Woodsball does not get the respect it deserves. Despite the fact paintball was born in the woods and is still mostly played in the woods, woodsball plays second string to airball in the media. Some old school players have told me it all went downhill after the 1996 NPPL World Cup. Back then, World Cup was not only played in the woods, it was televised on ESPN. (Chew on that for a minute.) But it has been postulated that by its very nature paintball in the woods is not spectator friendly, so airball was created to bring the sport out into the arena where hopefully it might attract outside money. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know, but I do know this: I don’t care about spectators. I like to play paintball. Airball is fun, but woodsball is, too, and I’m not the only one who thinks that way. Enter Tom Cole and the Ultimate Woodsball League. The UWL is a 3- , 5-, and 10-man tournament series played on large, natural fields. Events are held every year across the U.S. as well as the U.K., Belgium, Mexico, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The matches are brutal, 30-minute long gunfights to control 2 flags, 2 bases, and a center objective. Every year, there is also a UWL World Cup Open that coincides with the PSP event at Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, FL. Over the years, numerous current and former pros have played UWL, such as Bob Long, Todd Martinez, and Dave Bains. But when it comes to dominating the woods and sending fear through the hearts of men, there is but one unstoppable duo, the legendary Poynter brothers. Their 5-man team, VIGILANTE, has gone undefeated for two years in a row, racking up 26 unanswered wins and two World Cup trophies. If there was a paintball Hall of Fame, Kyle and Karl Poynter would be shoo-ins. Add their long history in the sport and innumerable other awards and it surprises—no, bothers—me that not everyone knows who they are. Let’s fix that.
Snake: Kyle, you’re the older brother and the original paintball fanatic, while your younger brother, Karl, is a pro BMX rider and your right-hand man on the field. When and where did you first begin playing paintball, what did you first love about it, and what changes have you experienced through your many years in the sport?
Kyle: During the mid to late 80’s, I was into weapons and martial arts and found out about paintball from an ad in the back of a Ninja magazine around 1988. I, along with most teenagers in the 80’s, was a Ninja, but that is to remain classified—ha-ha! My first game was 1 v 1 with a close friend using slingshots (we couldn’t wait until we saved up money for guns). After game one I was all in! My first gun was a Nelspot 007 bolt action (no pump handle). It leaked straight out of the box. The gun was crap, but I still had fun with upgrading it and everything having to do with the sport. We would play anytime and anywhere we could, no matter the weather or location. When it was near time for a new magazine to come out, I would hit up the bookstore every day until I had it in my hands. At the time, this was the only link to other players and anything going on in the paintball world. I was always so psyched to see that new cover (good or bad) on the shelf! Although magazines sometime have inaccurate info and biased writers, I still miss them a lot today. I could go on forever about the old days but I don’t want to bore the new players.
Over the next 10+ years I played and guested for many different teams but was never truly satisfied unless I was in control of how the team was run. I was very picky about who played under my team name (I still am), and it was very difficult to find players that I wanted. So I usually just had smaller teams (4-6 players). My teams won or made the finals in just about every tournament we entered in an era in paintball where you would go to a regional 3-player event and there would be 30-50 teams in attendance. It was always a struggle to find quality or dedicated players and near impossible to find both.
Snake: Karl, despite being really good at it, paintball was not your first love. Did your brother force you to get off your bike once in a while and shoot people with him, or was that something you wanted to do?
Karl: Oh definitely. My brother and I have a 15-year age gap, so Kyle’s earliest years of playing was when I was too young to play. I think back then most fields you had to be at least 13 years old. However, I did first start playing around the age of 8 or 9. I played my first tournament when I was 10 years old. This was a one-on-one tournament in the woods. I remember the side feed-neck snapped off the mechanical autococker I was using in the middle of the event, and I had to finish my games with a borrowed Tippmann 98 with CO2 and all. Believe it or not…I walked away with first place. I will forever keep that trophy on the shelf.
I actually started riding BMX around the same time I first started playing paintball. Again, at the time I was too young to fully be able to compete and travel around with my brother and his teams. Also, my heart and focus went first to BMX as it was an individual sport. I really liked that, and so did my brother. Even at a young age, I witnessed the struggles he would have finding dedicated players, running a team, and so on. I did get to go to some tournaments with his teams to watch, and I loved it. There are plenty of games I remember vividly of Kyle completely shredding guys. I would always daydream about being on the field with him. I also remember always crying and begging to go with him to these tournaments and he would feel bad telling me no. I felt it didn’t matter that I was just a 9-year-old kid. I wanted to go! I think it was kind of a dream Kyle had for the both of us to someday get to truly play and compete together when I became older. I had the same dream. That dream came true and now we’ve accomplished so much together in paintball. It’s been a fun ride and some of the best times of my life!
