Surf City Open draws competitors of all ages

Josiah Whitesinger had a look of determination on his face as he wiped his goggles clean before his paintball match.

Whitesinger, who traveled from Chinle, Ariz., with his family, stood in the pit area focusing on preparing for his matches Saturday morning, ignoring the sounds of double triggers slapping the frames of guns and paintballs hitting inflatable barriers.

Along with hundreds of other professional paintballers, the 12-year-old participated in the National Professional Paintball League Surf City Open, now in its 11th year.

Around 116 teams in six divisions, from pros to "young guns," were vying for cash prizes and a spot in the final tournament in Las Vegas.

"It's pretty tough, but we hold up pretty good," Whitesinger said about playing against bigger and older players. "We're small, but we take advantage of that."

Whitesinger was accompanied by his father, sister, uncles and a cousin. They weren't just there as spectators, however, but rather as his teammates.

"We started playing eight years ago, but we never thought we'd be here," Josiah's father Edward Whitesinger said. "We started off just messing around, but now we're in every competition across the country."

The three-day tournament has been fought on the sands of Huntington Beach for more than a decade and has continued to slowly grow, said Mike Peverill, president of the paintball league.

"It's not necessarily small, it's just people's perceptions are different," Peverill said about the paintball scene in Orange County. "You just don't see it in Huntington Beach because there's no real paintball [venue]. California is a hotbed for the paintball industry. It's one of the states that has the highest concentration of not just recreational players, but also tournament players."

Compared to Friday's sunny preliminary round, players were met Saturday with dark skies and a light drizzle, which hampered one team's fun.

"The worst part about it is that the turf gets all slick from the paint and the drizzle," said Matthew Gatti, a 26-year-old player from La Cresenta. "It's like ice. You slip and slide, even in cleats. It's pretty brutal."

Gatti and his Good 4 Nothing teammates said the semifinals were tough, as they battled teams from across the country trying to make it into Sunday's finals.

"It's like cutting the fat from the meat," Good 4 Nothing player Sebastian Rahier said.

But it wasn't just men playing in the tournament. Azuree'D Tucker, a 30-year-old paintballer from Fort Myers, Fla., is part of an all-women's team called Destiny Army.

Tucker said she was introduced to paintball after going to a birthday party nine months ago and has been playing ever since.

"I like making men cry, especially when they figure out that a girl just shot them," she said. "I enjoy that feeling. Then I tell them, 'Yes, I am a girl and you can buy me a drink later.' "

Though it was drizzling Saturday morning, Tucker said Huntington Beach's weather beats playing in Florida, where it's humid.

"You get a breeze every so often and it's beautiful to see the ocean," she said. "It's calming, in a sense, especially when you're not being shot at."

Twitter: @acocarpio

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