Two take cover, camouflaged by the grassy field while firing their airsoft weapons. The ammo magazine and BBs are shown in the bottom-left.

Soft-touch warriors

Recreational ‘battles’
take stage in Nanakuli

Put those realistic-looking airsoft guns away, boys -- especially if you're out in the public.

Instead, you'd be much safer -- and less of a risk to yourself and others when it comes to dealing with the Honolulu Police Department -- if you go to one of the regular weekend recreational "battles" that take place on a private property in Nanakuli.

The nonprofit and volunteer group Airsoft Hawaii has had exclusive use of the gaming field since 1996. The organization itself has been around since '87, when founding member Pat Ohta was just a high school student playing airsoft in the back of Manoa Valley.

With the advent of airsoft -- usually .2-gram, 6 mm, white plastic BBs shot from replica guns -- "it's become so popular, kids are playing in the mountains, parks and schools," Ohta said as we overlooked a single-elimination game in progress last Saturday, when the occasional lightning and thunder of a rare rainy day added drama to the game.

Ohta and his core group -- Makoto Nakamura, Grant Woo and Blake Abe -- definitely recommend against impromptu airsoft play in unregulated public areas and schools, especially in light of two HPD-sponsored City Council bills that got signed into law in mid-July with the help of Mayor Jeremy Harris.

The new law stems from several incidents that took place late last year, in which police officers either received reports of or confronted boys and young men carrying airsoft replica pistols and rifles, which could easily be mistaken for the real thing and lead to deadly consequences. City ordinances now require replica guns to be carried in cases in public and makes illegal the drawing or brandishing of replica guns in front of a police officer.

Airsoft Hawaii even goes so far as to ask players not to wear camouflage to the meeting area in the parking lot of the nearby McDonald's.

The 30 or so who gathered last Saturday were part of the hardcore group of airsoft enthusiasts who play every weekend. More than triple that number came out earlier to help the organization celebrate its 16th birthday.

George Archulda, left, and John Stefanik clean their airsoft weapons during a break from gaming where two teams fire air propelled BBs at each other.

THE WEATHER obviously had something to do with the lower turnout. Even though you would suspect weekend warriors would welcome a change in weather and terrain, having to contend with foggy scopes and headmask visors, along with slippery and muddy footing, can put a bit of a damper on the games.

Along with the steady rain earlier in the morning and the relatively quiet rat-a-tat of airsoft guns going off, regular player and referee Derek Vincent said the occasional claps of thunder "makes it sound like mortar barrage -- INCOMING!," as they loudly reverberated through the Waianae mountain range.

While the boundaries of the gaming area covers the face of an entire makai-facing ridge, most of the battles take place in and around the ravine below and a nearby pistol field just to the east.

The sporadic fire of BBs is followed by the ricochet off of kiawe tree trunks and barricades that provide momentary cover for the players. Rocks, boulders and dried-out tall grass also cover the landscape.

"Hit, hit, hit!" is the common cry, as players feel the strike of plastic BBs and take themselves out of play by walking dejectedly back to the staging area. Without the visible paintball splatter of the sport's predecessor, referees and players depend and abide by the honor system of declaring themselves hit.

And with so much emphasis placed on protective gear and suitable clothing, the only injury that has occurred so far (knock on wood) was a sprained ankle. To further emphasize safety, players have to "chrono" their guns before they play, which means adjusting the velocity of their plastic BB-shooting guns, which are powered either by compressed gas or batteries. Any airsoft gun that exceeds the velocity limit of 400 feet per second is not allowed into play.

Getting hit by a plastic BB -- depending on the distance -- feels, at worst, like a slight sting. (Even your non-participating "correspondent," decked out in a protective headmask and orange vest, caught a couple of stray hits around the upper arm and torso that didn't even qualify as "owwees" ... or maybe I was just lucky!)

An airsoft team charges, BBs flying, adrenaline rushing. Everyone must wear protective head gear.

DESPITE THE warlike gear and guns, regulated airsoft gunplay is pretty much a benign affair, emphasizing "having fun and promoting safety," said Nakamura. For those younger than 18, a parent or legal guardian must sign a waiver before they are admitted to play.

There were just a handful of underage participants last Saturday, including a girl decked out in bluish fatigues. Even though both genders from ages 14 and up are welcome, airsoft play still looks very much like boys playing at war.

For a $4 fee per player (which goes to the landowner), players can indulge in their battle-ready fantasies, whether in camouflage, completely decked out in black SWAT gear or whimsically in tie, long-sleeve dress shirt and slacks, which was Woo's choice of "uniform" last weekend.

Even if you're not one to invest in a basic airsoft package, which costs about $300, Airsoft Hawaii supplies extra guns and masks for a nominal rental fee.

"We've been around long enough to see players grow up and bring their own kids," Ohta said. "A lot of friendships have been made over the years."

Ohta and his referees have 30 different games to draw upon, including single-elimination, "Medic" (in which an appointed team player can bring a hit teammate back from the "dead" by tagging him), capture-the-flag and "Normandy," an assault game inspired by "Saving Private Ryan."

Stealth and organizational skills are just as important as the accuracy of the gun. Eight to 10 games are usually played out before the day ends at 5 p.m.

"To be here is the safe way to play," said regular player and referee Greg Yanagihara, who says its better than taking your chances on the streets.

From left, Shota Nakayama, Derek Vincent, Blake Abe, Charlston Cheng and Lyle Bonilla pose for a picture with their airsoft weapons.

Airsoft Hawaii will offer games on Sunday, plus Aug. 9, 23 and 31. Meet at the Nanakuli McDonald's on Farrington Highway at about 9:30 a.m. To contact the group, e-mail

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