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2001 Aruba Open
A - Brass Eagle
Imagine, you're on vacation, on a beautiful desert island, in the tropics... and you get to play in a paintball tournament too! A year ago, paintballers got a taste of Aruba, with it's abundant white sand beaches, gorgeous water, flowing fruity drinks, hot night spots, courteous and friendly people and playing paintball on sand. This year, the teams returned for another trip into the paradise that is Aruba.
Like the finals of last year's Brass Eagle Road To Aruba Series, Aruba Open was produced by island entrepreneur Jossy Mansur. Joining him was Pete Bofill of Ruff-n-Tuff Sports and NPPL Professional team, Rage. Brass Eagle wasn't involved this year in the tournament, allowing for more sponsors to come aboard. In addition to the paintball sponsors of the tournament, KAPP, DYE, Extreme Rage and others from the paintball industry, the Aruba Tourism Authority backed the event as well. With good weather year round, and an economy based on tourism, Aruba welcomes paintball with open arms.
Teams began arriving for the Friday/Saturday tournament on Wednesday night, giving them Thursday to enjoy the island. Aruba is a tropical desert island 19 miles north of Venezuela. It is an autonomous member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, ruled by locally elected officials, and an executive appointed by the Queen of the Netherlands.
Thursday players who had come in from the US, South America and the Caribbean explored Aruba. Some headed across the island on rented motorcycles (the entire island is 19.6 miles by 6 miles) exploring the desert and formations such as the natural bridge on the windward side. Others lounged at the tournament's hotel - the Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort, located on the leeward beach with its gentle clear water and soft coral sand. The Femmes Fatale spent their time at assorted locations in photo shoots for Maxim magazine. Maxim has taken an interest in paintball lately, and sent an entire crew to photograph the ladies of Femmes Fatale modeling paintball and swim fashion for their upcoming gear issue, as well as to play in and photograph the tournament for their web site, Maxim Online.
With the tournament taking place less than two weeks after the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington DC, a number of US based teams decided not to attend, fearing international travel in a time of turmoil. Mansur and Bofill opted not to cancel the event, but to go ahead as planned so as to not let down the teams who had been looking forward to the tournament all year. Of the twenty teams in attendance a number were from the island - which was impressive considering it has a population of only 93 thousand people (1998 Central Bureau of Statistics). Others came from other islands, such as Puerto Rico or from South America, as well as the States.
Thursday night, the teams gathered for a beachfront barbeque and captains meeting at the Holiday Inn.
With 20 teams the game schedules allowed free time in the mornings, with the games played in the afternoon and then into the night. The location, the Don Elias Mansur ballpark meant that the fields would be well lit for night play. While the term "ballpark" conjures up images of cross-hatch mowed lawns, that's not how it works on a desert island. Like much of Aruba, the ballpark has a field of sand. The sand is rather coarse and is tightly packed, topping solid stone just below the surface. Because of this, setting up the fields was no simple task. Heavy augers drilled into the stone to mount steel utility poles for the netting which protected the grandstands and staging areas, as well as separating the two Sup'Air fields from each other. With the trade winds that constantly blow across Aruba, netting would be a challenge. The natural stone foundation for the steel poles proved more than adequate, and they held out better against the forces of nature than if they had been anchored in concrete. The two fields were both built of Sup'Air's newer battery powered bunkers which do not require air tubing. Field one had JT black and yellow bunkers, while field two had 32 Degrees white and blue bunkers, plus a pitcher's mound near the flag, and second base in one of the dead boxes.
Saturday afternoon players made their way from the hotel to the field by rented car, van, or chartered shuttle bus. The approach of the Aruba Open was quite different from most tournaments, in that the promoters considered transportation, lodging and non-event activities, providing a total tournament/vacation package, not just the paintball games.
The teams hit the fields about four in the afternoon - some sporting sunburns from spending the morning on the beach. The clear skies under an air temperature in the low 80s (Aruba's temperature rarely varies from that figure) don't sound that hot, but the sun beat down on everyone. Rage served as referees, and some players from KAPP and Brass Eagle filled in as additional refs for the games of the division in which they were not playing.
Rather than break up teams by classifications in the prelims, they all played together, in two divisions. Rankings would determine their classification in the semifinals - the top 4 teams from each division would be ranked as Amateur A, the next two as Amateur B, and the next two as Novice. The Novice and Amateur B teams played finals, while the Amateur A teams advanved instead to semifinals and then finals.
The international mix of teams, and mix of skill levels had some games that went fast and others running to the clock. What was impressive was seeing teams, and referees taking others under their wing, providing tips and guidance to the less experienced teams after their games.
Saturday morning many players slept in after a night (or more specifically, a morning) of after-tournament club hopping. E-Zone, with its music selection quickly became a popular night time destination. The ten people who could wake up in the morning met at the Pelican Watersports dock, which extended out over the water from the beachfront at the Holiday Inn. They boarded the Pelican Too, a catamaran with a capacity of 60 passengers. After a few minutes of motor power to back out of the mooring area, the crew hoised the sails and made way to the wreck of the Antilla under the silent power of the wind. At the site of the World War II shipwreck, everyone hit the water with snorkels and explored the ship which extends from the sandy bottom at 60 feet all the way to the surface of the water. From the Antilla, the Pelican Too moved to the Awashi Rocky Reef, and provided a snack of fried chicken and bread along the way. The reef provided an abundance of sea life to view at very shallow depths. On the return voyage to the dock the boat's crew told tales of diving and other adventures on Aruba while the fully stocked bar was enjoyed mainly for non-alcoholic drinks at the early hour.
