South Africa APG story

South Africa APG article
South Africa APG story




U.S. Team Tours South Africa

By Russell Maynard

Action Pursuit Games Magazine, November 1988

It was late in the afternoon on a weekday early in May when I got the call. Todd Inman, captain of the "Green Machine" from the D.C. area, was on the line. After briefly discussing our health's and the weather on each coast, Todd got down to the main reason for his call.

"How'd you like to go with the 'Machine' on a paintball trip at the end of this month? It's a 10-day tour to South Africa to play three of their best teams for their national championship. Except for Canada, this will be the first time a team from the U.S. has competed in a major tournament in another country. It's all been arranged, everything's taken care of. All you have to do is send me your passport so we can get you a visa, then get out here by the 20th to make the flight."

"Sounds interesting," I said, trying to take it all in. "Let me see if I can make arrangements. South Africa?"

We talked a little longer about the trip, about South African politics, and about the way paintball is played over there. Like me, Todd had a lot more questions than answers. And the only way to get answers was to make the trip.

Paintball in South Africa. Paintball in the land of the Zulu, the land of gold and diamonds, the land of Apartheid. Like most Americans, my knowledge of the Republic of South Africa was limited to what I saw on TV or read in the papers; the picture they paint isn't pretty. But I've traveled in foreign countries enough to know the general media is often one-sided and prone to settle for sensationalism rather than objective reporting. (Just look at how paintball has been portrayed to the general public.) Here was a chance to see for myself what is going on over there - not to mention the chance to play a little P-ball. Besides, how many chances in a lifetime do you get to travel halfway 'round the world ... expenses paid!

May 19th: L.A. to Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh to D.C., D.C. to N.Y. I've already flown 2,500 miles and the real trip hasn't even begun yet. (Oh God, please don't let them lose my paintgun and gear! May 20th: N.Y. to Zurich with an eight-hour stopover; enough time to walk through the town and sample the Old World cuisine of Switzerland. (How 'bout $18 for a tasteless roast beef sandwich and a beer? But it's a picturesque city.) Then it's back on a plane for the final leg of the trip, 6,000 miles to Johannesburg.

By now we're all a little stir crazy. You can see it in our eyes - too little sleep, too many miles and too much airplane alcohol has given us a major case of jet-lag hangover. Only the superb service and amenities of S.A. Airlines keeps us from completely freaking out.

But there's no complaining. These "Machiners" are experienced travelers. Over the years they have amassed quite a record as paintball's premier vagabonds. In addition to attending practically every major U.S. tourney since'85, they were the first U.S. team to go to Canada for a major tournament, and in '86 they flew to Hawaii to play in the aborted Hawaiian Open Tournament.

Along for this trip are 10 "Green Machine" regulars: Todd Inman (the captain), Don deKieffer (the man responsible for setting up the trip), Bob Linn, brothers Chris and Don Abrahams, Jamie Martinez, Les Woodruff, Dan Fordham, Sean Conlon, and young Jacky Nugent. Filling out the 17-man team are myself and a squad from the "L.R.R.P.s" (the "L.R.R.P.s" and the "Machine" are from the same locate, and have been playing together as teammates or competitors since paintball came to D.C.). Jim Joseph, Kim Codoly, Mike Hill, Mike Sorocinsky, Allen Beavers and Dennis Smith are quality players and trusted traveling companions.

Some of us are directly involved with the paintball business. Todd, Dan and Don (Abrahams) operate the Adventure Sports store in Maryland, Chris owns the Virginia Adventure Games field, and Jim Joseph runs the Ultimate Adventure field. The rest are your typical paintballer mix: Codoly's an accountant, deKieffer's a lawyer, Les works as a bartender, Jack's a college student, etc., etc. All are avid players, and only Don deKieffer and Bob Linn have ever been to S. Africa before.

At last we touch down in Johannesburg. It's a bright, sunny, warm afternoon. It's sooo nice to be on the ground again, to have a real horizon-to look at instead of the inside of a fuselage. A short walk takes us through Customs (no armed guards, no cops, no searches for contraband - hmm I thought S. Africa was a police state) and then through the main gate.

