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October 2006

Proposed changes to Firearms Act

The Firearms Control Act 60 of 2000 was amended in a substantial manner, for the 4th time, on 5 September 2006. Although the amendments have been approved by Parliament, they will only come into effect once the necessary regulations have been drafted and approved and the applicable date/s officially announced in a Government Gazette. As it is never too early to prepare for the changes I will focus on those areas that have some general application

Muzzle-loading Rifles and Single-shot Muzzle-loading Pistols

The first substantial amendment relates to muzzle-loading rifles and single-shot muzzle-loading pistols which were deregulated with effect from 1 July 2004 and since then could be purchased/possessed without having a firearm licence issued by the SA Police Services. (You still needed an explosives permit to possess black powder, but this was a relatively straightforward process.)

Parliament has now decided that, in order to possess a muzzle-loading rifle, or a single-shot muzzle-loading pistol, you have to have a competency certificate. Parliament acknowledged that many thousands of these firearms have been sold since 2004, and time would be necessary in order for people to become compliant with the new requirement. Accordingly, people in possession of muzzle-loading rifles, or single-shot pistols, will have one year from the date of promulgation of the amendments to obtain the necessary competency certificate. As there is no requirement for a firearm licence, muzzle-loaders should not be included in the various restrictions regarding the number of firearms you may possess.

Once the new provisions come into effect, the unauthorized possession of a muzzle-loading firearm will be illegal and will be sanctionable at law as a criminal offence. It is also important to note that in future only licensed firearm dealers will be able to import and sell muzzle-loading firearms.

Cap-and-Ball Revolvers

The amendment includes a detailed definition of a "muzzle loading firearm" which was clearly worded to exclude cap-and-ball revolvers. Although the SAPS told the parliamentary portfolio committee that it has never been legal to possess a cap-and-ball revolver without a licence, this is simply not true – they have been treated as ‘deregulated’ from 1 July 2004. However, the committee accepted the SAPS’s contention in this regard and allowed the Bill to go through to parliament without making any special or transitional provisions for existing owners of cap-and-ball revolvers. The probability is that, like all ‘ordinary’ firearms, both a competency certificate and a licence will be required. Until the regulations are published, there will still be some uncertainty as to what to do with cap-and-ball revolvers. For the time being, possession of cap-and-ball revolvers remains legal and, even when the amendments come into effect it is unlikely that the Director of Public Prosecutions will prosecute anyone for ‘illegal possession’ until proper transitional arrangements have been made.

Silencers

Silencers are now defined as ‘firearm parts’ so you will only be able to purchase /possess one if you have a licensed firearm that can be fitted with such silencer. Anyone who possesses a silencer and who does not have the corresponding firearm will be committing a criminal offence.

Restricted Firearms

Persons who are collecting restricted firearms will now only be able to possess restricted or prohibited firearms if these firearms are rendered temporarily inoperable. In contrast to this, the magazine limitation of five rounds on semi-automatic shotguns for sporting purposes has been lifted and there is now no magazine limitation.

Professional Hunters

Specific provision has now been made to recognise that professional hunters need a separate category of firearm licensing for them to licence firearms for business purposes and section 16 has been accordingly amended.

Validity of Licences & Competency Certificates

The validity of certain categories of firearm licences has been extended. For example those for game ranchers and for business hunting purposes will be ten years, and those for business purposes (other than game ranching and hunting) will be extended from two to five years.

Another interesting amendment has been in respect of the validity of competency certificates. Previously these were valid for five years from date of issue, but they will now remain valid for the same period as the licences to which they relate. This will become confusing because many people have different types of licences that have different periods of validity. This has created some uncertainty as to how long a competency certificate will be valid for, but will no doubt be remedied in the regulations.

Powers of the Registrar

By virtue of the fact that the Registrar will be given a greater discretion to prescribe criteria for the granting of competency certificates, the Registrar will have increased power to refuse competency certificates. He has also been given the power, where a person pleads guilty and pays an admission of guilt fine for a petty offence, to conduct an enquiry into such person’s fitness to possess the firearm.

