Shawn, you've been in paintball a long time and have accomplished a lot. Can you give our readers an overview of your resume in paintball?
From the first time I started playing when I was 12 with my Church, I was hooked. I loved everything about the sport. The running, the hiding, the shooting, the competition, the everything. I worked for my local paintball store when I was 15 and then opened my first paintball field when I was 16. It was an indoor field in San Diego called Sudden Impact Arena.
I went on to college at the University of Oregon and during that time helped create the Paintball Junkies brand and traveled all over the US promoting Paintball Junkies. Although I played in many local Great Western Series, Pam Am and XPSL events since 1994, my first World Cup was in 1997.
After I graduated from U of O I worked for a year with In Yo Face paintball products and created and ran the Oregon Paintball League. I then took a job with Dan Bonebrake running the XPSL, PaintballFirst.com and Warpaint International.
After a few years there I purchased the XPSL from Dan and took the job as General Manager for the NPPL. At this time I was also hosting the TV show Inside Paintball for the Outdoor Channel.
After a year with the NPPL, I helped to form an investment group that purchased the NPPL, XPSL, Paintball2Xtremes Magazine, Paintball.com and other paintball related assets. I ran that company, Pacific Paintball, for 2 years. During that time I also created 2 seasons of Beyond the Paint for Fox Sports. When the economy collapsed in late 2008, so did Pacific Paintball.
I then took over Camp Pendleton Paintball park through a government bidding process and built 2 new multi-million dollar facilities on the base that includes 30 acres, 4 turf fields, 10 Recball fields, Airsoft, Zip Line, KidSplat area, Pro Shop and more. I also have built new paintball facilities on Miramar Air Station and 29 Palms Base. I now own and operate those 4 paintball parks. I also have 3 retail stores at different shopping malls in the area. I also started and run the RPL (Regional Paintball League) as well as Tough Chrono.
This year I got back into promoting National Level tournaments with Paintball Promotions Inc. and ran the last 3 NPPL events.
What has kept you in the game for so long?
I think the main thing is my passion for Paintball. I love the sport. I love playing, I love talking about it, I love helping others get into it. I love taking my kids to the park and now teaching them about it. I have been fortunate in my 20+ years that I haven’t lost my passion for the sport and I still get excited every day getting up and going to work. I also have been fortunate to be able to have a career in the industry that I love.
I’m sure that I would have been good at something else in life, but I can’t imagine doing anything other than working in an industry that I love.
What is the state of paintball in California from your perspective?
I think paintball fields have been growing and are strong in California. I think stores are struggling and the tournament scene is building its way back to its heyday of 2005ish. Overall I know my numbers at Camp Pendleton have increased every year since 2009. Both in participation and revenue.
I know many people want to see paintball back in more print magazines on TV again and overall more exposed, but overall I think participation is up and there are a lot of quality places to play paintball in California.
So after the NPPL Huntington Beach event things changed in the structure of the league. Can you fill us in on the new ownership/management of the NPPL?
After HB the current ownership of NPPL was struggling with the goals and business plan for the NPPL. Sponsorships and attendance was down. I saw an opportunity to jump in and try to inject some fresh ideas into the mix. I created a new company called Paintball Promotions Inc, and pooled some sponsors together for support. I worked out a deal with the NPPL ownership to use the NPPL name and finish out the 2013 season. Paintball Promotions also promoted and ran some other events in 2013 including Valken Cup.
Under the circumstances, we ran some good events in 2013 and finished on a high note in Vegas.
I’m looking forward to building off the momentum we built in 2013 and an even better 2014.
It's sort of full circle for you considering you were the face of the NPPL in the Pacific Paintball days. How did you end up here again?
Ha ha. Yeah I guess so. Running tournaments is tough. There is not much money in it and 50% of the people usually love you and 50% of the people hate you.
Times are different now. In 2006 when I first ran the NPPL industry sponsors were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on events and event support. We had non-industry sponsors that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. We threw big elaborate events at highly visible locations. People were looking at the events as the ship that drove the industry.
I don’t think that’s how it is now. Even the PSP, which is doing a great job and still getting loads of teams, isn’t the paintball cultural happenings they once were. It seems to me that paintball field owners are now driving smaller ships that together make up our industry.
So me running National Level events again isn’t the big deal it used to be. Now I think its more pragmatic and a necessary piece of the overall puzzle, but not such a profound thing that draws a lot of parallels 2006.
To directly answer your question I got here because there was a need and I wanted to do my part to keep the ship afloat.
How do you think the season went for the league?
I said it before, but I think under the circumstances it went well. We were up against a lot of adversity with venues, dates, mid season changes, etc. Each event was bigger than the previous one. We were able to get more teams, vendors and support by the end of the year. I think by the last event with the addition of a solid webcast we started looking again like a league worth supporting.
What changes do you see coming for next season?
Lots. Paintball Promotions Inc will continue to run events in 2014 with the same staff, refs, sponsors, Pro teams but it will not be called NPPL. It will now be called, American Paintball League.
After speaking to all the industry stakeholders it was time to re-group and start fresh. We all have fond memories of the NPPL, but with the amount of changes necessary to continue on with National Level events it made sense to use a new name and new outlook. It’s unfair to compare NPPL 2013 with NPPL 2006 and it would be unfair to say the “new” NPPL. The landscape is different and now the tournament scene will be different.
The American Paintball League will have a new format, new rules, new venues, new prizes, and most importantly a new vision with a strong plan.
That plan starts with the players and teams. It’s time to listen and support the local paintball scene and local paintball fields. The American Paintball League’s goal is not to be the biggest in the world. The goal is to provide an affordable, quality event series that goes back to our roots and support the lifeline of our industry, paintball fields.
Is the NPPL/APL considering a multi-discipline format in the future, like the Valken Cup this year?
No. The APL will be a 5-man Millennium Style Race format with no coaching.
Do you think tournament paintball in general is in a good place?
That’s a tough one. I don’t necessarily think its in a bad place, but its not close to what it once was. There are less overall teams playing tournament paintball due to a variety of reasons. Less sponsorship, economy is still rebounding, less stores, less regional leagues, etc etc.
How about paintball in general?
I think paintball in general is good. Those players that would have moved over to tournament play are now playing walk on rec ball. They still have expensive equipment and hang out with a group or team but don’t seem to want to play on the airball fields.
I think people need to understand that paintball is different now. Not necessarily better or worse, just different. You have to adapt with the times and adjust with what you’re given.
Tell us about your fields?
Camp Pendleton is the most well known. There has been a field at CP for over 15 years now. I took it over 5 years ago and rebuilt it at our current location in 2010. Tournament side has 4 turf fields with belachers, underground air and pits. I built it like I built an event but in a permanent fashion.
The recreational side has 8 large theme fields including a 8500sq ft Castle. We have 3 large Airsoft fields, a Kid Splat arena for 6-10yr olds, a zip line, coconut tree climb and 1500sq ft Pro Shop.
Tell us about Shawn Walker... your family, your hobbies, anything you want...
I have a beautiful wife, Rufina and 4 great kids. Matt is 7, Maggie is 5, Andy is 3 and Cooper is 3 months. She and I have been married over 10 years now and she accepts my addiction to paintball (usually). My life is and has been for 20 years now, paintball.