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Does it hurt? "Depends on where you get hit," says Ryan Greenspan, a member of Dynasty, a San Diego--based paintball team. "If I were to get shot in the arm or chest or body or back, it can feel like anything from someone flicking you with a finger to a light slap. But if I were to get shot in the inner thigh or under the arm, it definitely, definitely stings; it's more along the lines of a bee sting, and those stay around a lot longer. You can have bruises for a month." Dynasty, the highest-ranked paintball team in the world, is one of 200 teams competing at Qualcomm Stadium this weekend in part four of the five-part National Paintball Professional League World Series.

"More and more we are seeing a lot of paintball fans," says Chuck Hendsch, president of the National Paintball Professional League. "Especially [for] Dynasty. They have a ton of fans, typically kids from 10 to 18 years old.

"It's kind of a different culture, similar to skating and BMX culture, but it's more techie. [The fan base is composed of] more computer-literate kids who are into gaming. It's like being in a video game when you play."

It was 1984 when, as a senior in high school, Hendsch first tried the sport. In those days players would have to change their CO2 tank after 12 shots. "Today [the guns] hold 200 rounds, and they can shoot up to 22 balls per second in semiautomatic rapid-fire," says Hendsch. Tournament rules allow one paintball per trigger pull for safety reasons.

The paintball gun is known as a "marker," as its purpose is to mark its victims with bright color. Small capsules resemble, in both form and ingredients, a bath oil bead. A paintball is defined as "a thin-skinned gelatin capsule with a colored 'paint' inside [food dye is used as coloring]. They are nontoxic, biodegradable, and rinse out of clothing and off skin with just water."

Though yellow and orange are the most popular paint colors (pink is not allowed in tournaments because it stains), the exterior of the capsules come in many hues. "You'll see streams of color shooting down," says Camille Baker, director of marketing for the National Paintball Professional League. "The actual shell of the ball can be everything from blue, green, hot pink, black, silver, and gold, just like bath beads." Pharmaceutical companies manufacture paintballs with the same technology used in making drug capsules.

The paintball marker is a sophisticated weapon. CO2 tanks, sold separately, contain compressed air at a pressure of around 4500 pounds per square inch. A valve on the tank, or "bottle," regulates the pressure so that when the marker is shot it is using anywhere from 400 to 800 pounds per square inch, according to Greenspan. To give you an idea as to the force behind such a shot, 400 pounds per square inch would be equivalent to the pressure exerted by a car balancing on an area the size of a driver's license.

In terms of expense, Hendsch compares paintball to golf. "If you go out and you rent all of the equipment, you might spend 25 to 30 bucks to play a round of golf. You can do the same thing in paintball." For $200 you can buy a complete kit at Wal-Mart. Likening markers to golf clubs, Hendsch adds, "You can buy the standard club or the one that Tiger Woods uses."

Greenspan, who helped Dynasty win a record eight tournaments in a row in the European paintball circuit, says, "Blown-out knees are by far the worst injuries I have seen. This happens when you put strain on [the knee] by running and stopping to pivot and [the tendons in your knee] twist and tear." This happened to one of Dynasty's members. "When you get surgery for that, you're out for 8 to 12 months." -- Barbarella

National Paintball Professional League World Series Friday, September 16, through Sunday, September 18 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Qualcomm Stadium 7449 Friars Road Mission Valley Cost: Free ($10 parking Saturday and Sunday) Info: 714-536-9050 or www.paintballworldseries.com

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