This is merely a brief sketch of some of the amendments, many of which are technical and have little or no consequence to the ordinary firearm owner. Let me repeat, these amendments are not yet law. The Act, as it presently stands, as well as commentary on the amendments, is available on the website of the SA Gunowners’ Association at www.saga.org.za.

SAGA Office:
PO Box 35203
Northway
4065
Tel: (031) 562 9951
Fax: (031) 562 0530
Email: saga@saga.org.za
Website: www.saga.org.za

August 2005

There’s light at the end of the barrel

More and more retailers are cashing in on the growing consumer interest in shooting sports that do not require licences — paintball, archery and black powder guns offer lucrative stock options

Since the Firearms Licence Act limits the number of firearms an individual may own, one can safely assume that the number of firearms buyers is not going to increase any time soon, and that the rapid decline in the number of firearms sold, will continue.

During the past year, Statistics SA report a 61% drop in arms and ammunition imports from Europe, where a significant number of the arms imported into SA is made. Between May 2000 and April 2005, 38% (or 149) of the arms and ammunition specialists on Sports Trader’s mailing list, closed their doors.

Several arms and ammunition retailers, however, saw the writing on the wall and started stocking shooting sports equipment for which their clients do not need a licence.

Ridwaan Ismail, co-owner of Blades & Triggers, says he realised what the effect of the Firearms Licence Act could be and decided to head into a broader market. He says he has done particularly well with paintball gun sales. He also distributes to retailers.

Fanie Kooij, of Zeerust Boog Klub in the Northwest Province, used to specialise in gun sales, but now sells archery equipment as well. Kooij says that previously archery equipment was mainly in demand in the Witwatersrand and Johannesburg areas, but that the demand for equipment has grown in the Northwest Province as well.

Another stock option is black powder guns. "There has been a country-wide growing interest in black powder shooting since the second half of 2004 and our sales of black powder guns have increased ten fold," says George retailer Rossouw Botha, who also distributes black powder equipment through Redneck Tactical Supplies.

Black powder guns

Botha believes that the black powder shooting market has grown due to the limitations of the Firearms Licence Act. "Shooting related sports are the only kind of recreational/competitive sports that provide you with life skills … pun intended. Air-gun and black powder shooting are good alternatives".

Owners do not need a license for these antique firearms (any muzzle loading firearm manufactured before 1 January 1900, or any replica) as long as they are registered as black powder users by the Chief Inspector of Explosives.

The details of antique and other black powder firearms are required for record purposes and to support the necessity to use black powder. Muzzle-loaders do not require a licence, so registration is not an issue, but breech loading, black powder firearms require licences, says Mike Di Bona, Chairman of the Cape Town Muzzle Loaders Association (CTMLA).

According to him there has been a definite growth in interest in Black Powder shooting since muzzle-loading firearms began to be more readily available. "The biggest interest is in muzzleloaders", says Di Bona.

The CTMLA is affiliated to the Black Powder Shooting Union of SA. "The last 6 months has seen good growth," says Di Bona. There are currently about 150 active shooters in SA. Most participants are in the 40-60 year age group, but on the other end of the scale, three youths attained their National colours in June. Currently, 17 shooters in the Western Cape have their national colours.

The majority of Black Powder owners enjoy competitions. Most of the shooting events "are precision target shooting, at distances from 100m to 900m. We also cater for the hand-gunners at 25m, and also those who shoot the 50m rifle off-hand details", says Di Bona.

There are provincial, national and international shoots, which take place at least once a year. Prince Albert recently hosted a Pacific Zone international shoot and Atlantis, Cape Town, will host a long-range world shoot in April 2006. Di Bona says at a national shoot between 35-40 shooters regularly participate and at a club monthly shoot, about 25.

The sport also has a fun element. Botha says Cowboy Action Shooting is the fastest growing shooting sport in the world. Apart from obvious skills required, it also invites participants to dress the part, for example, as a Mountain Man, Frontiersman, Cowboy/Girl, Boer and Brit, etc. "Period clothing is a massive market in the US", says Botha. "Clothing for Boer/Brit enactments should prove to be the same."

The basic equipment required are period-correct firearms such as 1851/1860 Colts, Kentucky and Trade rifles, and Plains pistols. One also needs carry gear — holsters and slings — and loading equipment.

