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Just like any other sport, knowing your equipment will help you find success. In tenpin bowling, your equipment consists of the lane, pins, ball, shoes and your body. Some bowlers use extra paraphernalia like wrist position adjusters. Weight, balance and size used to be the only criteria for a certified bowling ball. Nowadays, people look at the core weight block, as well as the multiple types of ball surfaces available. Ball surfaces, known as cover stock, include urethane, reactive, polyester and particle. Since bowling balls tend to be quite expensive, a little basic knowledge will obviously help you make sure you pick the correct bowling ball to suit your style.  

Plastic Or Polyester Balls

Polyester balls became popular around the 1970s. This is normally what house balls are made of. This is the least aggressive type of ball surface, meaning that they roll the straightest line. It is ideal for dry lanes and if you want to reduce the amount of hook in your ball. It is ideal for single pin spares. It is a good ball for start with for beginners as it does not tend to be able to do many tricks. You can comfortably learn your grip, swing, footwork, timing etc with a plastic ball before moving on to the fancy angle shots. Plastic balls also tend to be cheaper.

Do not look down on plastic balls though! They are not just old fashioned tools. They are still an important part of any bowler’s toolbox. You can buy more expensive balls made of newer technologies to help you hook the ball into the head pin pocket and hope for a strike. But, if you are unlucky and leave the corner pins, there is nothing better than a polyester ball to help fill your frame. Sparing is just as important as striking!

pro shop balls
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Polyurethane Balls

Polyurethane cover stock first came out around the 1980s. They were considered a step up than plastic balls as they had a little bit more hook than polyester balls. It is great for the novice bowler who is just starting to learn how to control the angle of their hook as it gives a much more manageable reaction. 

Reactive Resin Balls

Reactive resin balls are those super glossy balls you see in your pro-shop. They have difficulty in grabbing the lanes and staying in place on very oily lanes. Their smoother surfaces means that they will skid easily, just like tyres without enough thread. They are best suited for balanced lane conditions where the oil is in the front half of the lane and then tapers off at the end near the pins. A balanced lane also means that there should be oil more towards the middle third of the lane than on the outer thirds. Once these balls reach the drier parts of the lane, they tend to snap and change directions more aggressively. This makes them more difficult for beginners to control. 

Reactive resin balls are also made of polyurethane but with added chemicals that creates pores in its surface. When the ball is formed these pores allow it to absorbs oil. Since the oil is absorbed rather than sitting on the surface of the ball, it allows it to have better grip on the lane once it hits the dry parts. 

Particle Balls

This is the newest technology that allows the ball to have a significant amount of traction even on oily conditions. Particle balls produce a more balanced arc compared to reactive balls. This means that they will not suddenly snap into a different direction once they reach the dry part at the end of the lane. 

core weight block
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The Pin

Did you ever notice a different coloured circle on the surface of your ball? This is called the pin and it is not just for design purposes. It actually indicates to the person who will be drilling your ball where the weight block goes. Average players may get into trouble when they go into the pro-shop to buy a ball. Without understanding the pin, you will not understand how the drilling positions affect the axis of rotation of your ball. The pin needs to be placed in relation to the axis of your release, not at the centre of your grip. It might help to roll a ball on the lanes first and then bring that ball to the pro-shop driller. He will look at the track marks on the surface and decide the rotation axis of your throw. 

The Pin versus track marks
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The Weight, Size And Finger Holes

Bowling balls are allowed to be a maximum weight of 16 pounds. There is no minimum weight. The ball circumference must be within 26.7 to 27 inches. Most people drill 3 holes into their balls. One for the thumb and another two for the third and fourth fingers. A maximum of 5 holes may be drilled, one for each finger. In addition, if both halves of the ball are not equal after drilling, then a balance hole may be added to reduce the weight of one side. Each side of the ball may differ by only 3 ounces or 85 grams. Some bowlers prefer to use finger rubber inserts, known as plugs, rather than gripping the holes directly. 

Finger Inserts
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Understanding the different surfaces of the balls in reference to the type of lane condition you are playing will help you to choose which ball to buy. Once you have mastered your own technique, you can more easily adapt to your ball surfaces as well. This means that you do not necessarily need to buy every single type of ball surface available. You should be able to adjust your swing, walking distance etc in order to compensate for the lack of a specific cover stock. 

Disclaimer: I am not a tenpin bowling coach. I became a tenpin bowling national athlete who played using a 14.2 pound ball after mastering the hook technique. I know the dedication, physical strength training and physics required to succeed in the sport and I have many tips to share. Bowling has been popularised as a great place to socialise and release stress with friends. Because of its relatively small pool of professional athletes, few people know that it is actually also a sport worth millions of dollars. The great thing about tenpin bowling is that there is no one way to roll a ball. There is no one way to hold the ball. There is no one way to walk down the lane. It’s all about what is best for you and your body type. In addition, there is no age limit to be great at it, unlike other sports. I hope this article series will showcase the science behind tenpin bowling so you can take your game to the next level. 

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Tenpin Bowling Basics: Your Beginners Guide
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