I'd naively thought that ten pin bowling would be really easy. Easy? Hah! But great fun..... Cornwall Today March 2010
2010 marks the 50th anniversary of ten pin bowling being played commercially in Great Britain. So it seemed fitting that, being very slightly over 50, I should have my first go at the game. After all, it couldn't be that difficult – could it?
Richard Harris, 45 has been General Manager of Ocean Bowl in Falmouth since it opened in 2002.
“I've bowled for the county, managed and captained the county team and played in various competitions,” he said in his quiet, unassuming voice. “It's an active sport, it's energetic and sociable. Because it's indoors you can play in any weather.” And judging by the bar next door, you could have a drink as well. Sounded good to me.
Richard undertook teacher training which helped him improve his game, and he is now qualified to teach beginnners and intermediate players. Looking around, the players varied a lot. Richard smiled: “Yes, we get all ages, from 5-80, though there are roughly 60% men to 40% women. Ten ten pin bowling attracts all kinds of people. We get children's parties, corporate events – staff events and bonding sessions,” he told me. “The Navy also come from Culdrose for sports events.” There are also various leagues for those that wish to play competitively, and 'roll offs' for selection of the county team.
But as I was having a lesson, first of all I had to change my shoes. “You have to wear special shoes but that's included in the price,” Richard explained as he kitted me out with a pair of rather fetching red, white and blue lace up shoes. “They're smooth so you can slide into a shot.” I had no idea what he was talking about but it sounded good and I had visions of myself expertly bowling the perfect shot.
I asked him about the lanes. “There are 12 wooden lanes, 60 foot from the foul line to the head pin. The lanes are made of pine and mahogany which is about six layers thick,” he explained. I watched other people having a go, and wondered why it was so popular. Richard smiled. “People can get addicted,” he said. “Particularly when you start scoring – you have to to score higher each time.” I nodded, though I couldn't imagine it.
But I had no time to think about addiction, as the lesson started in earnest. First Richard showed me the balls. “These vary in weight from 6-16lbs and you measure the ball by hand spec and weight,” he told me. He chose a large red number for me weighing 10lbs which seemed incredibly heavy, but “the heavier the ball the more pin reaction you get.” He showed me how to hold the ball: “Middle and ring fingers in the top holes and thumb in the lower hole. If you can hold it comfortably for 10 seconds it's about the right weight.” It wasn't exactly comfortable, but I persevered.
“You have to think of the ball as a clock face and your thumb at 12 o'clock. You want to release the ball with the thumb between 10 and 11 and the fingers between 4 and 5.” Richard could obviously see the completely blank expression on my face and explained further. “As you're right handed, the ball is released anticlockwise and that gives a hook which means the ball comes in at an angle which will knock more pins down.”
It sounded all right, but now to do it? Richard talked me through it, making it look incredibly easy. “The way to release the ball is either to think of shaking hands with somebody or having a drink if that's easier to learn. Then your arm comes up in a follow through which gives more rotation on the ball. Keep your shoulders level and parallel to the foul lane.”
My head was buzzing, but we then learned about where to stand. “The approach is the part leading up to the lanes, and there are markers on the approach to help you remember where to stand,” said Richard, “and wooden arrows on the lanes – you need to aim for the second on the right rather than the actual pins.”
All this and I hadn't even taken a shot. But that was next. Richard had me kneeling (hard on the poor knees on a wooden floor) with my left foot forward. “The left arm is out for balance, now swing the ball back and release it forward with the thumb at 10 or 11 o'clock. Aim for the second arrow, and don't forget the follow through.” Getting the hang of this 10 or 11 o'clock business was a lot harder than it sounded. Next we tried the one step drill, standing up. “The left knee has to be bent, and you slide into the shot with the right foot skewed behind to keep balance.” I also had to remember what to do with my hands and feet. How could I remember all that?
That, it turns out, was a mere warm up. Now for the four step approach. “Take four steps back and a half step, then pivot round on your toes and that's the distance you need to be from the foul line,” said Richard. “Get the stance: stand straight, feet parallel, and hold the ball in both hands, cradling it. Weight on the left foot, step on the right foot, holding the ball in both hands, extend the right arm, let go of the ball with the left hand which comes out to the left, at shoulder height, facing the lanes.” He'd lost me already, but I had a go. “With the second step, swing the ball forwards, then back, then the last step slides forward into letting go of the ball, and the right foot goes behind and across the left one to balance.” Richard executed the perfect shot, moving like a dancer from Ballet Rambert. When I tried I just lost my balance. And don't ask me where the ball went.
But I was determined to have another go – and another. And another. Waiting for my ball to return I glanced across at several teenagers playing with gusto, like true professionals. They played so fast, though Richard said I was probably bowling at about 15mph. It felt like 5mph – a granny version of the game.
After an hour and a half I had to leave, but I was glowing. Even if you're as bad as me, the temptation is just to have one more shot......
Ten pin bowling is believed to date back to the Egyptian Pharoahs, but the first written reference dates back to 1366 when King Edward III banned the game, fearing it would interfere with archery practice. A painting from around 1810 shows British bowlers playing the sport outdoors, with a triangular formation of ten pins.
Glossary of terms
Strike - When all 10 pins are knocked down with one ball. You get 10 points for these pins, plus the points of the next 2 balls thrown.
Spare - All 10 pins are knocked down with 2 consecutive balls. You get 10 points for this plus the points of the pins that the next ball knocks down.
Game - A game consists of 10 frames (or turns) per person.
Frame - A frame is one turn.
Foul Line - The black line at the start of the lane.
Foul - You will receive a foul if you step over the foul line.
A Double – When you get 2 strikes in a row.
A Turkey – If you get 3 strikes in a row.
Gutter – The sections either side of the lane where the ball ends up if they come off the lane or you miss.
Ocean Bowl, Pendennis Rise, Falmouth TR11 4LT
Open 11am-11pm, 7 days a week
Prices start from £3.50 per game