Equipment is currently not readily available and this offers a golden opportunity for retailers who are interested in supplying equipment for the sport.

The basic competition rifle is a 58 calibre military muzzle-loading rifle. There are various makes, but the most popular are the Zouave and Enfield. Once a shooter is comfortable with this rifle and masters it, he will progress to a more accurate muzzle and breech loading rifle. The competition guns for a hand gunner are the single shot pistol and a revolver. Other equipment retailers could stock are moulds, black powder solvent and percussion caps.

Archery skill

Archery is another ancient form of shooting with a growing modern following —except that archers claim that hunting with a bow and arrow poses more challenges than hunting with a rifle. One can therefore expect that limitations on the number of firearms that may be owned could encourage hunters to swop their rifles for bows.

Several archery clubs report that their membership numbers have been on the increase, but they attribute this more to people becoming more aware of the sport. According to Roy Gaylard of the Protea Archery Club in Cape Town, a few members joined due to the limitations on the number of firearms an individual is allowed, which make continued participation in target shooting difficult.

However, he believes that the growth in their membership has mostly been due to the club promoting awareness. Movies such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Arthur have also had a positive effect on the growth of the sport.

Protea Archery Club started giving lessons at schools three years ago and this has led to a sudden influx of teenagers becoming interested in the sport. This club has produced a number of national champions over the years.

Kalahari Archers in Gauteng also promotes archery in the schools on the West Rand, which they hope will encourage new members to join clubs. They started a club to meet the demand for products and to give people a place to shoot.

Rowan Swales of Tingela Archery & Bowhunting Pro Shop (TABPS) and Kalahari Archers, believes that the growing number of people buying bows could initially have been attributed to the implementation of the new Firearms Licence Act, but "now I feel that more bows are out there and more people are discovering how much fun a bow is and a much greater skill is required to hunt with a bow".

There are 38 archery clubs registered with the Council of Archery Sport, of which 20 are in Gauteng, 7 in Mpumulanga, 4 in the Eastern Cape, 4 in the Western Cape, 3 in the Free State and 1 in Kwa-Zulu Natal.

There are ample opportunities for the ambitious archer to receive their provincial and national colours via participation in the numerous competitions — indoor, field and bowhunter — organised by archery clubs affiliated to national bodies.

In June Madrid, Spain, hosted the Outdoor Target World Championships and, locally, Loskop hosted the Bowhunting World Championships in July.

"World Championships are shot every two years and SA has been represented at every one since 1993, when SA sportsmen and women were re-admitted to world sport. The archer who is prepared to put in the required effort can compete at the highest international level" says Konrad van Warmelo of Marks Park Sports Club. He was the SA archers’ coach at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney and SA coach at the 2003 World Championships in the US as well as the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

But, despite all the opportunities there has been little to no real growth in the registered number of participants in the sport, says JP de Villiers, president of CAS (Council of Archery Sport) and SANIFAA (South African National Indoor and Field Archery Association). Many people have been buying equipment and joined clubs; but according to him about 80% of the new members will drop out within a year. He also says that there are about the same number of people joining clubs as there are leaving.

Stan Gordon of the Cutlery Distributing Group (CDG), who has been promoting archery for several years, agrees with him. While he sells many bows, not many end up being used on archery ranges.

"People often buy them for use at home and they rarely, if ever, go to an archery range. Archery is a great family sport, but families are not likely to participate for longer than a year or two. It is usually only the dedicated sportsman who participates long-term."

Even though there is not much growth in archery as a sport, there is definitely an interest in the sport and numerous people buy entry level equipment every year, which is good news for retailers. Stocking entry level products for beginners is a good investment.

Another reason for stocking archery is that some archery clubs point out that their members have difficulty in finding places to buy new equipment. These problems seem to be area specific. Gaylard says that they experience problems in Cape Town when attempting to buy equipment and they often find it more convenient, and less expensive, to import from the UK and the USA themselves. This is also not ideal as archery equipment and archers’ needs are specialised and prospective clients have no opportunity to try the equipment before buying.

