Attempting to fill the void left when Hilo Lanes closed, KBXtreme in Kailua-Kona has reached out to displaced East Hawaii bowlers, hoping to give them an opportunity to keep playing the sport.
“We have definitely been impacted by the closure,” KBXtreme general manager Calvin Higa said. “I think it was a shock for all of us. We have tried to be as accommodating as possible, whether that means adjusting hours or even helping to make some sort of mass transportation available.”
Higa said the leagues have filled up quickly, with many senior bowlers making the cross-island trip to bowl. A group of Hawaii Junior Bowlers also makes the trip once a month for practice.
However, Higa believes it is just a temporary solution and the island is big enough for two bowling centers.
“We have been contacted by a lot of different groups and have been exploring options of expanding KBXtreme to Hilo. There are too many people affected for such an important activity to stop.
“Having a physical activity for seniors and keeping the schools’ bowling programs going is important. Without the lanes in Hilo, they cannot go on with their daily lifestyle or continue to pursue their passion for the sport. We would like to see those things continue.”
The Kona facility underwent a $3 million face-lift four years ago and changed its name from Kona Bowl to KBXtreme. Higa said the primary reason for the change was to convert from a bowling center into a family entertainment center.
“It was needed,” Higa said. “We closely followed trends across the U.S. and the traditional bowling centers were not thriving as much as they did 10 or 20 years ago.”
With the sun shining most days of the year and a bevy of free outdoor activities available, bowling alleys in Hawaii face a unique set of challenges.
“I don’t know if it’s more challenging than on the mainland, but definitely different,” Higa said. “Summer is traditionally a slower time for bowling centers. We have inverse here. Summer is our busiest time.”
A reason for the summer spike could be the “Kids Bowl Free” program, which is now in its third year at KBXtreme. With the program, children younger than 15 can bowl two free games on weekdays through Aug. 31.
“It’s no secret, the bowling population is an aging one,” Higa said. “Keeping youngsters engaged and developing interest in the sport is very important.”
According to Higa, the program has yielded great results.
“This is a great family bonding experience for us,” said Ryan Stevens, who brought his family of five to bowl Friday at KBXtreme. “Since Swing Zone closed, it has been hard to find an activity for the entire family to enjoy. We always have fun here. The kids love it.”
The facility has also stepped up to help out the high school squads. On top of practices and Big Island Interscholastic Federation tournaments, this year, the Hawaii State Athletic Association championships will be a three-day event held at KBXtreme. The event was slated for Hilo Lanes, prior to the closure.