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A while ago a friend of mine was telling me that he plays “airsoft”. Air+soft… not necessarily a self-explanatory syntax – or is it?

(For the record, when I was a kid we used polyethylene pipes – the rigid tubing used to build the cable ducts in concrete walls / floors / ceilings – cut 80-120 cm long to shoot paper cones by blowing HARD. Some idiots would put needles in the cones’ tips, which was rather dangerous, but most sane kids would not. Definitely, by the end of the day the areas around our blocks were white from the “used ammo”, cones of paper all over and, naturally, all parents and neighbors outraged by the insane mess we left behind. Those devices were using “air” and the ammunition was indeed soft. But it required a lot of effort to blow hard through an entire day, and ammo was scarce and difficult to make out of notebook sheets. Eh… those were the days…)

The game ofย  “airsoft” has been played for the first time in Japan, around 1970. Since the Japanese law forbids ordinary citizens to own/use firearms (a pretty decent idea, the same is valid here in Romania as well) people started using tiny (6 mm, 0,2 – 0,3 g) plastic balls to shoot each other with. Around this leisure activity an enormous industry has grown in a very short time, since this game provides good entertainment and lets people getย  close to military-grade combat – as close as possible within a given set of safety constraints. It allows them to carry military-style equipment (suits, vests), protections (elbow- and knee-protections, helmets, safety goggles – by the way, the safety goggles are MANDATORY in an airsoft-playing area / complex!), comms systems (radios, groovy!) and, most important, “WEAPONS”. Ok, ok, not the real “iron” but a close enough replica, made of better – or less better – materials, like iron, ABS, aluminum or plastic. These devices are usually powered by a separate power supply like a gas tank (as is in paintball) or an electric battery. There are bolt-action devices as well: sniper rifles, shotguns and pistols. A lot can be said about it, but I’ll let you parse the Wikipedia article where you’ll find more details and links.

Ok, so… Given that I have a wonderful hobby (RC air models, of which you’ll find a lot of posts on this blog) which unfortunately does not involve physical activities almost at all, and given also the fact that I long for target practice since I left the military (16 years ago) I thought I should give it a try. Unfortunately Razvan lives some 200 km from Bucharest, so joining him for a weekend shootout was not exactly comfortable. Therefore I found out a local guy – looks like there are at least 6 “squads” in Bucharest – and he planned for a Sunday event. The weather was not exactly friendly, so I woke up on Sunday at 7:00 AM to find out an offline message “event canceled due to the bad weather”. WTF?! It’s bloody Sunday, it’s bloodier 7:30 AM, I’m damn awake and I’m in for attending a game! .Ok, the forum said there’s something going on since 9:00 in a downtown complex, so I’m in. 20 minutes later I end in the designated parking area of an abandoned bread factory (the complex I told you about), all alone, a desolated layout of ruins being the only host around. Minutes later, two seniors show up to take their dogs for the morning walk. In the ruins. It does not take much, however, for the first “combatants” to show up and start preparing. A bunch of very nice guys, who answer my burst of questions – beyond what I’ve managed to read beforehand on the web – and also let me wield their replicas. (Note: the preferred term in airsoft is NOT “weapon” but “replica”, since the device is not a toy – it develops dangerous energies – but not a weapon either; although very similar to the real stuff on the outside, it cannot fire military ordnance due to it totally different internals.) Being aware of the safety rules, I brought my own safety goggles – fortunately the ones I bought for use with my power tools are “1FT” grade, which means protection against particles with energies up to 4 J (“F”) and incandescent (“T”). Ok, so much for the incandescence, but still, it doesn’t hurt. Had them tested too by firing several BB (Ball Bullets) at them from close range with a powerful weapon. Test successful, so all I need is my vest and… let’s join the guys shooting. They shot BBs, I shot pictures.

The outcome was pretty impressive. Here you can see some of the photos (the comments are entirely mine…), but what’s not in “teh picz” is what happened behind the camera. I got blasted by a pretty long burst (for my standards), because I made the imprudence to show indoor, in front of a couple of shooters, against a bright, sunlit, background. Under these circumstances, unless you glow brightly, nobody will notice a white cap and/or a reflecting vest. So? A couple of BBs on my left arm and a shattered glass for my watch. Shattered glass which I didn’t even notice – it has been pointed to me by a “killed” rifleman in the safe zone, after the round ended ๐Ÿ˜€ A fortunate incident, since my wife wants to replace my watch anyway and was already looking for an excuse :))

Overall, a wonderful morning. The guys were pretty exhausted after 4 or 5 rounds (it involves running, climbing stairs, jumping obstacles, crouching, spotting/hiding, precision shooting, and it was like 27 degrees Celsius, and these guys were wearing full combat outfits with jackets, boots, vests, helmets – some of them – face masks etc.). Quite good exercise! I was happy to have gathered a lot of photos, and to have met some very nice people – and shoot some BBs in the process as well. I’ve also earned the “Combat Journalist” airsoft perk – I hope the guys won’t mind, since I received the baptism of fire… Now I’ll have to negotiate another hobby – hopefully I’ll have the argument of some effort and better physical condition ๐Ÿ˜€ – within a reasonable budget. Tough times ahead…

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