What a reception! A couple of dozen South African paintballers and their ladies are there to welcome us. They've been waiting for hours, and the party has already begun! Their joyous mood energizes us, lifts our spirits. Within five minutes they are treating us like long lost brothers.

Grinning and joking through the introductions, everyone talking at the same time, they load us into their cars and caravan into Joburg (as they call it) to the hotel we'll be staying at. The celebration continues in the lobby, up to our rooms, back down to the bar. That night we're wined and dined in proper fashion at a restaurant owned by a local paintball field operator. Welcoming speeches, good food and paintball talk late into the evening. We share stories and information on how the game is played here and over there. They have seen our high-tech guns and can't stop talking about them. More beers and more bragging about who will do what to whom when we play the next day. A few "Machiners" exchange glances ... if these guys play as good as they party, we're in serious trouble!

I wake up before dawn. I'm groggy, still jet-lagged, but my internal clock thinks it's time to get up. Maybe a walk will make me feet better.

It's 5 a.m. outside, and Johannesburg is just starting to come alive. The hotel we're staying at is downtown, and as I walk the streets this city could be any large metropolis in the States. New and old highrises crowd each other for the skyline, cars clog the parking spaces lining the one-way streets, early morning - workers hustle along the sidewalks coming from or going to their homes. A few homeless are sleeping in corners.

At this hour almost all the people I see are black. I'm looking for signs of the racial tensions the media dwells on but I don't notice anything overt. No gangs roam the streets, no cops are on patrol No burned-out buildings, very little graffiti on the walls (and what there is is in a language I can't read), neither hostile nor subservient looks from the people I pass. I'm a stranger in a city that feels slightly strange, slightly foreign. But I feel less threatened here than I would in parts of LA. or N. Y at this hour.

Back to the hotel to pack my gear and grab a bite to eat, then we pile into cars for the trip to the field. Most of the "Green Machiners" look like extras from Night of the Living Dead (not to worry, they're used to playing without sleep). The Transvaal players, on the other hand, are still in a festive mood and ready to go. I'm beginning to think they party like this all the time.

The field is called Survival Games Randburg. It's operated by Wolf Schadeburg and Dan Bright. Only 20 minutes out of the city, it's off a main highway next to a drive-in movie. The 20+ acres we'll be playing on varies from groves of eucalyptus with dense brush underneath, to open sections of dry grass with a few trees scattered about. The place is so similar to the fields of SoCal, it's eerie!

This day's format will be repeated throughout the trip: Teams of 15 playing three 45-minute games, whoever takes two of three will be the winner. A flag capture and hang wins automatically, otherwise, it will be decided on body count.

The "Green Machine" had originally intended to play with 12-gram guns, but all the C02 powerlets we packed for the trip were misplaced by one of the airlines and never made it to South Africa (we later learned that our case Of C02s never made it out of N.Y.). Luckily, Don deKieffer had made back-up arrangements for a 40-pound bulk tank and adapter hose, and we had all brought 7-oz. constant-air tanks for our guns (at $2.50 wholesale for a 12gram powerlet, there's no way we could have afforded to buy locally!).

The Transvaal All-Stars primarily are armed with modified Splatmasters; a few players have stock Nel-Spots. To keep the game affordable, they modify their paintguns to function off of an 8-gram refillable powerlet manufactured there. Likewise, since imported paintballs cost 25 to 50 cents each, they play with locally made seamless latex balls that are injected with marking dye. These thick-skinned balls often fail to break on impact, so in their walk-on games they count a hit as an elimination whether or not it leaves a splat mark. When they play team games they use our kind of paintballs and only count splats, but (again because of the cost) they usually restrict the amount of paint allowed per team in a game - 40 rounds per player is typical.

