It's finally March, which for many sports fans conjures up images of the NCAA's basketball tournaments. Just a little over a month after that, the NHL and NBA playoffs will start, with the NFL Entry Draft to follow. Yet there is one tournament that precedes all of these events: Adventure Beach Paintball's "Road to No Ends" tournament.
Adventure Beach Paintball is a 108-acre outdoor facility that offers 15 playing fields that are designed for everyone from new paintball players to experienced players. Courses range from urban combat to woodsball to speedball.
Urban combat matches take place, much as the name suggests, on a city-like course.
The same explanation applies to woodsball, where competitors duke it out in a heavily wooded area.
Speedball starts players off within shooting range of one another and has them trying to advance as quickly as possible, usually with a goal such as capturing an enemy flag or base.
Kevin Shimwell, the founder of Adventure Beach Paintball, has only been playing for a few years, but the park has become very successful over that short span.
"I actually got started playing paintball in 2007 with my kids. The existing paintball park that was out here, we just saw an opportunity to expand what was happening out here," said Shimwell.
Shimwell said that "The Road to No Ends" started because he wanted to do something original.
"Well, when we first started playing, we joined a scenario paintball team," said Shimwell. "We wanted to come up with our own unique type storyline."
"The Road to No Ends" isn't just your run-of-the-mill paintball match, however. It spans a 24-hour period. The two teams are called the Knowing and the Hidden, two fictionally historic clans that have battled for centuries. The Knowing seek to retrieve the "Goblet of Water" from the Hidden, as well as learn the location of the "Ruby of Fire."
"The Oracle is actually a goblet and a ruby diamond," said Shimwell. "Last year they [the Knowing] had uncovered the cup, but without the ruby and the cup, you can't have the Oracle. So this year, we've generated another map."
The map actually recalls images of maps similar to those you'd see at the beginning of the "Lord of the Rings" books.
This year's installment is the fifth of the tournament and was the biggest yet, according to Shimwell.
"I remember our first crowd had about 35 people. This year's event [drew] about 350."
The pride Shimwell has for his establishment is evident as he talks about how much growth it has enjoyed over its short existence. "We're definitely in the top 10 in paintball attractions in the U.S.," noted Shimwell.
This tournament attracts players from all over the country, like Brad "Rock Star" Brewer, 25, of Virginia Beach, Va.
"We come here at least twice a year. We've made a lot of friends here," said Brewer. "Everybody comes for the camaraderie. You don't get that in other sports."
"It's like playing softball on the weekends, just a group of guys playing paintball instead. The crowds kept getting bigger," he said. "We have doctors and lawyers, parents and kids, and we just have a real nice place for it."
Brewer's "Rock Star" moniker is one given to him by his teammates, who each also have their own title.
"The people with call signs, it usually says something about them," Brewer commented. "Icebox is 6-foot-4, 350 pounds." As Brewer elaborated on other names, like "Hollywood" and "Chatter," it became clear that this team has a close bond that extends beyond paintball.
"The Road to No Ends" brings not only paintball enthusiasts, but families as well. Tracy Manor, 39, of Huntersville, N.C., came with an entourage to watch her family play. "There's 11 of us that made the trip," said Manor. "It's fun watching."
For the more serious paintballers, there is a local group call the Shadow Group Scenario Paintball Team. It is a highly structured and disciplined team that operates as a military combat unit, according to its website. They play and train at Adventure Beach Paintball's fields and welcome challenges from visiting paintball groups. For more information, visit www.shadowgrouppaintball.com.
What was interesting was how all these people from different places banded together once the tournament was under way. Men and women alike on both sides shouted words of warning and attempted to formulate strategies as paintballs whizzed by or struck their targets. Yet even those who were hit and had to come off the field didn't seem disappointed. They just looked happy to be out in the sun, united under the colorful paintball banner.