Say ‘bowling shoes’ to anyone who’s not a major fan of the sport and you’ll conjure up images of the crusty old red and blue shoes doled out at suburban bowling alleys. With other people’s toe prints grooved into the insole and half-snapped laces doing nothing to provide a comfortable fit, these unfortunate items are, in many people’s memories, confined to the bowling craze of the 1980s, and should certainly stay there.
Today’s specialist bowling shoes bear virtually no resemblance to bowling-alley hire shoes. They are designed specifically to cater for the comfort and needs of bowling champions and enthusiasts. With uppers made of leather or microfibre, cushioned insoles and lined interiors, elastic straps that ensure enhanced support and comfort, not to mention the variety of colours and styles to choose from, today’s most modern bowling shoes are deservedly described as fashionable items.
The essential feature that distinguishes bowling shoes from other sports or athletics shoes is the distinctive smooth sole. Since a good aim requires the bowler to follow through with a slide as he lets go of the ball, decent bowling shoes have a specially designed smooth sole on one or both shoes. Parts of the heel of the shoe are made of firmer rubber that has enough grip to control, and eventually end, the slide, as well as allowing the bowler to walk comfortably on the alley surface without falling over. Some styles only have one slide shoe and therefore come in left-hand and right-hand designs, depending on which foot the bowler uses.
Bowling shoes need to be incredibly lightweight and flexible, encouraging the foot to move naturally and freely, at the same time as supporting the pressure points around the ball of the foot and the arch. Although bowlers do not need to do a great deal of running, the sole needs to provide enough cushion to add bounce to every step. Non-smooth soles will have a good grip that helps the bowler get into position accurately.
For a slightly more retro look, there are excellent ranges in more traditional bowling shoes, although they have of course been modernised and improved. These have uppers made of leather and interior cushioning for the feet, and tend to be lace-ups.
Bowling shoes need a good deal of care to remain at optimum efficiency. Now that they have developed in terms of fashion and comfort, it can be tempting to wear them as casual shoes. This is not advisable, as cuts and grooves in the smooth sole of the slide shoe will undermine it’s effectiveness.