Since the "Green Machine's" tour had been sponsored to 10,000 rounds by the Bullseye Paint Ball Co. of Island Park, N.Y. and, in addition, each of us had brought along at least an extra 1,000 rounds to sell, we are able to supply them with plenty of paint at 10 cents a ball. This allows both teams to shoot as much paint as they want (and gives us "Machiners" with our high-tech guns, a distinct advantage). The Transvaal team, though, has the advantage of familiarity with the field, and they use a rule modification that could give us a lot of problems: Teams are allowed to hide their flag anywhere they want on the field, so we will have to find their flag before we can capture it!

The horn blows and the game is on. The "Green Machine" advances steadily but cautiously in a balanced, three-squad (left, right & middle) formation. The Transvaal strategy is to take and hold key points, usually where the cover is the thickest, while other squads advance to meet us. When our squads engages theirs, all hell breaks loose. They have never before experienced the effect of covering-fire nor fire and-movement tactics. For guys who are used to shooting five or six rounds a game, being pinned down by a barrage of paintballs is a real eye-opener! As one of them admitted later that day, "We nearly pissed ourselves from the shock!". Welcome to the world of American style paintball, boys.

But the Transvaal team is no pushover. They are experienced, fearless players, experts at concealment and deadly shots. The "Machiners" have to hunt them down and shoot them out of every position. They would give but wouldn't break. We win the first and second games but only by the slimmest of body-count margins, and we didn't get close to their flag either time.

For the third game, we trade off players and equipment so the Transvaal paintballers can have a chance to experience how we play. Noel, one of the few female players in S.A., joins in and gets a chance to show her skill. It doesn't take them long to adapt to our firepower and maneuverability techniques. If they had been comparably armed, I doubt we could've beaten them on their home field.

Right after the third game we have to pack up and hurry to the airport to catch our flight to Durban. We say our goodbyes and thank yous to the Transvaal players, but we will be seeing many of them again when we finished off the tour in Cape Town. And since they have bought most of our extra guns and gear, they are vowing to revenge their loss the next time.

From the Southern California climate of Johannesburg in the Transvaal Province, we headed southeast to the seaport/resort town of Durban in Natal Province. The weather there is semi tropical, much like the Florida coast. Again we are complimentary guests at a Kondotel Inns hotel. (This corporation was a prime sponsor of the trip, and I can't praise them enough for their care, consideration and accommodations.) For a day we enjoy the sights and activities of Durban. The conversion rate of the U.S. dollar to S.A. rand is a real bonus, and we take advantage of our buying power by picking up African souvenirs from the street markets and stores.

Then we are driven northwest, up into the Drakensberg Mountains. Such beautiful country! It's easily the equal of California's Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but the Drakensberg is an unspoiled, virgin wonderland compared to our overcrowded, touristy parks. Kondotel has a lodge nestled away in a valley just above the 6,000-ft. elevation. That's where we will stay and play the Natal paintball team.

The field is a huge square. It has to be at least 600 yards on a side! Most of it is covered by a pine tree forest, with a large pasture of knee-high grass surrounding it on three sides. The only way to play this one is to form a skirmish line, with about a 30-yd. interval between players, and flush them out of their hiding places in the woods. In both of the games, "Green Machine" is able to use its firepower tactics to herd the Natal players into pockets. Their inexperience shows as we hang their flag in both games. We don't play a third game - the altitude, heat and size of the field has taken too much out of us (not to mention the all-night drinking parties).

It is at the Drakensberg game that we begin to notice an interesting phenomenon: The S.A. paintball representatives and the Kondotel organizers who are traveling with us have begun to adopt the "Green Machine" as their team. They have always been friendly, but now they are rooting for us to beat S.A. players. The more time we spend together, the more they are opening their hearts to us. We are making strong friendships that will last well beyond the 10-day trip. No one is looking forward to having to say goodbye.

Back to Durban for a day, then back on a plane for the flight south to Cape Town. More of the celebrity treatment, first-class accommodations all the way. Wherever we go Kondotel's tag team of Dawn and Caroline take care of all our needs.

