Just outside Fredericton, a little off the beaten path, there is a group of highly trained and dedicated athletes. Their gear is camo and tactical vests. Grenades line their chests and guns hug their sides.
This is not a New Brunswick militia. This is Airsoft New Brunswick. With a social media following of 467 people, airsoft is a sport that is gaining popularity.
Along with other objectives, in a game of airsoft, players shoot enemy athletes that are unlucky enough to find themselves in crosshairs. Airsoft guns shoot small plastic balls called BBs.
Andre Melanson is the leader of Biohazard, an airsoft team. He wears over 30 pounds of gear. With a shotgun on his back, a sub-machine gun in his arms, the multi-camo athlete stands well over six feet tall.
“(Airsoft) is more geared towards the military simulation-type folks,” said Melanson. “(Airsoft) is still unknown here in Eastern and Atlantic Canada but I think we’re moving up there. Hopefully the sport will flourish even more.”
Halfway through the six-hour game, Melanson and his team were dripping with sweat. Airsofters will tell you that it’s a cardio workout.
“With paintball you can get everybody from your grandfather to anyone else, but airsoft is a different breed. It requires a lot more maturity.”
Aside from following orders, airsofters follow an honor code. In paintball if you are hit, there’s a paint stain on your clothes. In airsoft, players have to call out when they are hit. They place red rags on their heads to mark their hit.
“Tactics and communication are two of the main things,” said Melanson. During the game, many players have radios to communicate quietly with one another.
Jason Hanley is the co-founder of Airsoft New Brunswick. He is excited about the future of the sport in the province.
“There’s definitely a lot more clubs popping up,” said Hanley. “When we first started in 2009, there were only one or two other groups. With Facebook and Youtube people are starting to catch on.”
Aside from Fredericton, there are airsoft clubs in Saint John, Moncton, Bathurst, Miramichi and Oromocto.
On Sept 27, two men were arrested in Edmonton for carrying an airsoft rifle in public. Airsoft New Brunswick players and staff worry about the negative light shed on airsoft in the media. Some worry that their sport will be criminalized.
“A lot of people don’t know about it and there are a lot of misconceptions, especially with the guns,” said Melanson. “Some people are being irresponsible and showing their guns in public which causes police response.”
Melanson says the thrill of the sport and the community keeps him coming back. After his first time, he was hooked. Airsoft has been misunderstood in the media as a scary and harmful sport. Airsoft New Brunswick shows the sport as thrilling, inclusive and fun.
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