Going to the bowling alley is a fun experience the entire family can enjoy. One part that almost no one enjoys, though, is bowling shoes. Renting them is sketchy and uncomfortable at the best of times, and can seem like a huge waste of time. But is it really? Are you allowed to bowl without bowling shoes?
No, you can’t bowl without bowling shoes. Bowling without proper bowling shoes is against the rules at most alleys for a reason. The sport of bowling has been around a lot longer than the shoes themselves have, but that doesn’t make bowling without them a good idea. While it’s technically possible to bowl without specific bowling shoes, it’s a lot harder and a lot less safe.
Read on to discover why we bother with bowling shoes at all. You can also find a few tips for alternatives to bowling shoes at the bottom of the article.
Why Bowling Alleys Require Bowling Shoes
Because of their advantages and safety features, most bowling alleys, whether they cater to casual or professional play, require you to wear bowling shoes. They may even have a designated are for you to put them on, and restrict you from entering the alley without them.
The best option is to stick with bowling shoes. If you’re bowling often enough, you might consider investing in a pair of your own for the most hygienic experience possible. If you only bowl every so often, wearing a thick pair of socks is enough to protect your feet from rented shoes.
Do Bowling Shoes Make a Difference?
Bowling shoes were first introduced to the sport in the 1800s, although no one is sure of the exact year. Most historians believe they were brought over to the United States in 1888. They made the modern bowling game more easily accessible to all skill levels.
What Is the Difference Between Bowling Shoes and Regular Shoes?
So, what exactly is a bowling shoe, and why is it different from a regular shoe?
Simply put, the difference between bowling shoes and regular shoes is the grip. Bowling shoes are designed much like the lanes of a bowling alley – they let you slide. This means you get a smoother motion when you throw the bowling ball.
Bowling shoes typically have soles made of smooth rubber or leather. One shoe is designed for breaking while the other is designed for sliding to give you a smooth movement. This is why they’re traditionally different colors – to tell you which one’s which.
Why Are Bowling Shoes Different Colors?
They’re also given colors to denote whether they’re men’s or women’s shoes. This is another part of their design that differs. Women’s bowling shoes are usually thinner across the ball of the foot than men’s, and tend to be smaller. Both are made of the same materials, though.
Regardless of whether they’re men’s or women’s, bowling shoes run slightly smaller than regular shoes because of the differences in construction, so your bowling shoe size will always be a little different from your regular shoe size. The best way to know your size is to be professionally measured.
Rented bowling shoes will almost always be significantly stiffer than regular shoes. This is so that they’re able to hold up through years of use by multiple people. If you have your own set of shoes, this isn’t going to be as much of a problem, but they may still be stiffer than you’re used to.
If you’re an avid bowler, we recommend purchasing and using your own bowling shoes like these from BSI. They are high-quality, come in many different styles, and perform much better than your average bowling alley rental shoes.
The Problems That Bowling Shoes Solve
To start with, regular shoes make playing harder. They will stick to the lane and throw off your motion, making it more difficult to throw a bowling ball in a straight line. This means your game will be way off, no matter how good you normally are.
They may also be a safety hazard. Sticking to the ground may cause you to trip or drop your bowling ball. This might mean a 10-pound or heavier ball falling on your foot, which can cause some serious damage. Dropping the ball can also damage the lane flooring.
On top of that, they’re messy. Street shoes may track in dirt and debris that can ruin the lanes of a bowling alley and pose slipping hazards to other bowlers. This causes a lot more headache for the crew of the alley and for everyone around you.
What Can I Wear Instead of Bowling Shoes?
For some people, bowling shoes are uncomfortable to the point of being unwearable. If you’re bound and determined not to wear bowling shoes, you do have a couple of alternative options.
The first option is a bowling shoe cover. These are slip-on fabric coverings for your regular shoes that provide the same kind of cleanliness and traction that traditional bowling shoes do. They’re relatively cheap, and a decent idea if you don’t go bowling very often and don’t want to rent.
The second option is to wear regular socks instead of any shoes at all. This will give you the slide you need to have a smooth throw. It also means you don’t have to rent anything and you won’t track anything into the alley. The problem is that they have no grip at all, which means you may fall.
Other than that, there’s one trick you can try.
Can You Turn Regular Shoes Into Bowling Shoes?
Yes, you can. You won’t get the same functionality with braking and sliding, but you will get a serviceable shoe.
You can try using dress shoes as a more comfortable alternative to bowling shoes. These have similar smooth rubber or leather soles that would make them slide easier on the lanes. The fit will be better, as dress shoes run on standard sizing, but the grip won’t be the same.
You can even use something as simple as Vans or other sneakers if the alley allows it. These kinds of shoe have smoother, slipperier soles than their more athletic counterparts, making them a good choice for people who need something more comfortable to wear.
The most important thing to remember is that the shoes you use for bowling can’t be used for anything else. Again, street shoes pose a serious debris risk which can do a lot of harm. Make sure your chosen shoes are either brand new or completely clean before you use them in a bowling alley.
Bowling shoes are weird. There’s no getting around it. They’re funny shaped enough to leave you with blisters, you have to walk like you’re walking on eggshells not to trip, and renting them is a germaphobe’s worst nightmare. They’re just plain unpleasant a lot of the time.
But they’re not there just for show. Bowling shoes make the whole experience of bowling significantly easier and safer not just for you, but for everyone around you. Bowling shoes were specially designed for the sport, and have been around for so long because they work.
While there are alternatives available if you really can’t stand them, most of the time, a good bowling shoe is worth the inconvenience of wearing it for the sake of a safe, fun game.