Snake: What’s the story behind your team, VIGILANTE?
Kyle: There was a time where I took a break from competitive paintball for several reasons. We lost our mother to cancer and it was a very difficult time for Karl and I, as well as being burned out on the local scene and not finding the players I wanted to play with. Another big factor was that Karl wanted to get into playing but was too young at the time and most fields you had to be 13 to even play rec. Although I loved the game, I didn’t want to see him waste his time, dedication, and drive on a team-based sport. Over the next several years we focused on BMX and the start of our shop (www.hardcoresportz.com) but still played on a semi-regular basis. In 2004, Karl was a teenager and was able to play in tournaments, so I decided to form VIGILANTE.
Karl: The first tournament under the VIGILANTE name was at Badlandz in Crete, IL. We decided to jump straight into a 3-man series that had already been going. The players were my brother, a 14-year-old kid who had been helping at our shop, and me at 16 years old. This event was on an airball field and the famous zipper hyperball field. It felt great beating out 28 teams being the only team using all mechanical guns and the only team who had a player using CO2.
Kyle: Although our first event was successful and a lot of fun, the tournament style of paintball was focusing on guns with high rates of fire and shooting lots of paint and not focusing on everything the sport had to offer. So I decided to start playing with pumps. Not only to cut down on playing costs, but mainly to develop the team’s skills and overall game. Over the next five years we would exclusively be a pump team traveling to national events and racking up a pretty solid list of wins. Some of these wins being many 2- and 3-player events throughout the Midwest, OSC events, back to back NPPL DC Cup champions, USPL Eastern Conference champions, winners of the last Chicago NPPL event which had a reputable amount of teams with 16, and more.
At this point, several years of playing mainly airball was getting too repetitious for me. This is where the team getting back into the woods started to happen. A couple of us guested for a team at a UWL event and had a blast. Thankfully, the rest of the guys were ready to get on board and we as a team started focusing on competing in the woods. Today our current line of players is Tom Boyer, Devin Scheitlin, Brian Burris, John Dresser, Karl, and I. I couldn’t ask for a better group of friends and teammates. Each one of these guys brings their own individual talents and dedication to progressing the team as a whole. We’ve been competing in the UWL 5-Man since its inception and have stayed undefeated. VIGILANTE means a lot more to us than just a group of friends on a paintball team, but this gives you a basic summary of the history.
Snake: You are both big proponents of shooting pumps, but I see you shot semis at World Cup this year. Are you still big fans of pumps?
Kyle: We are definitely fans of pump! When I first started playing, I was using a pump because that was what was available, but I never lost interest in pump or stopped playing it. I feel it is the truest form of play. It takes more strategy, movement, and marksmanship to win. I wish there was a tournament series that was on a variety of terrain that was pump only. I’m not sure how many players and teams would actually play it, but we would for sure!
Karl: Although we haven’t been able to focus as much energy as we would like toward it, we still have a lot of ideas in mind for our website and brand devoted to pump at www.artofpump.com. I can’t say too much right now, but we’ll be taking a new approach with AOP. Stay tuned to see what we have in store. Also, we still do things like host our annual Art of Pump Day event, attend events such as SPE, and break out our CCM pumps for some big games.
Snake: So what about UWL’s “tournament-in-the-woods” format really grabbed you guys?
Kyle: Woods is where it’s at! Larger playing fields give opportunities for a better player to make plays and also have a shot at defying the odds, which makes for a better sport in my opinion. As airball became more prevalent, to me it was fun at first but became way too repetitive. It did make the game more sporting with balanced and easier to set up fields, but most of all much better to referee along with making tournament play spectator- and film-friendly. But I feel it was more money- and industry-driven than anything. Shoot tons of paint on small fields with little actual playing time. It took away from the art of the game. To me, there were several reasons airball took off. Mainly, it was because the industry pushed it. Also, it was just easier for the newer tournament player to learn the basics. It’s not hard to figure out where most, if not all, of your opponents are on an airball field. If not, the sidelines can and will tell you. That game is more based on firepower, gun battling and attrition. It takes years to become a solid competitive woods player and some players never get it. The UWL is awesome! It is in the woods but is much more difficult to win than just your basic flag-based games. So many variables that keep the games unique and usually unpredictable, i.e. you can be the lone player alive near your opponent’s base and all ten of the opposing team are re-breaking 50ft in front of you. That will get your adrenaline going no matter how long you have been playing! With 4 flags (2 home and 2 swing), the center objective, and 30-minute games a lot of crazy things happen that I have never seen in tournament paintball. There is a lot of area to cover. If you play hard and want to win, it is very challenging.
