There’s an enormous satisfaction in scoring a strike in 10-pin bowling. Stuart Anderson met a group of players who love the sport.
The pressure rises as I step up to the decking with a 16oz ball in my hands.
I’m separated from the target - 10 white pins standing primly in formation - by a 60ft stretch that seems twice as long.
To get there, my projectile must be deftly launched by an underarm swing, not so slow that it will lose momentum, nor so fast that it slides out of bounds.
The pop music filling the busy hall belies the tension of the moment as I take five rapid steps forth and let loose.
The orb shudders down the lane, chugging confidently towards its goal.
But, like an out-of-control steam train, it starts to quiver, veer and finally plunge off the the shiny surface into the side gutter and the pocket beyond.
The unbothered pins seem to snigger as they survive another day and the immensely satisfying sound of a perfect strike elludes me once again.
It’s my first step into the world of 10-pin bowling which, after a lull in popularity, is once again booming.
About a year ago the alley GOBowling Fareham decided to try a new way of getting youngsters into the sport.
Instead of letting them toss heavy balls down the lanes without supervision, they set up an academy to teach them how to do it properly.
Instructor Ben Bizley says the academy, open to children as young as five, has been a big success.
‘They start off with a four-week learn-to-bowl course,’ he explains.
‘We teach them the basics of where to stand, how to bowl and how to release the ball, just to make sure they hit the pins every single time.
‘Then they’re ready to go into the academy, where they play two against two, and at the end of the season they get trophies and things like that.’
Ben, 27, from Fareham, says that while some bowlers are better than others, ‘we try to make it a level playing field.’
He says: ‘It’s not too serious and we want them to have fun.’
When youngsters move on from the academy at the age of 12, they often join a Youth Bowling Club team and compete against others from around Hampshire and across the country.
But as a visit to the alley makes clear, bowling is far from being just a juniors’ pastime.
In fact, it seems to transcend generations more than any other sport. While children occupy one end of the hall, the other half is filled with adults, many of them over 50 on cheaper ‘primetimer’ rates.
Ben says there are three main techniques bowlers use.
Many participants take the conventional approach and roll the ball straight down the middle of the lane.
Some put spin on their ball so it follows an arched path towards the pins - what’s known as ‘hook’ bowling - and others use two hands to bowl.
‘They’re all legal and legitimate techniques to use,’ Ben says.
With a little work anyone can avoid the gutters and score a strike - when all 10 pins are knocked over all at once.
Ben says a lot has changed since the golden age of bowling in the 1960s.
The old wooden lanes have been replaced by synthetic surfaces, and oil patterns laid over on top serve not only to protect, but make hook bowling more of a challenge.
Instead of plastic, new balls are made with a reactive resin or special particles which cause more friction with the surface of the lane.
‘The game has changed a lot and there’s so much more out there now than what there used to be,’ says Ben.
He says 10-pin bowling has seen a resurgence since the ’80s and ’90s, when a lack of interest in the sport forced many alleys to close.
‘It’s really come back,’ he says. ‘A lot of kids come up with their families and a lot more seem to be getting into it these days.’
Ben says he took up bowling for fun about eight years ago and it turned into a serious hobby.
‘I realised that I wasn’t too bad. I started getting some good scores, so I came a bit more often and then I bought my own ball.
‘I had about 50 hours of coaching and my scores gradually increased.
‘I started to do tournaments around the country as well.’
Ben says his average score this year is 226 and his average when playing tournaments is 210. He has scored 300 - a perfect game which requires getting 12 strikes in a row - four times.
‘When I did my first ever 300 in a league game it felt brilliant,’ he remembers. ‘You get such a rush of adrenaline.’
At a glance
WHERE: Collingwood Retail Park, Newgate Lane, Fareham
OPEN: Monday to Friday midday to 11pm, Saturday 9.30am to midnight, Sunday 10am to 11pm. League bowling takes place from Sunday to Thursday and the juniors’ academy meets on Tuesdays evenings.
CONTACT: Phone 01329 287 808
Hobby becomes a full-time job
She loved the bowling alley so much she ended up working there.
Hannah Hayter, 22, from Fareham, says she first started bowling when she was 15.
‘Ben Bizley is a good friend of mine and I first came down here with him,’ she remembers.
‘I used to watch them in the leagues and I really liked the look of it.
‘Obviously I was no good at first, but it’s all about having fun and enjoying yourself.
‘The more I’ve come, the better I’ve got. Especially through watching the league bowlers, you pick up little bits and bobs.’
A few months after getting a job at GOBowling, Hannah was promoted to manager.
She says there is ‘always something going on’ at the bowling alley.
‘We have dress-ups, like a princesses and knights day we had over Easter,’ she says.
‘Everyone’s friendly and it’s really social.’
Oliver loves to smash the pins
Young Oliver Marks loves the thrill of hitting all 10 pins down in one go.
The 10-year-old from Fareham is one of the dozens of children who take part in the alley’s academy for juniors.
Oliver says he has been bowling for about 13 months and loves it.
‘It’s great fun,’ he says.
‘I like the academy because you get taught by professionals.’
Oliver says he bowls once a week and has no plans to stop.
He bowls with a friend and together their team name is ‘the Pin Smashers’.
Oliver says his highest score in a game is 151.
It’s all about fun
Barry Palmer has brought an unusual ball along to his weekly night of 10-pin bowling: it’s transparent and contains a human skull.
Of course it’s not a real skull, as the 56-year-old from Paulsgrove explains, and its eyes light up when he lobs it down the alley.
Barry is here with a group of friends called Club Weekenders, and says he has been bowling for about seven years.
‘We come here every week of the year and we love it,’ he says.
Barry says the group’s members range from their early 40s to their late 80s.
‘It’s not a singles club, but there are a lot of members who have been widowed or have broken up from their partners.
‘This is a chance for them to get out and make some new friends.’
As well as meeting for weekly bowling sessions, Barry says Club Weekenders regularly get together at the Jolly Miller pub in Fareham.
Barry’s skull ball was a birthday present which he is trying out for the first time tonight.
His son also bowls and his grandson takes part in the academy.
Barry says his highest score in bowling is 194, which ‘felt amazing.’
But the group’s focus is less about breaking records and more about enjoyment.
‘It’s all about having fun.
‘Next term we’re going to do one night where you have to use your opposite hand.
‘There’ll be balls all over the place.’