The "ultimate game of tag" is a snake's description of paintball.
Mike Kendrick isn't really a reptile but a 25-year-old Blenheim lifesaver who plays in the "snake" position in a semi-pro Christchurch paintball team, the Clown Monkeys.
This year the team was second overall in the 2012 Australian Super-Sevens Tournament Series and after one more tournament in November, it will start competing in the Pro category.
Mike's daytime job is a pool-side lifesaver at the Marlborough Lines Stadium 2000.
There he must pay constant attention to everything happening around him, duties with a natural spinoff on the paintball battlefield.
As the Clown Monkeys' "snake player", he typically slides on his tummy between bunkers, attempting sneaky defence and attack strategies over his opponents.
He remains on high alert to anything glimpsed in his peripheral vision.
Mike's introduction to paintball was two years ago at a social, bush ball game in Dunedin.
Then he tried speedball, the format followed in Super-Sevens games.
It was while playing a speedball game with Blenheim's Team Obsidian that he caught the eye of Clown Monkeys' lead-man Phil Uden.
When he offered Mike the chance to play for Clown Monkeys, the Blenheim man couldn't say no.
Flying to Rouse Hill in New South Wales for the final Super-Sevens session against the Sydney Cindicate was a great inauguration to the Clown Monkeys' team.
When the seven-minute match was over, both teams were even but Phil was "shot" during an extended playoff time.
Paintball markers are a type of air gun. Those used by the Clown Monkeys are 4500 pounds per square inch and fire 13 to 15 paintballs per second. Each pellet travels 327 kilometres per hour, or 3600 centimetres per second.
Mike lifts his shirt and shows a round, red bruise on his back when asked if it hurts getting hit.
He enjoys other adventure sports like speedboat racing, skiing and snowboarding, but none deliver the adrenalin-fix he gets playing paintball.
"It's a really focused game and really aggressive and really fast.
"But if you are too aggressive you can lose. It's more of a mental game and the team that's got the best skills won't necessarily win the game. It's the best prepared team that has the best chance of winning."
Teams turn up at a venue the day before a tournament.
The field will be ready for battle and a vital strategy is walking around it together, pacing the number of steps between bunkers, giving them names, identifying blind spots and visualising opponents' play.
Team members take photographs of the field, then return to their motel and start planning their manoeuvres.
The sport is expensive, Mike says, with paintball guns priced between $1000 and $2000.
Paintballs are sold in 2000-pellet boxes for about $100 - and more than 50,000 were fired last month in the seven-minute game with the Sydney Cindicates.
Generous sponsors keep the sport alive and allow Kiwi teams like the Clown Monkeys to keep competing in Australia.
- The Marlborough Express
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