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Why You Are Required To Wear Bowling Shoes (Mystery Behind Those Ugly Shoes Solved!)

Updated: Dec 9, 2020



Do you remember when every time that you enter a bowling alley, that you are required to not only rent or bring your own bowling balls but also slip on those colorful, stylish bowling shoes. The top and most serious bowlers in the country walk into the alley with their own, while most places provide a pair upon paying for a game, but nevertheless it is an established sin to wear "normal shoes" when you bowl.

While waiting for your turn to bowl, have you ever wondered why every bowling alley makes us wear bowling shoes?

Why do the alleys force us to wear them and what exactly makes bowling shoes so special?


In short, bowling shoes are worn for 3 main reasons:

1) They maintain and protect the lanes

2) Create a safe approach

3) Achieve controlled movement, and that satisfying "slide"

If you want a more in depth explanation, then you'll want to read on!


Maintaining And Protecting The Lanes

In most bowling alleys, lanes are made of synthetic composites which take the appearance of wood, while some alleys use the more rudimentary pine and maple. Regardless, all lanes require surface treatment such as oil and overlays to help combat the aggressive bowing balls.


This is where bowling shoes come into play. You see, floors of a bowling alley is designed to handle you rolling that 16-20lbs down the alley approximately 20 times a typical round.

Now do the math and multiply that by the number of lanes, the amount of hours a day, and days per week. Yeah it adds up! Imagine now, how high the chances would be for someone with “street shoes” to scruff, chip, dent and dirty the floor. Not only is this very costly for the alley owners to deal with, it also hinders the performance of other bowlers, who rely on the clean surface to play optimally.


It is important to understand, that it is not the direct goal of alley managers to squeeze every penny out of your pockets, but to ensure that their equipment are in tip-top shape all while circumventing accidents and dangers for their valued customers. After all, they might as well get a few dollars, they are running a business, let's also support them!



Safe Approach

The 'Approach' is one of the most crucial aspects of playing bowling. The 'Approach' is nothing more than the act of approaching the foul line for a shot, or alternatively, the area where the bowler stands before rolling the ball. The best shots come from an approach(area) that's is reasonably smooth, flat and devoid of debris.


Imagine this scenario. You and your friend are in a bowling alley and it is your turn to bowl. Your friend is leading by 8 and you need a strike, and the loser has to pay for the next 3 games. Stakes high, you concentrate and walk up to throw your shot, but out of nowhere you step on a piece of gum, trip and faceplant the floor. Turns out, one of the last users of that lane accidentally dropped a piece of gum they bought from the store, onto the floor on their final approach. Now you have a bleeding nose and an empty wallet and you are frustrated as hell.


The potential dangers of a serious injury directly because of unpredictable surfaces, is why most bowling alleys restrict not only food and drinks behind the lanes, but street shoes as well.


Imagine now, how often this situation would occur if everyone wore their street shoes on their approaches. Imagine how many pieces of debris would fall off on their approach, debris that their street shoes has collected such as bubble gum, embedded rocks, lollies, liquids, and dirt. Imagine the innocent person who now takes over that lane, with their approach now sticky and unpredictable. Keeping the approach clean, slick and safe is solved with bowling shoes.


Achieving The Satisfying "Slide"


Have you ever walked into an alley and take a peek at the "pretty good" players? Have you noticed how they bowl and how they do that "slide"? The secret is bowling shoes!


The typical bowling shoe is made out of a combination of leather and rubber, and features a slippery sole (normally located at the toe portion of the sole) which unlocks a strong ability, per say, the ability to slide on the polished wood and synthetic floors on the approach. Smoothness is key when throwing a bowling ball, as this makes your shot controlled and accurate as possible.


But how do we slide?


Using a rough analogy, think of the shoe as a car. In order to slide, accelerate, you must press down with your toes. The opposite is true for braking, as you press down with your heel, you will begin to stop. The heels of the sole is made of rubber, which makes easy to interrupt your slide as it provides traction.


Because bowling shoes offer the ability to slide, it makes bowling safer than your street shoe counterpart. The reasoning for this is that when you perform the approach with a moderately heavy ball, you will have a lot of momentum, and sliding helps to disperse that force in a more controlled manner. Street shoes with rubber soles will abruptly stop you, and might cause a fall.

See for yourself, next time you go bowling, take a heavy ball and try performing the approach with normal street shoes and bowling shoes.


If you want to take your bowling shoe game to the next level, like the pros do, invest in bowling shoes which have the non-throwing hand foot's shoes with a rubber sole. For example, if you bowl with your right hand, your left show will have a completely rubber sole. Although not a necessity, this variation of the bowling shoes provides a greater level of control, new and fun experience, and hopefully more strikes!


In Summary


The main separator of bowling shoes and your normal everyday shoes are the soles. While alley provided shoes may look filthy (they frankly smell worse), they not only keep the floor safe, clean and enjoyable for other people, but also help maintain the approach while also helping you control the momentum when you walk up to bowl. Also, think about how cool you'll look sliding and hitting strikes. Also, If you are owners of your own bowling shoes, it is important to have clean soles and you can find some tips in this YouTube video!



Just to clear the air, we do not have any personal vendetta with "street shoes", in fact we love them! But we hope this article solved the mystery of those ugly red and blue shoes, and explained why you should not wear street shoes when you bowl, and why you must wear bowling shoes instead!


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