even the other fields shut down for today in support," said Cayetano. He stood atop a Matson container in the center of the playing fields, looking down into the arenas and occasionally shouting orders like the skipper of a pirate ship: "You! Yeah, you! Mask DOWN, brah! Safety first! You HEAR me?"
Located on a largely ignored spit of landfill left over from freeway construction, Cayetano had a busy couple of months bulldozing and cleaning up the site. "You wouldn't believe the junk that was here," he said, shaking his head.
The field is divided into various arenas, each with varying obstacles and degrees of difficulty. The games are basically a variation of capture-the-flag.
"When you get right down to it, it's just playing cowboys and Indians," he said. "Except that that you can spend a thousand dollars for your gear and get totally wrapped up in it."
The paintballs themselves are surprisingly tough gelatin capsules the size of marbles, filled with water and biodegradable dye. They don't burst unless they strike the target dead-on. Otherwise, they bounce away.
"Yeah, I suppose you could eat them," said Cayetano, eyeing the reporter who asks the question. "But why would you want to?"
Players checking out the facility were happy with it, not just for the challenging courses but because of the location. Wayne Kiyabu, by day a worker at Frito Lay, was introduced to paintball by his brother -- "I was hooked by the first night!" -- and says that Cayetano's course is "just what Hawaii needs.
"It's awesome, no kidding. The main thing is that it's centrally located. All the other courses are off in the sticks. It wasn't until I began playing that I realized how big the phenomenon was."
Sheryl Miyagawa, Serene Kubota and Heather Enomoto, all about 20 and coeds, were trying paintball for the first time, and were enthusiastic.
"It was totally fun," said Miyagawa. "But I didn't know it would hurt! When you get hit by the paintball, it stings!"
"My friends told me, wear as much as you can, and they weren't kidding," said Enomoto.
"Oh, it's not that bad," huffed Kubota. "Fun has its price."
Brad Rodrigues, by day a sales broker, began paintballing about a year ago.
"My friends said, hey, try 'em, and I really got into it. "This central location will really help the game. It has a lot of space and is organized. A field like this will draw good people into the game."
Paintball in Hawaii, although popular, has yet to tap into the lucrative tour or corporate market. Some companies sponsor games as a teambuilding exercise.
Although Americans have led the paintball charge, Cayetano has seen a shift in Japanese attitudes. Even 10 years ago, Japanese visitors were crazy for target shooting, but wouldn't shoot at anything resembling a human," Cayetano said. "But that has changed."
How about videogames such as "Doom"? Have they made us more eager to shoot-'em-up?
Cayetano shook his head. "Paintball is the antidote to videogames. It's out in the open. Fresh air and exercise. You're a target too. But mostly, there's no concept of teamwork in a videogame. You won't win in paintball unless you pull together."
BRANDON Cayetano has no intention of following in father Ben's political footsteps, and the governor has never played paintball, his son's passion. But the two share the gift of gab.
Son o da guv is
Press Cayetano's "paintball" button and he goes, like 60 m.p.h. His new paintball field debuted yesterday near Sand Island and finally brings the islands into the modern age of the newly professional sport.
"I first went crazy for paintball back in '83, and opened a competitive field in Waimanalo," said Cayetano. "I ran it basically so my friends and I could have a good time playing. I lost it in the early '90s.
"I didn't have enough business savvy at the time to run it. I was naive."
Discouraged, Cayetano ignored the sport for several years and explored what he calls the "dark side" of life. "Yeah, I got estranged from my family and friends. I knew what it was like on the streets, what it's like to be hungry. It was defensive times. I got into trouble.
"But slowly, with the help of my parents, I worked my way back. I trained under computer gurus and got my act together."
By coincidence, he worked as human resources and safety manager at United Laundry Services before the owner became his father's second wife.
In the meantime, the paintball scene in Hawaii had stagnated, Cayetano believed. It was time someone brought it up to date, and why not him? His experiences in the '90s made him much more aware of the financial aspects of running a business.
"In 1983, only the United States played paintball. Today, it's played in 39 countries and it's a $4-billion-a-year industry."
Paintball is like any other sport, Cayetano said. It requires discipline, training, awareness and organization. This is created by creating fields like simulated war zones, with varying obstacles and handicaps. Paintball on Oahu had turned into a "renegade" game, with guys running around in the woods, just blasting away at each other.
"We spent a lot of time just trying to tell people we weren't mercenaries in training!" he laughed.
"There can be a kind of rift between the newbies and the tournament-level players. The newbies can get whacked on. They get excited, and the pros just rail 'em, which can be humbling and bum them out," said Cayetano. He intends to keep everything as even-handed as possible at the new site.
Hawaii All-Star Paintball is divided into three zones or "fields" on a spit of land makai of the freeway near Sand Island.
"It was trash land," said Cayetano. "I noticed it more than a year ago, and started the permit process to convert it into a paintball park."
And no, being the governor's son didn't open any bureaucratic doors, he claims.
"In fact, I think being the governor's kid might have slowed things down," he said.
One zone comprises ABS water-pipe obstacles, a scenario called "hyper-ball" on the mainland. Another is what Cayetano called an "air-field," filled with inflatable obstacles, delivered by an airline with just hours to spare Saturday. "Thirteen grand to fly in balloons," he moaned.
The third is a chessboard of mounds and berms for players to scramble over. The entire site is ringed with netting to prevent stray paintballs from whacking the freeway overpass.
"The range on these things is only about 25 to 30 yards anyway," he said.
"When I first started out in paintball, the guns were like pump shotguns, slow and inaccurate. Now you can even buy paintball guns for $1,200 that have computer chips in them to control your fire rate, like an automatic."
Most paintball guns, though, run about $150, and are accurate enough to put a pattern in a pie plate at 20 yards.
On the mainland, Army and Marine Corps use a paintball course for combat training because it's cheaper and more impressive than laser weapons. "When you get hit by a paintball, you know it," Cayetano chuckled.
Cayetano raised the funds himself, mainly with the help of paintball enthusiasts like himself. Many show up after their 9-to-5s and help out in the evenings, getting the course ready.
While dad doesn't play paintball, he knows Brandon has a passion for it.
"Any father would want his son to follow in his footsteps," Brandon said. "But I'm more comfortable as a private businessman. Some people, like my Dad, are born to excel in politics. But not me!"
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