War games in Blackridge

2011-08-18 00:00

IT is 1965, South Vietnam. The sun is ruthless as a troop of Vietcong make their way up to Zombie Hill, some carrying as much as 10 kilograms of equipment and weaponry. They are in search of the U.S. forces Forward Operating Base (FOB). Another troop heads for the railway track, forging a trail through a bush of thorns.

“Solo, come in Solo,” says Caveman, the leader of the troop that I’m following. “Zombie Hill is clear. I repeat. No sign of U.S. FOB.”

It didn’t feel clear. Crawling on all fours through thick bush at the front of the troop, every movement seems like the approach of the enemy. The strap on my shoulder burns into my skin with the weight of my borrowed M4. I try to hold the weapon up, ready to fire at any possible moment, while breaking a path through the thicket.

“Reporter,” calls Russian. It is the name assigned to me. I look up at the only person between me and any potential attack. He motions for me to go right and crouch behind a nearby tree. Branches crunch under the knees of the men following behind me, the leaves rustle in the trees and birds sing unaffected. I look at the open field in front of me. The tension builds up at the thought of danger ahead, even though I know that I am in a field in Blackridge playing a war-themed game similar to cowboys and Indians with grown men in military gear.

This is airsoft. Airsoft, like paintball, is a growing sport and has a huge international following. It is also a training aid for police and military units around the world.

Each game has a war theme with various missions to complete, such as moving rifle boxes to one’s base or scouting out the enemy and annihilating them. However, unlike paintball, the sport is fairly safe and less likely to leave you bruised and bleeding or covered in paint.

The game is named after its guns. Airsoft weapons are realistic replicas of actual firearms that fire plastic pellets. Most look exactly like their real counterparts and many function in the same way too. These guns are run by battery and work either by a spring, gas or electric motor, and because of the low-power projectiles, the game can be played anywhere — indoor or outdoor — without causing any damage to the property. Realistic attachments can also be added to weaponry, such as trackers and additional magazines.

According to fanatics, it’s also the cheaper option depending on the equipment that you buy. The initial cost is high with guns ranging from R2 000, but the pellets are fairly cheap. The sport is relatively new in South Africa but the trend is becoming more and more popular with equipment easily available from stores nationwide such as Sportsmans Warehouse and Point Blank in Cascades.

“I love airsoft because of its realism,” says Ronaldo Fourie, the owner of Scarlet Tactical, a business that sells airsoft gear and organises games.

Fourie has been playing the game for three years and was introduced to it in Cape Town after he took up paintball as a hobby. Having left the South African Police Service 12 years ago and having worked as bodyguard for the mayor of Richmond, Andrew Ragavaloo, during turbulent times in the town, Fourie finds airsoft is a way to have a good time without being lured into danger and politics.

“It is as close to handling the live weapon as you can get,” says Fourie.

“The adrenaline rush of a firefight and the tactical thinking under pressure are what I love about the sport. Everybody is welcome to play and there is no prerequisite. We have businesspeople, teachers, police, mechanics and lawyers — people from all walks of life playing. No military background is needed.”

With six airsoft guns, including a sniper rifle and M4, Fourie takes the sport seriously and aims to make airsoft a recognised national sport, like paintball. His airsoft team even has its own constitution.

“You don’t need to be in a team,” explains Fourie, “and you can join games whenever you like. In teams though, each member has a speciality. They can be a sniper or a recon or so forth, and you work with your members to develop game tactics. For games, teams are often combined and divided into two groups.”

Unlike paintball, some airsoft games have little or no attacks. It involves more role playing, tactics and missions to complete. It also requires player integrity as there is often no visual evidence when someone is shot. With loads of gear, pellets are often not even felt when a person is hit and may just make a sound and bounce off.

According to Fourie, the game can be used to help teach problem children discipline and teamwork.

“My team in Cape Town took a problematic 16-year-old and taught him discipline. Initially, he would run around shooting and not listen to the team captain. We treated him like a adult and now two years later he is trying to join the Navy.”

The game has an over-18 age restriction, but children as young as 10 have played under parental supervision.

• The next airsoft game will be on September 4 on the Birnam Wood Road, Farm 32, Merrivale. For more information or to purchase gear, e-mail Ronaldo at scarlettactical@gmail.com or contact him on Facebook. Check out the video on airsoft below:

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