Splat Zone Paintball lets Tuscaloosa fight a colorful war

KRAUSE STEFAN 30.01.1962

Splat Zone paintball gives players a variety of courses and game modes for paintball players to choose from.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Aaron Bonner

Pop, pop, splat. Though gunshots ring through the facility, the wars being waged at Splat Zone Paintball are waged with paint rather than bullets.

James Mixon, the owner of Splat Zone Paintball, has been playing paintball for 23 years. He opened Splat Zone Paintball 18 years ago as a way to keep kids, mainly his oldest son, out of trouble.

“I used to play and I thought it’d be a good idea to move one closer into town,” Mixon said. “Twenty years ago, the closest paintball field would be way off out in the country and it was so far away that nobody could even see it. I came across this property and I said ‘man, this would be a good place for a paintball field.’ Right outside the edge of the city limits and three miles away from The University of Alabama campus.”

Mixon has expanded Splat Zone over the years, offering a variety of courses and game modes for players to compete on. These range from the Rec Ball course for a standard match to a larger, competitive fort course where players must fight for control of a hill.

“It’s good recreation, good exercise,” Mixon said. “You’re running, you’re not sitting at home on the computer playing games, watching TV and watching football games. It actually gets you out there and it’ll get your cardio going because it’s an adrenaline sport.”

The biggest crowd at Splat Zone, Mixon said, has been the Alabama National Guard, with 450 students at the facility at once. The organization hosted an event as a way to recruit new members at the University, with groups of 10 going out on the field for a few rounds.

As well as events, Mixon said he’s also offered new ways for players to wage war on each other. He said certain objects, such as paintball grenades that spray paintballs in a given area, often weren’t effective in taking out players.

“What I do is I’ve actually went and got water balloons and you can buy the powdered paint,” Mixon said. “If we’re gonna do grenades, we’re gonna use water balloons. It’s a whole lot cheaper – a one cent water balloon versus a five dollar grenade.“

Chris Miller is a groundskeeper, referee and mechanic at Splat Zone, and he helps events, such as the Halloween Zombie Bus, go off without a hitch. He is also a tournament player, playing at the Division 4 level.

“It’s something that I grew up with,” Miller said. “I never played paintball until I came down here, but I always shot guns and it’s one of those things where you can come out here and shoot somebody and it’s fun. You come out here and take out all your aggression on other players.”

Despite the game played with guns, the paintball guns at Splat Zone are at calibers designed for players to feel an impact without the sensation of pain. The two calibers of guns offered at Splat Zone are 50 cal and 68 cal, though Miller said more advanced players are allowed to bring their own equipment and have fun.

“The Tippmans are more for the Rec Ballers and then there are tournament guns,“ Miller said. “There’s a difference in the ramping part of it, like my gun will shoot 10.4 balls a second. The Tippmans, what they’ll do is shoot as fast as you can pull the trigger.”

The Halloween Zombie Bus is a special event that is in its first year of operation at Splat Zone. Those who get on the bus take a seat at one of the gunning stations and are given 100 balls to take out the “zombie horde.” Miller plays the part of a zombie in the event, chasing after a bus and taking hits from customers.

“I’ll put it this way – I wear Carhartt from [head to legs] and they’ll find the tender spots somehow,” Miller said. “They’ll find something right here in the head and when you’re screaming and stuff, they’ll hit right here in the face mask and that stuff will splatter in your throat.”

The Zombie Bus will run every weekend throughout the month of October for $20. Regular business hours at Splat Zone are from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Saturdays and  1-5 p.m. on Sundays.

Mixon said on average, prices to play range from $25 to $30 per person, allowing customers to play for a few hours at a time. Splat Zone Paintball is located on 1550 Avalon Dr. in Cottondale.