Bowled over


To those who claim bowling isn’t a sport, Robert Torres replies: “Try bowling 10 games in an hour and tell me you’re not tired.”

Torres, 21, has bowled since he was 3 years old. In a typical week, he bowls between 50 and 100 games.

He bowls for fun and doesn’t “take it seriously,” but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a competitor. Torres plays in two bowling leagues.

Leagues meet weeknights at KBXtreme, formerly Kona Bowl. Seniors-only leagues meet Monday and Thursday mornings. Most leagues are mixed, with ladies-only teams competing Thursdays. The Thursday senior league is sponsored by Hawaii County Department of Parks and Recreation, the others are sanctioned by the United States Bowling Congress.

Sue Suzuki bowls with her team, To The Max, Monday mornings. The 84-year-old took up the sport 26 years ago. She and her husband had planned to learn golf after they retired. Those plans changed when he hit the links — and it rained. As a result, Suzuki said, “We never learned golfing.”

She bowls in senior leagues for fun and exercise and “never saw any grouchy people bowl.”

Not only is it good recreation, but rain isn’t a factor inside a bowling alley, she said.

Jeffrey Foster is new to the sport, but “figured I should try it out” after being named vice president of administration and operations at KBXtreme. He attended a clinic in December with bowling legend Walter Ray Williams Jr. to learn tips and techniques; Foster joined a league in January. He admires the dedication of fellow league members, especially those who’ve been bowling for decades. Those people are “awesome,” he said.

Little equipment is required; most league bowlers own at least one ball and the requisite pair of shoes.

Torres said a high-tech bowling ball, custom-drilled to a bowler’s specifications, costs between $90 and $250. The shoes, he said, cost between $60 and $200. If taken care of, though, a decent pair of shoes can last a long time. Torres had a pair last seven years — then he sold them.

Stephen Tanaka, Konawaena High School’s girls bowling coach and member of Waikoloa Windfall, said there’s a lot of science that goes into making a bowling ball.

About the only thing the hard rubber balls of the 1950s and 60s have in common with the ones used today is their spherical shape.

The “house balls” occasional bowlers pick off the shelf at the bowling alley are solid, with a plastic cover.

Custom balls thrown by league bowlers are built with an inner core.

The first cores were diamond-shaped, allowing a ball to pick up speed as it spun down the lane, Tanaka said. Manufacturers continue to experiment with core shapes and designs, each causing the ball to move just a bit differently. Coverstocks are various materials, including plastic, urethane and resin. Some are slick, others create more friction to better grip the surface. Lane conditions can dictate which combination works the best.

Foster said lanes are oiled twice daily to maintain and protect them — balls strike the surface with a force as high as 2,000 pounds per square inch.

As the day progresses and balls pick up oil, lane conditions change.

Keeping track of these variables — and concentrating on his targets — keeps 97-year-old Tom Taniyama mentally sharp. “Bowling looks very easy, but it’s not an easy game. You really gotta concentrate,” the retired carpenter said. He has a target for every pin and split combination.

Taniyama bowls three times a week and said league bowling is his way to socialize and make friends.

The Parks and Rec league mixes teams based upon bowling handicap — taking into account the number of pins a bowler typically knocks down, compared to the league average. Teams in other leagues, Tanaka said, tend to be comprised of friends who bowl together every week for years.

At a league meet, two teams compete against each other for points. The team that knocks down the most pins in head-to-head competition scores a point. At the end of three games, the total pins knocked down is calculated for a fourth possible point. The points are added up to determine team standings in the league.

Records are also kept of individual scores, both scratch and handicap.

Tanaka said while bowling is a great form of exercise, there is a certain risk of injury, especially to the knees, as he pointed to a friend sitting nearby, dealing with knee issues. The friend agreed, but jokingly suggested a second injury: to his wallet.

In addition to the league fees collected each night — Torres said they average $20 or $21 and are split between the bowling alley and the league — some bowlers opt to throw a little more in the kitty.

Tanaka said that some of the seniors Monday were bowling for quarters, challenging each other to score the best frame.

Foster said the stakes are higher for bowlers who opt in for these “jackpot” games in the more competitive Wednesday night Mixed Nuts league. If a bowler has an exceptionally good night, he or she could take home as much as $1,000.

Leagues meet year-round in two seasons. The winter season runs from September to May. The summer season spans the remaining months. Bowlers 18 and older may join a team; younger athletes may participate with parental consent.

The best way to join a team is to show up on a league night and ask to be added to a sub list. Substitutes are called when regular team members are unavailable. For more information about league bowling, call KBXtreme at 326-2695 or visit the leagues page at kbxtreme.com.