2016 saw Airsoft Surgeon Championship taking place once again at StrikeForce in Gloucester. This is Nige’s report from the November issue of Airsoft Action.
4th Airsoft Surgeon European Championship
“Welcome to our family” is how Airsoft Surgeon, Clarence Lai, opened the 2016 Airsoft Practical Shooting European Championship, an event that has grown into the largest of its kind in Europe.
This year the event was held, as it was in 2015, at StrikeForce CQB in Gloucester, a venue which lends itself almost perfectly to practical shooting due to the huge indoor area, illuminated by diffused lighting from the mainly glass roof. This reduces the number of shadows and provides a wonderful “flat” light that is great for shooting.
So, what’s it all about?
You might have heard, or indeed read in Airsoft Action, about “IPSC” (International Practical Shooting Confederation), not something that trips lightly off the tongue and when you add the word “airsoft” to the front it becomes even more cumbersome (although it is often referred to as “AIPSC”). Don’t be fooled though, IPSC is huge! A visit to their website (www.ipsc.org) reveals regional organisations in nearly 80 different countries and world-wide competitions.
According to the website, “IPSC shooters need to blend accuracy, power, and speed into a winning combination. Multiple targets, moving targets, targets that react when hit, penalty targets, or even partially covered targets, obstacles, movement, competitive strategies and other techniques are all a part of IPSC to keep shooters challenged and spectators engaged.” (Yes, that does say “spectators” and I suggest you hold that thought.)
IPSC recognises all shooting disciplines, including; Handgun, Rifle, Shotgun and Action Air – and it is the last of these that should jump off the page at you because it involves the use of airsoft, not real guns!
“Action Air” has become such a phenomenon that, in 2017, the first ever IPSC-sanctioned “Action Air World Championship” will take place in Hungary (for which Airsoft Action is very proud to have been chosen as the UK Media Supporter). To qualify for this event each potential National Squad member has to compete in a number of matches at different “levels” and this year’s European Championship had been recognised as a “Level 1” match, so would be important for those shooters wishing to get on the “Road to Hungary”.
Obviously, Action Air is completely different to any other type of airsoft and while it is very much a team sport, the only person you actually compete against is yourself! Allow me to explain…
To be successful you have to be quick and accurate, the mantra “shoot fast, don’t miss” is probably printed on every shooter’s brain and it describes perfectly what IPSC is all about, as individual shooters move through a (sometimes complex) arrangement of targets trying to complete the course of fire (aka a “stage”) in as short a time as possible.
To complicate matters further, there are different “Divisions” and each Division has its own set of regulations covering such things as weapon size and magazine capacity, for example – although shooters from one Division do not compete against those from another.
Scoring too is totally different and involves a calculation based on the points gained and time taken, in fact it can become so complicated that it requires a computer program to work it all out. However, that also means nobody actually knows who has won until the last scores are in.
One final thing that makes Action Air very different from skirmishing is the level of gun-handling safety, where even the most seemingly innocuous (to an airsofter) action can result in instant disqualification. The reason for this is that although the weapons are airsoft, the rules are not, they are real-steel and in real steel there are things you simply would not contemplate, such as pointing a weapon, loaded or otherwise, at another person (which would kind of make skirmishing a bit difficult)!
So, the only person that can make sure things go right, is you. You can go through an entire competition without dropping a point but forget for just a split second which way your muzzle is pointing and will all have been for nothing… Instant DQ!
The Airsoft Surgeon European Championship
I first met Clarence Lai at the Airsoft Arms Fair in May 2012, held at The Grange and organised by Jim Sephton. Jim was already involved in AIPSC and had invited Clarence to run a number of Practical Pistol Workshops and I was privileged to be given total access to both Clarence and the Workshops. I have to admit I was a bit sceptical as, like many airsofters, I was a little dubious about what it could do for me, however, as I said at the time, I was hugely impressed and “watching him handle a pistol is not like watching someone simply holding a pistol, it is though it has become an extension of his arm and he doesn’t have to think about doing something with it, he just does it!”
The Arms Fair was on the Saturday with an AIPSC match the following day, which I also attended – and to say that my pre-conceptions were totally swept away would be a major understatement! Watching the shooters actively move through a series of challenging stages, I could help but be impressed at the speed with which they moved and just how accurate they were. It certainly opened my eyes to what I lacked in both pistol skills and movement in a close environment.
In 2013 I met Clarence again on the RedWolf stand at IWA in Nuremberg and in the middle of a conversation with both him and Chris Kong, Clarence announced that he was going to bring his hugely successful “Airsoft Surgeon” event from Hong Kong to the UK and call it The European Championship. By October everything was ready and the first event took place at The Grange, where 60-odd shooters competed from as far afield as the UK, Europe and the Far East.