"In our experience, most traders specialise in hunting equipment and have very little understanding of the needs of target archery, or how to assess the needs of individual archers. They will sell what is available instead of what is suitable," says Gaylard.

Sakkie van der Westhuizen, Kings Park Archery in Durban, has the same problem. He says that club members can help dealers with the selection of stock and bemoans the fact that "there are no fully stocked archery shops in Durban". His members normally purchase from bow shops in other parts of the country.

The Eastern Cape clubs, however, do not seem to have many problems in obtaining equipment. Elizabeth Cochrane, instructor at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Archery Club, reckons that archery equipment is more readily available now than it was in the past.

Gordon maintains that not too many archery dealers succeed, because it is a major commitment. "They have to stock a broad spectrum of products, ranging from entry level products, to more complicated products for the professional."

He believes that dealers who open their own archery ranges, or who are themselves active participants, are most likely to succeed in selling archery equipment.

Van Warmelo is concerned that dealers who are more interested in selling the equipment they have in their shops, irrespective of its suitability or merits, will equip "uninformed buyers who walk out of shops with equipment costing several thousands, which is, at best inappropriate, or worse definitely harmful."

The fact that this often leads to bows being used in backyards, with the potential of hitting someone in an adjoining property, or to shoot animals that are often left to die agonisingly for fun, angers and frightens him. It can also lead to the purchase of bows that are beyond the capability of the user to control and eventually chronic injury to shoulders and elbows ensues.

"A modern bow is no toy and the requisite skills take time to master," says Van Warmelo, who strongly believes that anyone wishing to take up archery as a sport should find a competent coach and join a club. "Archery looks so easy when done well — what is not realised, is that at the Olympics the target is 70m away and the centre spot is only 122mm in diameter. To hit this consistently, takes more than chance."

One problem affecting archery, in common with so many other sporting codes, is the absence of sponsorship, says Van Warmelo.

"Travel becomes imperative for the ambitious athlete and travel is not cheap. The lack of sponsorship also leads to clubs having to fund their own publicity and development. Without publicity the general public does not know about the sport, does not try it, with the result that there is no growth. With no support, there can be no development, without development there can be no medals, and without medals there is no support. How are South African athletes supposed to compete on equal footing with overseas athletes who have everything supplied to them?" he asks.

Paintball growing

Paintball is a shooting sport that is growing rapidly. It is currently played in more than 60 countries by millions of people of different ages and lifestyles. In the US, paintball is considered to be one of the fastest-growing sports, with participation numbers increasing from 5.9-m in 1998 to 9.8-m in 2003 — a surge of 66% in five years. There paintball is not just a sport, it is a culture, with telephone directory-thick magazines dedicated to the sport.

The main event for paintball in Europe this year was the 7-Man World Cup, which took place in Paris in July. Over 200 teams competed and there was also a large tradeshow area at the event.

The comprehensive SA paintball site www.sapaintball.co.za lists 69 paintball clubs in most SA provinces and 175 teams playing at these clubs. Most clubs (29) and teams (81) are from Gauteng, followed by the Western Cape with 13 clubs, and the third most teams, namely 12.

Although Gauteng is the strong arm when it comes to numbers, places such as Durban and Bloemfontein, who have small participation numbers, also have ranges and do host their own tournaments. According to Bryce Thompson, editor of PLAY, the SA paintball magazine, there are paintball ranges in almost every province in SA. Paintballers travel great distances when they can to participate in tournaments.

Thompson says the interest in paintball in SA has been growing at a phenomenal rate during the past three years — over the last year that rate has doubled.

"Where there used to be only a handful of tournament teams, there is now an impressive array of teams and players. Teams are now also getting sponsorships, improving the sport in general and raising the level of play, across the board," adds Terance Trim, captain of Team AWSIM, ranked 5th in the A-division.

"SA teams are competing in the international circuit and this year two pro players from an overseas team came to participate in one of our events for the first time. There are now more formats than before, meaning that teams are no longer restricted to one type, but can choose the style of play that best suits them e.g. AFRI-ball etc.

"The recent introduction of the South African National Paintball Association (SANPA) will help in building the future of competitive paintball but it can only work with the support of the paintball community," he says.