Meanwhile, my reporter's instincts keep searching for information and opinions on the country's political problems, I came here with no doubts that Apartheid is wrong. A political and social philosophy based on the inherent supremacy of one race over another cannot be endured. Yet from what I see and am told, the issues within S.A. are not so much racial as cultural. Three centuries of suppression and segregation have created today's situation where blacks and whites are both trapped in a downward spiral of fear and frustration. The blacks outnumber the whites 10 to 1 in South Africa and as the majority they should have control of the country's future. But the majority of blacks are still locked into the tribal-warrior ways of their forefathers and lack the education necessary to hold a job, far less run an economically advanced state.

The South Africans I got to know well enough for them to feel comfortable talking openly about it admit they are caught in a power struggle not of their own making. The long history of Apartheid has prevented a black economic and educational middle-class from evolving, and it has also prevented blacks and whites from sharing a common concern for the prosperity of their homeland. The truth is, I didn't meet a single while South African who was pro Apartheid. Most I spoke with want to see black South Africans not only gain equality but assume leadership roles. What they do not want to see is what has happened in Angola and Mozambique where a native takeover of the government has led to economic collapse and political chaos.

The problems of South Africa are not simple, and neither are the answers. Clearly, the oppression must stop - not just switch sides. But the longer the disease goes untreated, the less chance the patient has of surviving.

Cape Town is a jewel; a beautiful city with a climate similar to San Francisco. Our spring is their fall, so the weather this time of the year is perfect for paintball.

The Cape Province team is more experienced than the Natal group but not as well organized as the Transvaal players. We take them in two games straight. With better equipment and more team competition, they will develop quickly. They have the heart for it and a genuine appreciation for the sport. In typical South African style, they give us a "Brei" (barbecue) afterwards, and we share trophies and picture taking sessions.

Late that afternoon, the Transvaal players come chugging in to the field. They've been partying since they got on the plane in Joburg four hours ago and already are feeling no pain (so what else is new?). Once again, their jovial spirit is infectious. Soon we are exchanging friendly insults and outrageous lies about our paintballing skills. Tonight we party, tomorrow we'll play for the last time.

Morning comes and we gather around our flag base. This field is the best we've seen in S.A., one of the best I've ever played on anywhere. Good cover but not overgrown, a nice sandy base to lay on and crawl around. There are several small hills and valleys, no more than 60 feet high, that break up the predominately flat terrain and make tactics more interesting.

The horn blows and we charge out to meet the Transvaal team. Now about half of 'em are armed with the back-up guns we sold them, and they expect to beat us now that the firepower advantage has been evened out some. We meet in the middle, but it is they who have to retreat into defensive positions. We keep pushing but can't break through, and the game ends in a draw (both sides have agreed to only count flag hangs as wins).

In the second game the Transvaal team tries a power play hoping to catch us out of position. They send an assault force of 10 yelling and charging right down the middle, which the "Green Machine" promptly annihilates. After that, it is just a matter of cleaning up the defenders and pulling their flag for a win. The funny thing is, though, if they had waited another two or three minutes - long enough for us to have spread out across the field their assault very well might have worked. As it was, they ran into 10 of us instead of the four who were designated to hold the middle.

The last game is also exciting and different. This time the "Machine" would play a little defense for a change ... Actually, we were feeling old and slow, and didn't move out quick enough to gain the advantage ... Beside which, a couple of us got confused and swung to the wrong side of the field. Anyway, we ended up forming an ambush in one of the valleys and, as luck would have it, managed to draw the Transvaal's assault squad into it. We sprung the trap, and that was that.

That night at the presentation of awards, the "Machiners" had a chance to express their gratitude for the way they were treated. We came as guests but would part as lifelong friends.

The idea of the trip was to use paintball as a common link to bring people together to share and compete in a sport we all love. That was the original guiding concept and philosophy behind the Olympics, which unfortunately has since been lost. I don't think paintball will solve the world's ideological differences, but it is an honorable, enabling way to bring people together - it is something worth sharing. And only through communication and sharing can there be understanding.