During the morning the Saturday edition of th Aruba Daily newspaper was distributed throughout the island. A full page was devoted to the Aruba Open with pictures of Femmes Fatale, Team Strange and Team Maxim.
Saturday afternoon the tournament attendees moved once again en-masse from the hotel to the field, eager to finish the prelims and move ahead into the final rounds.
Local radio station Magic 96.5 broadcast live from the ballpark. They also brought print-outs of their web site with photographs of the tournament's first day. Their station not only covers all of Aruba, but some neighboring islands as well as being web-cast internationally with an active listening audience in the Netherlands. Interviews with promoter Jossy Mansur, Bill and Dawn Mills from WARPIG.com and Chris Lasoya of Avalanche (reffing) covered the sport of paintball in general, how the Aruba Open compared to other tournaments, and invited Arubans to come watch the tournament.
The preliminary rounds finished with the sun, and the stadium lights filled in for the semis and finals to be played under cooler conditions.
For many who came from the states, Strange was expected to dominate the event, so it came as no surprise that they would complete the preliminary rounds in the top seat. With 8 wins and one loss their finish was a few points ahead of Brass Eagle which had a similar performance.
KAPP, which was a team formed to fill out division two withdrew from the competition because two of its members had also played in division one and could not play on multiple teams in the finals (the flexibility was allowed in the prelims, to help the tournament flow more smoothly). This, combined with the last minute no-show of Inex meant that the remaining teams from division two went on, while Team Maxim and the Benihana Sharpshooters (cooks from Benihana) didn't make the cut in division one. Things would have played a bit differently if the top eight and four scores overall went on - Maxim would have made the cut as novice, and Femmes Fatale would have been classed Amateur A - however, with teams in division two getting buy points for the dissapearance of Inex, the advancement by division kept things on an even keel.
In the semifinals two divisions were made, one of the even ranked teams, one of the odd ranked teams. In the even division Team Extreme Rage and Whiplash were weeded out. Team Strange suffered a surprise loss to Spectrum from Puerto Rico which completed the round undefeated. In the odd division it was the Jaguars and Indian Squad which were bumped out of the running by Brass Eagle and Aruba Madness I.
In the Amateur B finals Aruba Madness II played undefeated to bring home first place. Femmes Fatale suffered one loss, placing them in second followed by Unwanted Arubans and Fast & Easy. It should be noted that Fast & Easy has long played under the name Terrorists, but changed their name at the tournament out of respect for the victims of the September 11th attacks on the United States.
In the Novice division Iguana Revenge won two games and suffered a single loss for a first place finish. They were followed by the Rebels who came equipped with the tournament's youngest player. The Maniacs finished in third place, and the Phillipino Eagles, another team of Benihana chefs, finished in fourth place.
The Amateur A finals came with much anticipation. Crowds in the stands cheered good plays, especially those made by Caribbean teams. Two Caribbean teams were facing off against Strange, one of the best Am A teams in the world (a team which plans to go pro at the start of next year's NPPL season, after the Mardi Gras Open), and Brass Eagle which is coming into its own this season as well. Aruba Madness is beginning to make an impact in the NPPL, but Spectrum is not so well known Stateside, so their finals game against Strange drew much attention in the finals.
In the first round Spectrum beat Aruba Madness I, while Strange beat Brass Eagle. In the second round, Brass Eagle beat Aruba Madness I, and the crowd roared as Spectrum defeated Strange a second time. This placed Spectrum in a solid lead with two wins, and Strange in a five point lead over Brass Eagle. The last two games were played simultaneously. If Spectrum could defeat Brass Eagle, the tournament would be there's, but if they were not victorious, it would be a matter of points to determine whether Brass Eagle or Strange came in first place.
The Strange and Aruba Madness I game finished first, with Strange as the winner. While Aruba Madness I didn't win the game, they did manage to get the flag pull and make an elimination, keeping 22 points out of Strange's total. Brass Eagle defeated Spectrum, leaving the final ranking of Brass Eagle in first place, Spectrum in second, Strange in third, and Aruba Madness I in fourth place.
The tournament did not end with the last game. Sunday morning everyone boarded busses and crossed Aruba to take a ferry to the complimentary player's party. Far from the type of party at most tournaments, this one was held on De Palm Island, a small private island with an open bar, snorkeling on the reefs of the island's beach, lunch, and time lounging under palm frond shade shelters or baking in the tropical sun. The afternoon party was followed by a break in the schedule, and a dinner and awards ceremony at the Holiday Inn.
Players leaving the tournament vowed
to return the next year, and with airline travel returning to normal the
2002 Aruba Open will certainly not be an event to miss.
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