Saturday, September 29, 2007

Asking Santa for Beginner Bowling "Stuff"

Well, I saw Xmas decorations today for the first time this year (yeah, it's not even October yet!), so, now's as good a time as any to talk about the sorts of things you might want to pick up for yourself (or better, have someone get for you) in terms of bowling gear.

First, there are bowling balls. I could write several articles on this (and at some point will), but let's talk about what you might look for in a "first" ball. Here, the overriding consideration is comfort which largely comes about just from having a ball drilled to match your hand. Of course a well-fitting ball will also defintely improve your game too - it's not uncommon for someone's average to move up 10-20 pins after switching from a "house" ball to one of their own.

Many bowlers are tempted to get something that "looks cool" or matches their personality in some way. Of course that has nothing whatsoever to do with your game, but it can make it more fun. Almost all of the "fun" balls share the same characteristics: symmetric core, plastic coated, etc. What that means is that there's usually nothing about the ball that intrinsically makes it arc (bank, curve, etc.) other than your own release (which most beginners haven't mastered) but as I said before the main reason for beginners to get a ball is to have a piece of equipment custom-fit instead of having to deal with whatever ball you can find on the rack each time you bowl.

OK - so what weight should you get? I find many people shy away from heavier balls because they're not used to them. This often means that they haven't developed the right arm swing because they feel the ball either because their timing is off or because they're putting muscle into releasing the ball. The unfortunate trade-off here is that the more mass the ball has, the more momentum it carries down the lane (which can be adjusted through altering the ball speed). So what you'll see is that with people using light balls (under 14 pounds) hits that might've been strikes aren't able to transfer momentum from the ball to the pins to knock them all down and you're left with 8- or 9-drops instead.

One test for working out the right weight is to take a house ball of known weight, put your fingers in the holes, but hold the ball supported in your palm. If you can hold it there for several seconds without discomfort (from gravity) then it's not too heavy. Ideally, adults should try to have a ball that's a least 14 pounds. Kids may need a lighter ball - there's a "rule of thumb" of "weight equals age", e.g., 10 pounds for a 10-yr old, but that's really just a very rough suggestion.

Where to get a ball? If you're just aiming to get a plastic ball, then you can get great deals online (eBay, etc.). Take your ball to your local pro shop and have them fit it to your hand.

OK - let's talk about shoes. You can get shoes for as low as $30-$40 which is a great investment since they'll pay for themselves in shoe rental fees within the course of a bowling season. Most are made for both left/right handed bowlers, and nowadays there are lots of styles to pick from.

However, I would definitely recommend the STS line from Dexter. They're expensive ($150-$200) BUT that have a great feature: the soles and heels are removable (they're attached with Velcro), which gives you two advantages. First, you can change the sole/heel combination for different slides (great when you bowl in more than one house), but more importantly, you only have to replace the sole or heel when they get worn down - just order a replacement for $15-$20 and slap it on. That way a pair of shoes will last for several years and will be nearly "new" the entire time. They're also wider which gives you a more steady balance at the foul line.

You'll want to keep your soles CLEAN. Get a wire brush or 50-weight sandpaper and frequently check to make sure that dirt hasn't accumulated on the soles. If you want a lot of slide brush "up and down" from the toes to the heel. If you want less slide, brush "side to side". Also, definitely get show covers! Damages from spilled liquids can not only ruin your shoes, but also can cause you to fall on your face on the approach (and remember to take them off before bowling too).

What else is important? Something to clean your ball. There are lots of lotions and polishes - ask your pro shop guy for recommendations as to which is best for your ball on the conditions you bowl on. Having a few bowling towels are great - you should try to wipe off the excess oil before each shot. A bowling bag is nice because it help you keep everything organized.

I didn't mention wrist braces. Over time I've come to the understanding that they're more of a hinderance than a help UNLESS you have a medical condition that requires the support. If you have a problem with your wrist breaking, it's something you can work on both through some wrist exercies with 5- or 10-pound dumbells and also by adjust your hand position to work against the break. The brace makes it harder to break your wrist, but there are times you WANT to slightly loosen your wrist for certain conditions, plus having the brace on moves the ball away from the surface of your palm, giving you less control over the release. Right now I'm bowling for the first time in years without a brace, and my game hasn't suffered - in fact I'm finding that my accuracy and consistency has improved.

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