Karl: I say this in confidence that the UWL is the most challenging type of paintball I’ve played and competed in. Playing in the woods involves it all, from the athleticism, gun-fighting skills, crawling, speed, the sneaky, sneaky variety of strategies, planning, and much, much more. The field walking in the woods is an art and skill in itself. Now apply the UWL format to what already exists in a tournament in the woods with the flags, point systems, and more, and you have quite a challenging game in front of you. To stay at the top in the UWL you have to apply many different skill sets to win, not just what you need to get by on the airball field. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed a team that mainly focuses playing airball come out to a UWL event and be completely lost on what to do in the woods, losing every prelim game. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to take away from the skills it takes to be competitive and win on airball. I still play airball myself, but I just prefer to be in the woods. What a lot of players who play the league and some that just play airball don’t realize is that there are many players and teams in the competitive woods scene that are very high caliber players (old and new) including multiple World Champions (woods and airball). Sometimes they are playing under new team names or guesting for others, but the experience is still there. Also, everyone is giving it their all just to win a trophy or banner but most of all, respect. And respect from my fellow competitors is what Kyle and I are after. It’s harder to see games in the woods and understand the amazing moves and plays that are made, but the top teams and players know and see what is happening on the field. Some of my most memorable games ever have been at a UWL event. The league is growing every year. Please feel free to get in touch with my brother and me if there’s anything you may have a question on with the UWL or how it operates. We’d be glad to help!
Snake: Can you take us through what you guys do to prepare for a UWL tournament, and then what the events themselves are like? If I’ve never played UWL before and want to get started, what should I do?
Karl: I can’t give all the secrets away, but we do a variety of things to make sure our game is on point going into an event. The main thing is getting as much time behind our guns as possible. This could be a serious practice with specific drills or even something as simple as going to a big game for fun. In a perfect world we would prefer the good ole team-on-team scrimmage, but it’s hard to find that around our area. Both Kyle and I take things a little further than just what we do on the playing field to prepare. We pay attention to other things such as our diet, for example. I’ve been a vegetarian for 12 years now. That’s played a part into both my bike riding and playing paintball. We like staying active and also do things like a lot of cycling on our mountain and road bikes. Kyle is also an avid trail-runner. Endurance can be a big thing, especially in a 10-man UWL game. Being alive in a game and fighting hard for 30 minutes straight is no joke. Endurance is key in a lot of aspects of your game, and I think a lot people don’t realize it, think that far into it, or are just lazy about it. Endurance is not just important with the breakouts at the beginning of the game or sprints from bunker to bunker. It also comes into play with your gun-handling skills along with the mental aspect by helping make wise “in-game” decisions. Without making this super drawn out, let’s just say we pay attention to all the details to perfect our skills. That’s what separates the champions from the rest in just about anything.
As for advice for someone who has never played a UWL before and is wanting to…it’s as simple as driving to an event and checking it out. Bring your gear and play. Unfortunately, as of right now there’s not a lot of quality coverage out there for you to really get a good insight to what a UWL event is like. It’s getting better though, and I’ve tried to contribute to that by doing more photography at events. We get a lot of people wanting to get involved and use the excuse that they don’t have players for a team in their area. We know what that is like, but that’s not enough to stop you. As I say a lot, “Don’t talk about it, be about it!” We’re always down to help players and teams that want to get involved with playing in the woods. We have guested and helped a lot of teams throughout the league and will continue to do so. Don’t hesitate to get in touch and contact us about how we can help you as an individual player or a team as a whole.
Snake: There are numerous UWL events across the U.S. each year, from Chicago to Dallas and Los Angeles to Pittsburgh. Which has been your favorite so far?
Kyle: We like them all! One of the best aspects of competing in the woods is that the terrain always varies. You have to be able to play it all from open fields with long shots that have man-made bunkers to thick brush and vegetation, dirt mounds, rolling hills, etc. The different seasons always play a part in how a certain field is played as well. This is my favorite aspect of competing. Matching our game plan and strategies against our opponents. This past year I would have to say the International Masters event in Chicago would be a favorite. You had teams from all over the United States, Canada, Columbia, Ecuador, Mexico, and more. The two tournament fields in play were very diverse as well.
Snake: Any last words or thanks?
Thanks to all our family, friends, teammates, and supporters. Also, a thank you to our official sponsors Inception Designs, Virtue Paintball, Enola Gaye, and HK Army. Also, thanks to CCM and PbNation for the support and thanks to Social Paintball for the opportunity to do this interview.
In 2015, we will continue to travel, compete, and promote competitive paintball in the woods and show all the great things this discipline of the sport has to offer. If an individual or team would like any assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Keep in touch with us at www.hardcoresportz.com and all our social media outlets: Facebook – www.facebook.com/hardcoresportz, Facebook – www.facebook.com/karlpoynter, and Instagram – @karlqpoynter.
Thanks again everyone!