Fast-forward to 2016 and the tournament has grown to over 150 shooters from all over Europe, plus the UK and Far East and the standard has been raised to such a degree, that it attracted the attention of one of Europe’s top real-steel Practical Shooters, Danish Champion Lars Hagemann.
Lars is a real-steel shooter with Team CZ, where he has successfully used a CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow at many, many events and won more accolades than you can shake a stick at. He met up with ASG’s UK Sales Manager, Paul Wignell, at The SHOT Show this year and then again at IWA, where he was introduced to Clarence and agreed to shoot at this year’s Euros – his first Action Air event. Not only that but he would also be shooting the exact same gun, an ASG CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow, in the “Production” division.
I mentioned “Divisions” earlier and the Production Division is exactly as it sounds; you use a gun “out of the box” from the manufacturer – no additions, alterations or upgrades, just as it came off the production line. It has to be a replica of a handgun listed on the “IPSC Production Division List”, with a maximum barrel length of 127mm and a maximum mag capacity of 15 rounds (each Division allows a different number of rounds in the mag and this is one of the reasons that Divisions don’t shoot against each other).
On top of that, a challenge was thrown down and accepted… Lars and Clarence would face off against each other in a one-off Special Stage and, as they shoot in different Divisions, it would be interesting to see who would come out on top. In terms of Action Air, I do not think this had ever been done before and it certainly would add some spice to the event.
As I mentioned earlier, the event would take place over a number of stages, sixteen in all and each stage had been cunningly designed to both challenge and entertain. In previous years the design work had been done by Clarence himself but this year the task was taken on by Watford Practical Pistol Club and, in particular, the devious mind of Paul Courtney. I have been to other matches where WPPC had designed the stages, so had some idea of what to expect and I have to say Paul and the guys did not disappoint in the slightest, producing some of the most original stages I have ever seen. I particularly liked the stage with the shooting platform suspended on chains, although I think one or two shooters might have cursed under their breath when they saw it!
Each stage had been created to get the maximum out of every shooter, by providing a challenge to even the most experienced and yet not dishearten first-time competitors and, from what I saw and heard, they achieved this absolutely.
Range Officers, or “ROs” as they are known, are the backbone to any tournament. They are responsible, above all, for the total safety of everyone at the event. It is their responsibility to ensure every shooter obeys the rules and competes in a fair manner, they also start, time and score each run, as well as handing out penalties for any contravention – right up to disqualifying a shooter if warranted.
In overall charge is the CRO (Chief Range Officer) and this year the task was excellently handled by a mild-mannered Scotsman by the name of Ronnie Graham, who was ably assisted by Match Director, Justin Cooper (Justin is also the man charged with putting Team GB together for the 2017 World Shoot).
In previous years the Range Officers had been “separate” to the shooters, i.e. their sole function was to officiate the tournament and due to the lack of qualified ROs in the UK, it had been difficult to bring them in, in sufficient numbers. This year, however, ROs were invited from the countries taking part and the total number was more than doubled, meaning all stages were manned and there was no delays while waiting for ROs to become available. Many of the ROs were also shooting and this too was handled without any problem.
Another change this year – and one that got a big cheer from the competitors when it was announced – was that shooters would not have to carry a wad of scoresheets round with them. Scoresheets, as you might suspect, are used to record a shooter’s points, penalties and time taken for each stage and are completed at the end of every run. Previously it was the responsibility of the shooter to ensure they had the correct scoresheet, for the correct stage and hand it to the scorer before commencing the stage. Inevitably this could lead to delays and confusion if scoresheets are lost or misplaced so this year, in a major change, all scoresheets were held at each stage and the shooter simply had to sign a tear-off slip (to say they agreed with the result) after it had been completed. I understand that next year, to streamline and simplify the process even further, scores will be recorded and digitally signed on hand-held devices, networked back to the main computer.
When reporting on an event it is always difficult to express the action and excitement felt by the competitors and this especially true of airsoft, where spectators are generally not present. This is not the case with Action Air where, not only are you shooting in front of an RO and scorer but the rest of your squad and, invariably, many others who want to watch the action. Sure, everyone must wear eyepro and stay “behind the line” but nonetheless, performing in front of a crowd brings added pressures to bear and, more often than not, helps to raise your game (something I have both witnessed and experienced at tournaments I have attended and participated in, in the past)
As I mentioned, there were sixteen stages to shoot over two days which, at a minimum, would require a total of 329 shots to complete. Think about that for a moment… 329 shots and each had to be on target. One wrong shot could lead to penalties and the possibility of failure and, on top of everything else, shooters had to move as fast as they could through often complex target arrangements, while being watched and judged.
