Unplugged And Unleashed

By James DiSanto              

With the constant intrusion of electronics into the very fabric of society, and the increased dependence of electronics as a source of constant entertainment, the unplugged camp environment must evolve in order to meet the eclectic interests of the Internet generation. Imagine a scene that is probably all too familiar to camp directors and program specialists throughout the camping community: It’s February, it’s cold, but in the full-time camp office, summer planning is heating up. Ideas for new programs are being tossed around, with some adoringly embraced while others are reallocated to the bin of ”maybe next year.” Everybody is highly motivated (and caffeinated) and determined to make the upcoming summer the best one yet. No matter the location or size of the camp, the discussion is usually the same: How do we, as a camping community, engage the unengageable? At River Way Ranch Camp in Sanger, Calif., we have found that one of the most successful activities we offer is a new-age classic—paintball.

Minor Challenges, Major Rewards
First played in the early1980s, paintball experienced a rapid climb in popularity through the early 2000s, quickly becoming one of the most interesting sports played by both kids and adults across the globe, primarily because of the dozens of game styles and the focus on tactical and active play. Bringing such a high-energy and risky activity to a camp environment does present quite a list of challenges:

  • The construction and management of the necessary facilities
  • Supplying the program
  • Ensuring the safety and enjoyment of campers.

River Way Ranch Camp embraced these challenges with the installation of its paintball program in the summer of 2009. While the program evolves year after year, it is consistently one of the most popular and cost-worthy activities the camp offers.

Logistics And Equipment
The beauty of paintball lies in its simplicity. With just a few paintball markers, a canister of compressed air or CO2, and a box of paintballs, the door to hours of highly varied entertainment is thrown wide open. Given the portable nature of the activity, games are not limited to specific kinds of play spaces or terrain types. Paintball is just as exciting whether played in a dense forest or in a junk yard. River Way’s paintball field is enclosed within dense netting, which keeps the action inside the arena and keeps the spectators safe and paint-free. Obstacles such as empty barrels, wooden sheds, and even old canoes are spread across the field, creating a highly varied course with ample room for exciting tactical play. Campers wait for their turn in a separate, enclosed staging area, where the paintball markers are prepped and the players are outfitted in protective padding, jumpsuits, and full face masks. When not in use, all of the paintball markers and ammunition are kept in a locked shed, ensuring that the only time anybody is being painted is during the structured activity periods under the watchful eye of the paintball director and his or her staff members.

Depending upon the size of the games being set up, the equipment needs of a successful paintball program can be simple or complex. Most of the matches are played with two teams of 10 players and last an average of 5 minutes, allowing for several rounds of play in a single 90-minute activity period. All of the equipment is sourced from local paintball supply companies. In an average summer, the program goes through 150 to 200 boxes of paintballs with each box containing 2,000 paintballs. In addition, the program uses 200 pounds of CO2 per week. While this combination has proven successful, we are looking into the cost effectiveness of switching to compressed air, which is typically used in most professional and recreational paintball arenas.

Safe Yet Satisfying
After all of the necessary preparations, the most important consideration begins—how to keep campers safe. Safety is the focus of our jobs, so why would we choose to complicate this by literally arming campers and encouraging them to shoot at each other with compressed gas and plastic balls of paint? While this may sound like a literal definition of a camp director’s nightmare, there are a few simple safety precautions that help make sure the only consequences campers sustain are paint-splattered shirts and some mud on their shoes. At River Way, safety starts at the beginning. No equipment is even brought onto the field until the director is on site and ready. With over 9 years of experience at River Way, as well as time served as a United States Marine, the paintball director is always watching to make sure that all of the equipment is being used safely and in accordance with the rules of play. Campers are required to wear masks at all times and encouraged to wear long clothing to cover their entire body (jumpsuits are provided upon request). As an added precaution, all of the paintball markers are set at or below a pressure level of 280 pounds per square inch, which is below the standard pressure of 300+, used in most professional and recreational leagues. By keeping the air pressure in the markers lower, bruising from being hit is drastically reduced, and more campers from a wider age range are willing to participate in this exciting activity.

Game On
For camps looking to add paintball into their repertoire of activities, a careful consideration of safety rules will lead to a highly successful program. Since its inception at River Way Ranch Camp, the paintball program grew has grown from an activity offered once a day to one of the most popular specialty camps, with campers participating in paintball for three or more activity periods in a single day. In addition, the camp was able to reignite the sense of excitement and adventure that we, as camp professionals, look to preserve in the youth of the world. In the battle against electronic expansion, one of the best weapons may be as simple as a paintball marker.

James DiSanto is the assistant director of the River Way Ranch Camp in Sanger, Calif. Reach him at james@RiverWayRanchCamp.com.

Camp Basics
: River Way Ranch Camp
Location: Sanger, Calif. (Foothills of the Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks)
Student to Instructor Ratio: 1 to 10
Ages: 7-16
Other Information: Family-owned and operated since 1967, River Way is excited to be hosting its 50th summer season in 2016. At River Way, friendships and memories last a lifetime.