KEMPNER — From behind his blue mask — and a pallet barricade, 6-year-old Samuel Hoff enjoyed round after round of firing water beads at his parents, Tina and Andrew, his 3-year-old brother Thomas and his friends.
“I wasn’t scared at all,” Samuel said. “It didn’t really hurt to get hit, either.”
The Killeen resident demonstrated the impact with a gentle slap on his knee followed by a careless shrug.
“That’s it,” he said.
Unlike other competitive shooting sports, Gellyball participants walk off the field without a mark on their skin or their clothes.
“It was my favorite part of the day,” Samuel said with shining eyes as he described his experience at dinner that evening.
“That’s the reason we started this business, the children,” said “Aunt Peggy” Smith. “Me and my nephew do a lot of family stuff — we are very family oriented.”
Smith began Central Texas Gellyball the last week of August along with her nephew, Michael Aker.
For $25 per person individuals can get unlimited ammo for an hour at the family owned and operated business at 420 CR 3390 in Kempner. They currently have three open fields with plans to expand on Aker’s property.
A week after their opening, co-owner Michael Aker said they had booked five parties.
They also plan to have event blocks so single players can join larger groups or play with friends so everyone is included, Aker said.
Aker and his sons enjoy paintball and other competitive shooting sports, but he found Gellyball to be a more family-friendly activity.
In contrast to larger paintball fields, Gellyball fields are set up for more tactical play with less running, shorter games and quicker turnover, Aker said.
“Everybody is looking to have fun and wants the game to go quickly so they can do the next game,” Aker said. “Every game is a little different and we change it up — everyone wants to get to that next game to interact and do it again.”
Not only is the impact of the Gellyballs less painful than either paintball or airsoft, Aker said in comparison to the average paintball field the 75- by 75-foot Gellyball fields are like playing basketball not only on a half-court, but on a quarter-size court.
“Paintball is super fun if you get out there with 10 or 15 of your friends — we’re not taking anything away from it,” Aker said. “But with paintball, we’re not playing tournaments and everyone has the same equipment. Our fields allow for more tactical play.”
Regular paintball players can spend more than $2,000 on guns that shoot 10 or 100 times faster than amature players, Aker said.
“You don’t have the same reaction time,” Aker said. “I almost always left there with bruises. After I was out, I was shot 35 times or so, and I had a bruise from each of those shots. I wasn’t looking to be sore.”
Everybody has the same equipment, and unlimited ammo is included in the price of playing, Aker said.
The ammunition is biodegradable, superabsorbent polymer beads that expand to 200 to 400 times their original size when submerged in water, and have a rubbery gel consistency.
The Gellyball guns are designed to fire 13 rounds a second, Aker said and the balls travel about 30 yards with accuracy.
“And they don’t really hurt,” Aker said. “That changes the game from just sitting and hoping not to get shot.”
Smith and Aker discovered Gellyball online and were pleased that it was possible for their entire family to enjoy it.
We discussed that my kids all play paintball and now we have younger ones in the family that are not able to do that, Aker said, as his nieces and nephews who range in age from as young as 6 years old.
“With airsoft, there’s all that cleaning up the little beads all the time and we also were looking at bounce houses,” Aker said. “The Gellyballs were biodegradable and that was a draw and it is super low impact, so anyone can play from 5 to whatever age.”
At the beginning of a birthday party Central Texas Gellyball recently hosted, the children started out playing, and by the end everyone including the adults were on the field — even the 50-year-old, Aker said.
Not only is Gellyball open to all ages, but it can be modified for different abilities: Aker said they designed a “protect the queen” game so a participant with mobility limitations was able to have fun.
“We designed a game around her so she could play and have a little bunker she can play out of and shoot from,” Aker said. “Another contestant had a prosthetic leg that wouldn’t stay on, and we got a golf cart and drove her around the backside of her field — she played from the golf cart.”
On Aker’s property, there is plenty of space for groups to practice social distancing to help limit the spread of the pandemic COVID-19, he said. And the nature of the activity also encourages distancing as participants spread out and fire the Gellyballs at one another, Aker said.
“It’s social distancing at it’s best — the person you would talk to has a gun,” Aker said. “If they want to continue social distancing, they can. It’s family friendly. We wanted to make affordable family fun.”
Central Texas Gellyball is currently scheduled to run a Zombie Night special, where participants will fire Gellyballs on unarmed volunteers dressed as zombies. Proceeds from the event which is open to the public will benefit Bikers Against Child Abuse, Aker said.
The event will be open to the public three weekends in October from 6 p.m. to dark on the 16, 17, 23, 24, 30 and 31.
For more information, look up Central Texas Gellyball on Facebook, or call 254-278-8386.