Close to 200 airsofters from around the Maritimes are converging on the old Shelburne Youth Centre the weekend of April 26.
Hosted by Ambush Academy, the game format is a grown-up cops and robbers aptly named: Jailbreak.
The centre closed for good amidst some controversy in 2004, but for airsofters like Yarmouth's Garren Thibault, the empty buildings offer a rare opportunity to participate in indoor scenarios.
Thibault began playing airsoft in June 2009. He and a friend picked up a couple of cheap airsoft guns for his birthday and they battled in the local ruins of the old Markland hotel near the lighthouse. Since that first game he was hooked.
“Us Yarmouth guys travel all over the province and have for many years to other fields.” Thibeault said in an email. “It's nice to be able to go to a large event so close to home.”
He said the close quarters battle (CQB) style makes for a more intense style of play.
“The tension is thick enough to cut it with a knife, not knowing if the enemy is around the next corner really keeps you on edge.”
No longer an "underground" sport for militaristic geeks, airsoft is similar to paintball where participants use replica firearms to shoot each other. Unlike paintball, airsoft uses a small BB that stings on impact, but still requires the eye/face protection.
What attracts people to airsoft can be a number of things. It can be the camaraderie of shared experiences, the discipline that comes with teamwork, or just the fun of getting out for a day with new friends. And players say the gaming is much faster - and a lot more tactical.
“I was a long time paintballer and loved it,” said Terry Burrill, another Yarmouth-based airsofter.
“One of my paintball teammates told me about airsoft and lent me some gear and well here I am!”
Burrill has been airsofting since 2012 and operates Lost Souls Airsoft. Like Thibeault, he has played all over the province at his field, Scotia Arms field, Aylesford, Sambro, Chester and in an abandoned school in Cape Breton.
“Shelburne is an amazing field,” Burrill said. “Outdoor and indoor play at one field with lots of ground. And its one hour away.”
Having hosted at least three previous games over the past two years, Shelburne has emerged as a mecca for players. That's one of the reasons Nova Scotia Airsoft president Jacob Hergett is already planning his group's return this summer.
“Shelburne is a unique location that offers multiple buildings on the same property, which isn't available anywhere else,” said Hergett in an email.
Hergett is also relatively new to airsoft, having become interested about five years ago after watching Internet videos. He would like to see more people become active in the sport.
“There's lots of factors of why people want to get involved,” he said. “Some people aren't interested simply because they don't want to get shot or that's not their type of activity.”
For those willing to try it, all you need to do is come to a game where you will find many players willing to let you try their gear. After all, the more people playing, the better the games.
“I enjoy airsoft because it's a great way to get rid of stress,” said Thibeault. “Being able to shoot my friends every Sunday is pretty great, and I don't have to wash paint out of my gear every time I play.”
(SUBMITTED BY WILLIAM CLARKE)