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Largo paintball business caters to all kinds

Robert Stillwell, 18, of Seminole fires his airsoft rifle in a mock urban environment at PSI Xtreme Sports in Largo. The facility welcomes a variety of players, from enthusiasts who have their own equipment to church groups, girls soccer teams and charity fundraisers. 

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Robert Stillwell, 18, of Seminole fires his airsoft rifle in a mock urban environment at PSI Xtreme Sports in Largo. The facility welcomes a variety of players, from enthusiasts who have their own equipment to church groups, girls soccer teams and charity fundraisers. 

LARGO

The 2.5 acres behind PSI Xtreme Sports on Ulmerton Road is a playground for teens and adults.

The field lures hundreds of thrill-seekers from around the Tampa Bay area eager to test their skills in a game of paintball or the lesser-known sport of airsoft.

"We cater to the recreational player," said Tori Blute, PSI's owner. "Most people don't realize they can play paintball and airsoft right here in the city. They think they have to go out to the woods."

Blute and her husband, Joey, both avid paintball players, bought the Largo business two years ago. They've watched the rapid growth of paintball worldwide and have created what they believe is the largest paintball pro shop in Florida.

They also stock equipment for airsoft, a sport similar to paintball, which uses 6mm plastic BBs instead of paint. Store manager Jason Van Schooten says most airsoft players are 30 years or older and have their own equipment.

"Airsoft uses realistic-looking guns and is a more tactical, military style of play," said Van Schooten. "Players often enjoy the stealth of playing at night, using radios and are typically dressed in camo."

Airsoft has been a hobby in Asia since the 1970s but is relatively unknown here.

"I believe in five to 10 years it will be a dominant sport," Van Schooten said.

Paintball is already one of the fastest-growing industries in extreme sports, Blute said.

"Insurance stats show paintball to be safer than football, roller skating and even bowling, if it is in a controlled environment," Blute said.

Maintaining a safe environment is a top priority at PSI, said Herb Read, who works as a referee.

"My biggest thing is player safety," Read said. "We do not tolerate horseplay. We expect people to play fair and always wear safety equipment."

PSI caters to a variety of groups, from church groups to girls soccer teams to charity fundraisers.

Tommy Jockers, 15, of St. Petersburg visited PSI with friends for the first time about two months ago.

"We were looking for something to do," Jockers said. "Someone suggested paintball and we came here. It was a lot of fun."

Recently, he brought his father, Mike, to the field.

"We played paintball in our back yard for about two years," Mike Jockers said.

"Today is the first time for me to try team paintball.

"We're going to have a good time."

>>fast facts

PSI Xtreme Sports

Where: 8220 Ulmerton Road, Largo

Price: Field fee $20 (roughly 10 games), Airsoft $15, other fees. Information: (727) 538-9946 or

psixtremesports.com

Largo paintball business caters to all kinds 07/01/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 4, 2008 1:01pm]

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