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FARMINGTON — In 1994, when Vince Blume took up paintball, he developed a passion for the sport that caused him to trade in his guns that fire real bullets for ones that fire pellets loaded with paint.

Now, The Paint Zone, a paintball sports business he runs with his wife, Darlene Blume, is celebrating its 20th year in San Juan County.

Vince Blume said the sport resembles combat. Players are outfitted like soldiers with flak jackets, helmets, goggle masks and other protective gear, and are armed with paintball markers, or guns, that use carbon dioxide or compressed air from scuba tanks to propel paintballs through the barrel at speeds of 300 feet per second. Players score points by striking opponents.

There are two main types of paintball games — woodsball and speedball. Woodsball is held in a natural outdoors area in a format much like the game of capture the flag. Speedball is an offshoot of the more recreational-based woodsball format that involves inflatable bunkers distributed across a game field for more competitive play.

"It's the adrenaline. The excitement. The fun. It's the closest thing to the real deal, the real experience," Vince Blume said. "All the respect you have for our police officers and American soldiers, you are lying in the grass, seven guys coming at you. It's hot, it's hard to see them. It's the (most realistic) thing you can get without real bullets. It's such a rush."

The sport appears so close to actual combat that U.S. forces, law enforcement, para-military and security organizations use paintball technology for training purposes.

Vince Blume said the sport is popular with people 10 or older. He launched the business as a mobile endeavor, driving a truck and trailer around San Juan County, selling paintball equipment and organizing games around the county.

A decade later, he opened the store in a section of The Bunker, an Army surplus store, for two years before finding a permanent home at the Main Street location, originally the real estate office for the San Juan Country Club.

The Blumes have never paid for any advertising, instead using Darlene Blume's natural flair for customer service to keep the business running, Vince Blume said.

"Darlene does a lot for our customers. They come from all over the reservation," he said. "Customer service is what has kept this going. We're not here to make a fortune, we're here for the customers who love paintball and want to play."

The store holds customer-appreciation games two or three times a year around San Juan County. The last game was held on open land near the San Juan County Sheriff's Posse Grounds in Farmington in March, drawing 85 players, he said. The Blumes are planning the next game, which will be held in October.

In addition to running the store most days when Vince Blume is at work at the San Juan Mine in Waterflow, Darlene Blume manages the store's Facebook page to share photos of recent games and offer store specials to keep local paintball enthusiasts in contact with each other.

Despite a 20-year run at various locations around San Juan County, the Blumes said they would like to sell the business on the conditions that they find someone who is just as passionate about the sport as they are and carry on the business.

"I'd stay around to train them, show them how to do it, how to be successful," Vince Blume said.

Chase Truby grew up next door to Vince Blume in Bloomfield. He works in the oilfield and is a member of the National Guard, but still finds time to play paintball. He said he like the sport for the excitement and for the friends he has made.

"The first time I ever played paintball was when Vince had a paintball game and I was only 9 or 10, and I'm 32 now," Truby said. "It's the adrenaline rush and meeting new people. It's a great sport, that's for sure. You get to make a team out of a bunch of people you don't even know. I've made friends in paintball, and they come up to me here and there through the years and say, 'I know you. How've you been?' It's a great feeling."

MORE INFO

What: The Paint Zone

Where: 6510 E. Main Ave. in Farmington

Hours: 1 to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

More info: Call 505-326-1967 or find them on Facebook.

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.

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