Shawn Curley loves the scattered sound of paintballs whizzing across his otherwise quiet patch of rural P.E.I.
He has been playing paintball for more than 30 years. As the Island's paintball scene grew, he started to get more and more into it, eventually finding himself a part of a community that's both competitive and supportive, he said.
"The paintball community is amazing."
For the past eight years, Curley and his family have been fostering that community from their part-time business, Outlaw Paintball, located in Donagh.
"It leans more toward a hobby than it does a business," he said.
But a run-in with actual outlaws put the business's future in question.
"When it happened, I was pretty upset," Curley said. "We considered maybe shutting down."
Curley had no choice but to delay Outlaw's seasonal opening this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following months of uncertainty, he finally started getting ready to open the first weekend of June, and it wasn't long until Outlaw's maps were fully booked.
However, early that week, some people pried the hatch off the service shop late at night and stole a few thousand dollars’ worth of paintball gear, Curley said.
That's his estimate, but he finds it difficult to put a monetary value on the stolen goods – which include guns, masks, protective gear and CO2 tanks – because much of what was stolen had sentimental value or wasn't available anymore, he said.
"Because it was gear I had accumulated over a long career of paintball."
Curley made a post on his business's Facebook page announcing the opening was now going to be delayed indefinitely. An RCMP investigation was opened, and Charlottetown Police Services offered to pitch in.
Outlaw Paintball will be temporarily closed until further notice. Unfortunately we were victims of a break in this week...Posted by Outlaw Paintball on Thursday, 4 June 2020
Security was never a concern in Curley's small community, so the incident had left him feeling discouraged about what to do moving forward. However, he soon started to receive phone calls from a few other businesses offering their support.
"Anything we could do to help to make it easier," Kody MacDonald, owner of Spike's Paintball in York, said.
AT A GLANCE:
Outlaw Paintball has three maps available:
- Boot Hill: A wooden fortress on top of a small hill that players must try to attack and defend.
- Tombstone: An open forest area with wooden structures scattered across it. It may be the largest paintball map currently available on P.E.I., owner Shawn Curley said.
- The Office: A tight map enclosed by office dividers, forcing players to check their corners as they navigate the corridors.
While P.E.I.'s two other paintball fields, Spike's and Crossfire Adventure Paintball in Cavendish, are technically in competition with Outlaw, it's more of a friendly competition. They'll buy resources off one another when needed, and MacDonald will recommend customers to check out the other fields if he is fully booked, he said.
"All the owners are friends. We help each other out," he said. "It's always been like that on P.E.I."
When he and Dean Johnstone, owner of Crossfire, heard that Outlaw had been robbed, they offered to let Curley borrow whatever he needed.
"So, he could basically get going again," Johnstone said.
With the support of his community, Curley decided to try to keep Outlaw going, which he now believes was the right decision. Within about two months, the police were able to secure and return about 60 per cent of his gear.
That meant Outlaw Paintball was able to reopen by late July, and it wasn't long until its maps started to book up again.
The Curley family learned a lot from the unfortunate incident and has since taken measures to step up security.
And while Curley ultimately didn't need to take MacDonald and Johnstone up on their offer, he was quite thankful for their support and to be a part of P.E.I.'s paintball community – a community that looks after its teammates when it's not busy shooting paint at them.
"I don't know if you see that in many other businesses," Curley said. "Maybe it's just P.E.I."
Daniel Brown is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government.