Paintball teams are ranked in two divisions — the A-division, for pro teams, and the B-division, for the teams starting to compete.

Only the most dedicated players, who usually buy their own equipment, will join teams and clubs. Most paintball players are still casual participants who enjoy a game as part of a corporate teambuilding or school outing, or groups of friends looking for an afternoon’s adventurous entertainment. They usually rent the necessary equipment from the ranges where they play. The sport therefore has a big potential for growth and future equipment sales.

Dirk Botha of Dye-Hard Paintball, who runs a paintball range in Cape Town, attributes their increased bookings to their efforts in marketing the sport. The majority of the players at Dye-Hard are adults; however the numbers of children and teenagers playing on their fields are slowly increasing.

Botha believes the biggest obstacle for people without a stable income is the high costs involved. However, he has seen a definite increase in the number of people who own their own markers.

"As the sport becomes more affordable, and as the price of lower-end markers decrease, there will be more people who own paintball markers. Whether or not they actually play the sport, is another question entirely."

Paintball is usually played in wooded outdoor areas with sufficient cover to ambush opponents, but indoor ranges are becoming more common, usually in urban areas. Arenaball (also called speedball) is paintball played in an arena (indoors or outdoors) where spectators can enjoy the excitement. Standard tournaments are usually played in 3, 5, 7 and 10-man formats.

Paintball offers the retailer multiple options for stock — a paintballer does not only need his marker. The actual paintballs offer the most lucrative stock option for retailers, because even players who do not have their own markers might want to stock up on paintballs at a more affordable rate than sold by the ranges. They are sold in different quality ranges.

Paintball markers (paintguns, although paintballers never refer to the paintball launchers as guns) come in a variety of shapes and styles, ranging from simple to sophisticated. With a pumpgun, the player must first cock the marker by using a pump and then squeeze the trigger, each time he wants to shoot a paintball. Pumpguns are usually powered by refillable CO2 or compressed air cylinders.

Semi-automatic paintball markers are generally powered by refillable cylinders. With a semi-auto, the player must cock the paintgun to shoot the first paintball, after that the marker will recock automatically.

Paintball’s superb safety record compared with other sports is mostly due to addressing safety concerns at the very beginnings of the game. Goggles and head-protection systems — designed specifically for paintball and meeting specified standards — are always a requirement on any field, as are the use of barrel plugs and chronographs.

Paintball goggles are the player’s most important piece of protection. They are made to offer protection in worst case scenarios – multiple paintballs shot at close range. Other goggles or eyewear, other than those specifically designed and made for paintball, do not provide sufficient enough protection.

A visor for the goggles is very useful. Not only do they keep the sun out of the player’s eyes, but they also protect the goggles if the goggles fall. They prevent the goggles from hitting the ground and from the lenses getting scratched.

Barrel plugs are standard fare at all commercial fields. Once a player leaves the field of play, they are required to insert a barrel plug into the end of their barrel as a safety device to prevent injury if the marker is accidentally discharged in the neutral area.

Clothing wise, one needs padded gloves (for protecting the back of your hands from painful impacts and splinters); shin, knee and elbow pads; strong footwear (preferable leather) with good ankle support and a deep tread; a throat guard; a hat or bandanna for protection from impact and from the sun (to prevent sunstroke).

Sources:

  • Phillips, J.E. Black Powder Hunting Secrets: Chapter 3. How To Hunt Deer With Black Powder. www.nighthawkpublications.com

  • Little, JR & Wong, CF. Ultimate Guide to Paintball. 2001. www.sapaintball.co.za

  • Remington Arms Co. 2005. Black Powder Basics: Your Perception of Black Powder Hunting Is About To Go Up In Smoke. www.remington.com

  • SApaintball.co.za. www.sapaintball.co.za


  • June 2006

    In less than two decades

    paintball players have shown paintball is a serious sport

    For most South Africans the concept of a Paintball World Cup that draws more spectators than a Bulls vs Stormers rugby game, is absurd. For Americans, it is nothing strange — paintball is so mainstream there that you can even win a paintball scholarship to one of their colleges

    "Paintball is the third most popular extreme sport in the US," says Brett Heyns of Paintball Africa, a Cape Town paintball distributor, retailer and field operator.