The "Green Machine" wishes to thank all the sponsors, organizers and especially the players who made the trip possible and so enjoyable. It wouldn't have happened without the efforts of Don deKieffer. Kondotel Inns, S.A. Airlines, IGI Insurance and several other regional sponsors in South Africa contributed money and resources, while from the States Bullseye Paint Ball Co. and Tiger Stripe Products, Inc. helped out by sponsoring the "Green Machine" with paintballs and uniforms.


The South Africa trip was the apotheosis of paintball. It represented the very soul of the sport. Writers, workers, rich, poor, hirsute, shaven, foreigners all, respected each other. Fatuous priests urge brotherhood in theory. This experience demonstrated it in practice. There was not a drop of adrenaline left in anyone bv the time the plane departed. The sheer excitement of South Africans, even in defeat, cheering us with abandon was one of the most extraordinary events anyone could experience.

That is the beauty of this sport. It is not polo, bowling, chess or rugbv. It allows. it encourages real people from every conceivable background to excel, That's why I play. That is what South Africa proved. 

Donald E. deKieffer

I've been playing paintball regularly since 1983 and as a squad leader of the "Green Machine" have had the pleasure of taking several trips and playing in some great tournaments. They all pale, however, in comparison with our recent excursion to that land of mystery and adventure: Africa (South Africa, to be precise).

Beginning with cocktails and dinner at the South African Ambassador's residence in Washington, D.C. and ending with trophy presentations (and an insane night of partying) in Cape Town, this tour was one that all present will never forget. The sponsors of the tour (Kondotel Inns) treated us like royalty throughout, and the opposing teams went quickly from being adversaries to close friends, (this Castle's for you, Stu and James).

Despite being outgunned those guys played us tough every game, and never did a hint of poor sportsmanship rear its ugly bead. Almost every player on the S.A, teams has had front-line duty in their Armed Services and they certainly are no novices when it comes to wild and woolly combat (on a level considerably more serious than paintball), yet they realized that this is sport. We Americans have a head start and they were anxious to hear anything we had to say on the subjects of equipment, tactics, etc. As a matter of fact, all of us returned empty handed, having sold all our equipment to eager South Africans. One thing is for sure, those guys are serious about their paintball and will in time provide serious (and welcome) competition for American teams on an international level.

Dan Fordham

Montreal, Daytona Beach, Houston Pittsburgh, Jim Thorpe, Honolulu, Newburg ... they all seemed so mundane now. I'm afraid this last trip will be hard to top. Johannesburg, Drakensburg, Cape Town, Durban and, for a half day each in transit Zurich and London, in the language of my occupation, have all been etched into ROM. 

A few memories stand out:

Being quietly advised - as we stood surveying roughly a half-mile square of virgin playing field on a plateau 6,000 feet above sea level, deep in the bush of South Africa, facing a team of seasoned guerilla fighters - to watch out for cobras and bushmasters and 10-foot pits leading to underground rivers. Two-out-of-three turned out to be true!

Having the Transvaal team cheer us on as we beat the stuffings out of the Cape Town team, and then all 50 of us proceeding to party until the wee hours of the morning in one of South Africa's most beautiful (and infamous) resort districts.

Day in and day out of red carpet treatment almost daily "bries" (big outdoor barbeques) TV and newspaper interviews, grandiose awards presentations; nights (after night, after night) of "merrymaking" with adversaries-by-day determined to negatively affect our following day's performance (in other words, trying to drink us under the table); tacit permission by our hotel chain hosts to engage in extemporaneous guerilla warfare - "shower kills" (pellets inside the showerheads), road wars on the way back to Cape Town (they were madly driving the "combies"), and hotel hallway shootouts (they loved it).

The "Green Machine" is proud to be contributing to the internationalization of our sport -- politics be damned, I'd love to trade shots, both ballistic and beverage, with some Russians,

Todd Inman


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