“The adrenaline, the rush. There’s nothing quite like it, really. Where else can you shoot your friends and have a beer about it later?” asked Fort St. John’s Dave Sawyer, a member of Grande Prairie’s Over the Top speedball team.
Speedball is a competitive form of paintball, made up of teams of five, strategic positions and a field full of inflatable “bunkers.” Teams have five minutes to try to eliminate their opponents, but most of the extreme sport’s games last merely two.
The sport is picking up in the Peace Region, and with Grande Prairie’s league recently becoming affiliated with the Canadian Professional Paintball League, local speedball enthusiasts are hoping the game (and venues to play the game) begins to spread even more into Northern B.C.
“Most people don’t know what speedball really is,” said Mike Bruvold, a competitive speedballer from Fort St. John who started up the local Active Adrenaline speedball team. “It’s a 100 by 200 foot field and it’s full of inflatable bunkers. Every time you play a tournament it’s set up differently.”
“Speedball is on a field where you know where everyone is all the time. It’s more just skill, it’s not hiding in the bush and crawling around.”
Unlike the traditional idea of paintball, one short game of speedball can use up to 30,000 paintballs. Two layers of minor armour is allowed for players, as lots of shots are within close range, but oddly enough it’s one of the safer extreme sports around.
“Out of all of the extreme sports in the world, the injury percentage is the lowest out of every extreme sport,” Sawyer said.
But it still hurts.
“You get welted up pretty good,” Bruvold said, laughing. “The thing about speedball is you’re not just getting hit once when you can shoot 13-20 balls a second. By the time someone’s hit, they’re hit three or four times, then you have to walk off the field so you try to get off pretty quick.”
“You kind of get used to it. It doesn’t really hurt that much anymore after you’ve played a bunch,” he added.
With Grande Prairie’s Splatter Rookie Paintball League planning for a bigger and better season with it’s new CPPL recognition, local speedball enthusiasts are looking forward to the word getting out and more people being introduced to the sport.
The SRPL, which is refereed by the CPPL semi-pro team Over the Top, holds around four events per year that Active Adrenaline attends religiously, and this upcoming summer, the league is planning to make a real season, with teams earning points at each event to determine the annual winner.
“We’re really trying to push hard to get people to come out and have some fun,” Sawyer said about the SRPL, who helps referee games. “We’re being vigilant, we’re not allowing higher-caliber players in there so it’s still a beginner event.”
“I’d love to see the sport grow. Everyone up here has access to a paintball gun or has gone out to shoot their friends in the bush.”
Bruvold said the same.
“They’re really going bigger this year in Grande Prairie. They made the prize package a little bigger for the tournaments to draw up teams from down south, Burvold explained. “This year they put it out there that if they get 10 teams the first-place prize is $10,000. That’s the biggest prize anywhere over here.”
“They’re really trying to build the sport up here, so we’ll see how it goes.”
With no indoor or in-town speedball facility in Fort St. John, building the sport can be difficult when players like Bruvold have to work with what they have, then sit out the winter and hope they don’t get too rusty.
Both Bruvold and Sawyer travelled to Edmonton Jan. 26 to compete in the 21st Annual Speedball Nationals with their respective teams. Neither OTT or Active Adrenaline had the ability to practice over the winter. The disadvantage compared to the big teams from Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary showed in their performances.
“I’d love to shape my skills more indoors,” Sawyer said. “Coming back from Nationals, both myself and Mike agree that having a place indoors would help shake off the rust rather than not play for four months and then jump right into a big tournament.”
“It’s definitely a disadvantage,” Bruvold said. “It can get tough like that.”
Bruvold and Active Adrenaline went 4-2-1 in the preliminary round at Nationals only to be knocked out by a team with an 8-0 record in the first round of the semi-finals. Teammates Bruvold, Desi Brown, John Garrison, Steve Fehr and Chesney Brooke hung on as long as they could (which wasn’t long).
“What happened is usually it’s best out of three in finals but because there were so many teams they had to do just one-round knockout and we blew that game,” Bruvold said laughing. “They killed us all. It was under two minutes.”
“We were pretty frustrated. Most of the game is within the first 15 seconds. You all start in the back then go where you want to be. You have guys going to places and you also have guys designated to trying to shoot those running out. Off the break if you lose a couple guys it’s really hard to come back from that.”
Sawyer and his Division 2 team, OTT, finished fourth in Edmonton.
“Honestly we had a bit of rust coming off of four months’ rest and having to jump right in, it doesn’t help,” he said. “A little lacking on the ‘dorito’ side of the field, and not as much aggression as we would’ve liked.”
“There were some good teams coming out this year, that’s for sure.”
Both Bruvold and Sawyer are looking forward to a new year. While Bruvold and Active Adrenaline are excited about their events in Grande Prairie, Sawyer and OTT have moved up to semi-pro Division 1 and are looking to get some competitions under their belt in the U.S. this season.
Even though Sawyer has to do a lot of driving between Fort St. John and Grande Prairie to play on OTT, he said it’s worth the gas.
“I’m a competitive guy, so being the only regional team within eight hours that actually competes at the level we do, it’s definitely worth it,” he said.
“It builds trust like any other team. If one person’s not doing their job, you get shot in the back, so it’s building that rapport with your teammates. It’s like a second family when I go out to Grande Prairie to play with my boys.”
Active Adrenaline, which plays up a level at Division 3, will get a chance to go head-to-head with more Peace Region teams this summer. Sawyer said there are currently seven to 10 regional teams that play in the SRPL tournaments, but is hoping to push that number closer to 20 with the CPPL affiliation.
Bruvold can’t wait.
“We’re really looking forward to this year in Grande Prairie. It’s nice and close to home. They’ve been getting teams from High Prairie and Peace River coming down,” he said.
“This summer should be a lot bigger. We’re pretty pumped about it.”
When does the season start for these guys?
“As soon as the snow melts.”