    In the US there are several national paintball leagues and some major tournaments are sponsored by large corporates like Budweiser, Pepsi-Cola, and Fuji Film. In the last few years, ESPN, Fox Sports, MTV, VH1, and dozens of regional television networks across the US have aired special television coverage of paintball tournaments and special events, says Heyns.

    Viacom Entertainment is a major promotion partner with Hollywood Sports Park, a large extreme park in LA where visitors can participate in four movie-themed Paintball fields constructed from actual movie-sets. Stars like Arnold Schwartzenegger and Tom Cruise frequently make appearances to promote special paintball charity events and the late BeeGee, Maurice Gibb, was a member of the paintball team The Royal Rat Rangers.

    Legend has it that the sport started about twenty years ago in the US when foresters, out marking trees to be cut down, missed the trees and shot paint at each other. Hence the name marker and not gun for the air or gas-propelled barrel through which the paintballs are shot.

    The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) in the US recognised paintball as an official sport about ten years ago, when they included it amongst sports whose participation numbers they track on an annual basis (see chart). Five years ago the International Association of Leisure and Entertainment Industry (IALEI) added paintball as an official category for their 6 000-strong professional trade association.

    There is no doubt that paintball is a mainstream sport in America.

    Locally, it is growing exponentially, says Heyns. But, attempts to form a national association or confederation that meets the criteria for official recognition by Sport & Recreation SA, have so far been unsuccessful. Part of the problem is that the term paintball can refer to two quite different activities.

    Bush ball and speed ball

    Bush ball, where two teams attack each other’s positions across various barriers on a vast stretch of land, is popular with corporate groups, birthday parties, or groups of friends out to have fun. And it is great fun.

    In America, they add further interest by re-creating actual WWII battle scenario’s, complete with battledress and cars with paintball markers mounted on top to resemble tanks, where the outcome is just as subjective as in an actual battle. It is, reportedly, much more enjoyable than battling with toy soldiers.

    But, it is not really feasible to have a universal set of rules and specifications in order to set up league tables and point scoring systems when every playing field has different trees and dongas and hills and dales. With so many obstructions — man made or natural — to hide behind, it is also difficult for marshals to see exactly when someone is out (when hit by a paintball), which makes it even more problematic to create a fair competitive environment.

    Locally, these forms of paintball generate about 80% of the revenue. Apart from the fee per player (only large groups are catered for), which usually includes equipment rental, the fields also sell paintballs, gas (or compressed air for higher end markers) and often also refreshments for people enjoying a day out.

    For the past twenty years, paintball field owners across the country have been content to offer these facilities to people out to have a jolly good time, pretending to be soldiers, giving less credence to paintball as serious sport than they would believe that their bruises are battle scars.

    Some paintball fields have upped the game by erecting shelters in the form of pallets or hay stacks on a treeless field, from behind which the teams have to launch attacks. This game is faster because it is easier to spot the opponents, and is referred to as speed ball.

    But, because it is difficult to transport haystacks and pallets and erect them according to the same specifications on all fields, it would be difficult to develop a rating system for teams competing in tournaments.

    Air ball

    Air ball is, however a complete different ball game … although about the only similarity to bush ball is the paintballs used.

    Air ball is played on a flat, grassy surface, — ideally cricket or football fields — with specific dimensions where air-filled bunkers are set up in two identical facing formations. Three-, five- or seven-man teams try to eliminate the opposing team by alternatively sheltering behind the bunkers and quickly moving forward to try and hit an opponent.

    Every aspect of play — from the dimensions of the field to clothing, protective wear, safety, marker specifications and other equipment used — is specified in the rules of the SA Professional Paintball League.

    Affiliated to them is the Marshalling Association of Paintball SA (MAPSA) that trains marshals to ensure that every tournament complies with the rules.

    Now, this is a sport, explains Heyns. Although the bunkers are deflated at the end of each day and can therefore be set up differently next time, the basic rules are the same for every tournament and practice session.

    Because the playing fields are levelled wherever you go, teams can attain rankings as they compete in tournaments (and there are many) on other fields, even in other towns. But, there are no official regional or national tournaments – as yet.

