Many of you who follow me probably know by now that I am a bowler. Yes, the archaic sport of rolling a ball towards ten innocent pins is my bread and butter. I’ve been in the sport for a little over ten years, bowling competitively and for fun. Before you ask, no, I have never rolled a perfect game. My high career game is a 264. I crack like an egg under pressure and always make a mistake when it gets crucial.
The virus has crippled my need to bowl, even though bowling alleys are starting to open up. It is for that reason bowling has been on my mind a lot lately. What are my Rambles for? Writing what is on my mind. So, sit back and enjoy my Ramble about bowling and allow me to unlock some of the secrets of the sport – more specifically the ball and how we make it do what it does.
One of the first things I get asked when I talk about bowling to people who don’t bowl is, “How do you get the ball to curve like that?” As a competitive bowler, I throw like the guys on TV.
There are a few things everyone should know before we get into the “How.”
*A little disclaimer*
This is simply my understanding of the principles of bowling. Others with more experience and knowledge of the game may find my interpretation to be incorrect or even flawed. So, read at your own risk, and understand this is but a simple man and his thoughts.
If you have relatively no idea about the sport of bowling, then when I say Urethane, Plastic, Reactive resin, and weight block, you have no idea what I’m talking about.
In the stone age days of bowling, balls were made of hardwood. That was replaced in the early 1900s by dense rubber. This was the material used for nearly 70 years before polyester became widely used by all ball companies. In the ’80s urethane was used and then in the ’90s, most companies started using resin to manufacture their balls.
What does all of this mean?
These new materials are what make up the outside of the ball. This is the best way I can describe it. Imagine the outside of the ball is coated in sandpaper. As the ball spins, the sandpaper is trying to grab the floor. A ball made from wood or plastic doesn’t have this same effect as the urethane does. The balls that have the urethane or reactive resin shells can grip the lanes better.
(This is a picture of an actual ball I own. Hammer Epidemic)
Now, there are actually two cores to a bowling ball. Think of it as earth. There is the crust, an outer core, and an inner core. Even though the shell of the ball aids in causing friction on the floor, the true nature of the spherical beast lies on the inside. Before the 90s there wasn’t much going on in the middle of the ball. It was typically made of a cork-like material. When the sport evolved, so did the equipment used. So, you have to ask yourself, why does this matter? Well, if you tape a quarter to a balloon, no matter what that balloon is going to fall with the quarter down. It will flip over and point quarter down. The weight block in a ball does the same thing. As the ball rolls, eventually, the weight takes over and the ball flips like that balloon. That’s how most bowlers get the curve.
This is a really important aspect to the competitive bowler and it’s hard to explain. Notice this bowler has their hand in a different orientation than the casual bowler might use. We call this a “finger tip” grip and it is the most common layout for competitive bowlers. Doing this allows for your hand to span more surface area of the ball and allows for more control. Well, why is the release important?
Without the proper release, you have a less chance of the ball reacting the way you want to produce that famous hook. Not saying it isn’t possible, we call those people “Full Rollers,” but it can be more difficult. The best way I can explain how to hook properly is to take a football and throw it underhanded, spinning it in a spiral. Essentially, that is the best way to get started. However, there are some more nuanced things for more advanced bowlers, but for just talking about it and getting the basics, this will work for an example.
Now, what brings all of this together? The lane itself. A lot of people don’t know that a bowling lane is covered in oil. (The blue area in the picture.) It could be a lot of oil, and little oil, or even no oil. (Believe me when I tell you, that sucks the most for a competitive bowler.) What does oil do? Well, it reduces friction and allows the ball to slide along the lane until it reaches the dry back-end of the lane. As you can see in the picture, the ball follows the red and yellow lines and as it exits the oil (blue) it begins to hit the dry part of the lane and then the weight block takes over and just like the balloon, it forces the ball to turn in the direction it was spinning and into the “pocket” which is the idea shot between the 1 and 3 pins for right-handed bowlers and the 1 and pin for left-handed bowlers.
I hope this has helped you to understand the sport I love so much. I have been in it for a long time and I adore every aspect of it. If you ever want to talk about the sport, I’d love to do so! Good luck, and good bowling!