To put that in perspective, imagine running through a forest, shooting targets as you go, being watched by your team mates, against the clock and without missing – and doing it consistently time after time for two days… that is what practical shooting is all about (and why when you come up against a practical shooter in a CQB environment, they can be quite a challenge)!
By 8:30 am on the 13th August, StrikeForce CQB was literally buzzing with the sounds of shooters getting ready, catching up with old friends and making new ones. One of the things I like about Practical Shooting is the “community spirit” and this is what Clarence was referring to when he opened the tournament. Practical Shooting is very much a “family” of shooters, where everyone does their best to help and promote a feeling of inclusiveness and, even at such a prestigious event as this, if someone needed help it was given without hesitation – no thinking “if I do that they could end up beating me” here.
Clarence, Chris Kong and Justin all gave a short briefing then it was down to serious competition and soon the sounds of starting timers beeping, pistols firing and targets being hit filled the vast space, even the sun was shining (which warmed the interior and meant they would not be any gas issues).
I am not going to go into a blow-by-blow account, that would simply not be possible but there are a few things I would like to mention specifically and one of those is Kiko.
I first met Kiko and his parents when I visited the Southampton Black Sparrow Practical Shooting Club last year. Kiko was then just nine years old and I was completely blown away by this young boy taking on adult shooters with no deference to his age or size and now, here he was, taking part in the Europe’s largest ever Practical Shooting tournament. Even though he knew there was not much chance of winning, watching him shoot showed just what can be accomplished when you put down the Xbox or Playstation controller and pick up something far more worthwhile!
The second thing is the number of different countries represented, which included Poland, Finland, Hong Kong, Belgium, The Nederlands, Denmark and Ireland, as well as the UK, which I believe is the largest number of different countries thus far. It was not so long ago that I was told the event “wasn’t really a European championship” because there “weren’t that many countries in it”… I think that has been well and truly put to rest!
I’d also like to give a special mention to Lars Hagemann, for helping to bring “something extra” to the event. Although Lars is a Champion real-steel shooter, he was putting his reputation on the line by both accepting the challenge against Clarence (who is undoubtedly one of the World’s top Action Air shooters) and taking part in the Championship. It also showed what faith he had in the ASG CZ SP-01 Shadow which, for whatever reason, has had its detractors. Not only did the Shadow get through the entire Match without missing a beat, if you check the scores you’ll notice Lars did pretty well also – becoming the first ever Action Air European Production Division Champion in the process. So, I for one, take my hat off to ASG, Lars and the ASG CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow!
Finally, it would be impossible to end without mentioning the stage that drew the biggest crowd of spectators, Stage 17.
The astute amongst you might have spotted that were only 16 Stages in the event but Stage 17 had been designed for one purpose only… the head-to-head between Lars Hagemann and Airsoft Surgeon and just about everyone there wanted to watch. It also featured the return of one of the most challenging targets I have ever seen; the contra-rotating, four-armed, propellers first seen two years ago at The Grange.
In Practical Shooting the targets are brown and sometimes they might have a white “No Shoot” target placed in front of them, partially obscuring it. No Shoot targets attract a penalty if hit, so are to be avoided at all costs. Imagine then being faced with a rotating, four-armed propeller with a target at the end of each arm, in front of which another propeller is rotating in the opposite direction, with No Shoot targets affixed and you get the idea…
Even though a computer was doing all the work, while waiting for the final results to come through, the stage was packed as first Clarence and then Lars hurled themselves through it at very impressive speeds. The stage was then opened up to anyone else who wanted to give it a go.
So, after two days of hard-fought competition, the last shot had been fired and everyone relaxed and waited for the results. The buzz of the previous day was undiminished as shooters recounted their successes and failures and it gave everyone chance to wind down a little – until Chris Kong and Clarence decided to hold the raffle and, at one point, were (quite literally) throwing mini-prizes into the assembled crowd. There were loads of prizes and it was a good way to fill the time and then, at last, the scores were ready and the awards presented.
With all the trophies presented to the winners and runners up, a final speech from Clarence closed the 2016 Airsoft Surgeon European Championship – and there was more than one person suggesting that, in 2017, the word “European” should be crossed out and replaced with “World”!
I will end by saying a massive thank you and congratulations to everyone involved, in whatever capacity for making the 2016 Euros such a huge success. Yes, there was the odd hiccup and that is only to be expected but without doubt, this was the best Practical Pistol event I have been privileged to attend and it will take an awful lot to beat it.
So well done ladies and gents, you did yourselves and the sport proud and I cannot wait to see you all back again next year!