    Next month, there will, however, be a Tri-Nations tournament in Pretoria with teams from New Zealand and Australia competing in a 7-man and perhaps a 3-man tournament in Pretoria. "Selected teams will then compete in Australia later this year in the second leg of the Tri-Nations, and the winner will have the bragging rights as the top guns in the Southern Hemisphere," says Gawie Keyser of Blade Paintball, one of the organisers.

    In Germany, air ball is the most common kind of paintball played and this growing sport is generating plenty of revenue there. This shows that air ball is commercially viable and that this is where the growth of paintball as sport lies, believes Heyns.

    More and more players, of all ages, are now participating in air ball, as more fields offer the option. And like any other sport, they participate on a regular basis.

    It is also interesting for spectators to watch, who can see what is happening and what tactics are employed by the different teams.

    It is a very tactical sport, with new moves and team skills constantly being developed, explains 16-year old Johann du Toit, who is a member of a Cape Town team of teenagers who play air ball on a weekly basis. "There are many manoeuvres that a team can develop, and we are constantly learning from watching other teams. It is a sport that requires a lot of tactical skills, like how to run, how to move from behind bunker, how and when to advance, and how to cover your partners."

    It is very different to other team sports because of the adrenalin rush you get every time you have to move out, adds Anree Malherbe, who, like the other team members, also plays hockey as sport.

    "It is a team sport that depends on a combination of your own skills and the quality of the equipment you use," adds Everhard Louw. And part of the tremendous advances in the sport over recent years is due to the improvement in equipment technologies used, believes Jacques van der Walt. "The markers we use shoot about 15 paintballs per second — but the top end markers that you get nowadays can shoot up to 25 paintballs per second."

    These teenage paintballers are just as aware of every new product, brand and range that comes on the market as any youngster hoping to become a Protea cricket player knows his bats. They study the Internet — there are several SA paintball sites, with www.sapaintball.info a national news site — and read paintball magazines just to see what’s new.

    Equipment

    While most bush ball players would be happy to hire a less expensive marker and use the paintballs supplied in bulk by the field owner, the air ball players do not want to suffer the ignominy of inferior paintballs stuck in markers, or the trigger of a marker miss-firing in a one-on-one situation stand-off watched by a crowd of spectators.

    Air ball players therefore buy their own better quality, more reliable equipment that are lighter and more compact so that they can move faster and present a smaller target when dodging between bunkers. They also wear special clothing with strategic padding and styling that facilitates a lot of knee bending, skidding and being hit by paint balls. There are even special paintball shoes with cleats and traction that allows pivoting and accelerating foot movements on mud, grass and gravel.

    "It is, however, a misconception that some paintball markers with a higher velocity can shoot further," says Heyns. "All paintball markers worldwide must be set at 280ft/sec and therefore all shoot an equal distance."

    Apart from his concern that beginner players might not enjoy the sport if they start off with equipment that lets them down, Heyns is also critical of the way some vendors sell the actual paintballs, the biggest source of income for paintball distributors and vendors.

    "The quality of the balls can vary from good, to bad to awesomely bad," says Heyns. "They also have to be stored correctly, because they can become hard and brittle, like pellets from a shotgun, or rubbery and sticky and lose shape, if stored incorrectly."

    The way that paintballs are transported, can also affect their quality, says Heyns.

    He, and a group of like-minded distributors, have formed an informal countrywide trading group that would supply retailers and fields in all areas, without having to move stock over long distances.

    Another concern is that as paintball grows in popularity, more and more people who do not know the sport would want to open fields or sell equipment.

    "Paintball is the safest sport in the world — provided you follow the rules," says Heyns. These include strict rules about the wearing of masks on fields and the proper care and use of markers.

    He therefore believes that anyone involved in paintball should at least have a chronograph on site — and know how to use it to adjust the valves on a marker to set the correct paintball speed.

    "You must also have a facility on site to fill air canisters, and know how to fill the air, you must know how to clean equipment and know how to repair equipment," says Heyns, who is prepared to give information talks to retailers interested in stocking paintball equipment.



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