Military police will meet you at the gate, ask you where you’re going and request to see your license and registration. Once you provide the necessary documentation and tell them you’re just there for paintball, drive about seven miles straight into the camp. Look for a brown building with paintball supplies and hoards of kids (most players appear to be under the age of 13) setting up their gear out front.
Once you enter the premises, it’s clear that you’re in non-fatal-combat heaven. The base has six separate paintball arenas, each with its own unique set of barricades, obstacles and terrain. The fan favorite is an arena the size of a football field, with plenty of retired military vehicles to hide behind (a rusty tank, an old trailer, a downed airplane) plus trenches and makeshift huts for added protection against small children wielding guns.
For players with their own equipment, the price is $15, but if you lack the gun, face mask, paintballs and ammunition belt, the full day rental package is $45. For those trying to save up for the next edition of “Halo”, go on a Friday, when rental walk-ons can play for only $30.
The rental package includes a disturbingly lethal-looking gun, 500 paintballs, an ammo carrying case and a mask that smells deadly in and of itself. If you have never touched anything even vaguely resembling a gun, a staffer is on hand to help fumbling new players figure out how to load and shoot. Once a stocky Marine shouts the basic rules at you, it’s game on.
Walk-ons are divided into two teams, one group sporting bright yellow headbands, and separated on opposite ends of the arena. The five-minute game begins when the Marine shouts “Go!” and it’s an adrenaline-fueled fight to the finish — or just a haphazard scramble to make it out without getting shot in the face. To survive the elimination-style feeding frenzy, you have to keep moving. Tips: Hiding in buildings isn’t as useful as you might think, due to gaping holes in the walls, and moving around without a buddy doesn’t make you look cool, it just makes you easy prey. But all clever strategies go out the window once the firing begins — it’s every man for himself.
Even though paintballing is as fake as Super Smash Brothers, the experience inside the arena is intense. Running from building to building and stumbling over fake rubble adds to the collection of bruises running down your arms and yes, you will get bruised — a lot.
Pair your weekend attire with a long-sleeved jacket and jeans to avoid getting shot on bare skin. Also, the paint stains, so don’t show up wearing your favorite white V-neck from American Apparel unless you feel like adding some Pollock flair.
If the idea of spending a day running away from perfect strangers (most of whom are still in middle school) while they shoot mercilessly at you sounds fun, Camp Pendleton is your best bet. It’s an exciting, physically demanding experience that, at the very least, will make you better appreciate your overworked “Call of Duty” avatar.