A unique outdoor activity has people from all around the province flocking to Central Alberta.
Red Deer Airsoft Assault Teams (RAAT), is the club that organizes games and meetings for the sport, and is quickly gaining a reputation as being one of the province’s top hosts.
“We’ve probably got one of the best fields in Alberta,” said RAAT president Daryn Blondheim.
“The guys from Calgary, Edmonton and Grande Prairie, as soon as we post a game, they’re the first ones to sign up.”
RAAT includes members from all over Central Alberta, who take part in airsoft events at the club’s field in Red Deer County near Sylvan Lake.
Team- and individual-based games similar to those played in paintball are held, and participants try to shoot each other with small plastic pellets using an airsoft gun.
Unlike paintballs, which leave a mark on objects they hit, airsoft pellets leave no mark. For that reason, games are played using an honour system, in which players must admit to being shot.
Blondheim said games are played at a quick pace, and can last for a number of hours. Military simulation games can run up to ten hours in length, and often replicate the sights and sounds of a war zone.
“Typically when you get into some of the bigger games like that, (organizers) start bringing in pyrotechnics,” said Blondheim. “A lot of guys are wearing actual military-grade equipment. It gets pretty immersive.”
The projections of airsoft pellets create the potential for bodily harm, and so it is mandatory for players to wear appropriate safety gear, including protective eyewear.
Blondheim has been involved with RAAT for five years, and has seen the sport grow steadily during that time.
“I remember when we first started, having six or eight guys out to play, that was pretty cool,” he said, adding that weekly games now attract anywhere between 15 and 25 people.
“The sport is growing by leaps and bounds. People are buying all the toys and they’re looking for a place to play. That’s where we come in.”
As a private club, RAAT does not freely recruit members. Instead, potential members must first compete in several RAAT-organized games, in what Blondheim refers to as an “evaluation process”.
Airsoft players are welcome to participate in RAAT games, however, and may do so by joining the club’s online forum at http://raat.hyperboards.com/. There, they will find information pertaining to coming games, the club field’s location, equipment requirements and necessary player prerequisites.
New members are asked to post their name and a short introduction outlining their airsoft background and how they learned about the club.
Since the club’s field is situated on private property, its location cannot be publicly disclosed.
“We welcome anybody and everybody,” said Blondheim. “This time of year, there’s a lot of new faces and people that we don’t know yet.”
A new initiative for RAAT is its youth program, which aims at teaching airsoft to children between the ages of 12 and 15.
The primary purpose of the program is to educate children on how to safely use airsoft equipment, to ultimately lower their risk of injury while taking part in the sport.
“With how real these guns look, it scares me to have kids running around school yards with this stuff,” said Blondheim. “As a club, we figured we can’t control whether these kids are getting these things, so if they’re going to get them, we might as well step up to the plate and at least provide them with a safe place to do it where its structured and very supervised.”
Newcomers to the sport will be guided around the club’s field by Blondheim, and introduced to the games played by the club. They’ll also be taught proper safe handling of an airsoft gun, as well as club and game rules.
“When we’re out on the field, we really take the mindset that we all understand they’re toy guns and they don’t shoot real ammunition, they shoot little plastic pellets, but we treat them very much like they’re real,” said Blondheim.
Further information on the RAAT youth program is also available by accessing the club’s online forum.