Your Complete Bowling Ball Buying Guide

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If you’re anything like I used to be, you might think that bowling was a pretty simple activity where you throw a ball at some pins and call it a day. I’ll be honest, that’s exactly what I thought for most of my life, until I finally tried it out. It’s a pretty challenging sport that requires knowledge of some serious rules on top of an intricate use of your skills to clear each frame.

If you’re ready to pick up your own bowling ball and need some help figuring out which one is right for you, then you’re in luck. Read on to learn about some of the basic concepts behind choosing a bowling ball, and how to understand the different components that affect a ball’s performance. Don’t worry, it’s actually much easier than it seems.

Basic Terms and Numbers

First up, you need to familiarize yourself with some of the basic bowling ball terminology, otherwise you’ll just get very confused very fast. The two components that you’re going to read about the most are the coverstock and the core, both of which I explain below in more detail. Basically, the coverstock is the material that makes up the outside of the ball, while the core is the weight that sits on the inside of the ball. They both affect how much a ball spins, how smoothly it spins, and whether or not it will move in a hook pattern as it travels down the lane.

Another term you’re going to see a lot is the radius of gyration, shorted as RG, which is a numerical value that explains how fast or slow a ball will start to spin. A low RG means the ball will spin faster as it rolls, while a high RG means it will spin slower. RG goes from 2.43 to 2.80, so you are most likely going to see it appear as a number within that range. You might also see some numbers relating to the grit (often something like 1500 grit), that relates to how much texture is on the exterior of the ball. The higher the number, the smoother the ball and the more distance it gets traveling down the lane.

Coverstocks

The coverstock on a bowling ball refers to the material that is used in the outer layer, which means that part you see and which comes into contact with the lane. Most introductory and budget-friendly bowling balls are going to have a plastic or polyester coverstock, since they are the easiest to produce and provide the least amount of friction. If you want a ball that is going to stick to a straight line and not break off into a curve further down the lane, then you’re probably going to want a polyester coverstock. Some balls may also feature a urethane coverstock, which acts similar to polyester, but these are much less common today.

The other type of coverstock you’re probably going to run into is a reactive resin compound, which can come as a solid, Pearl, or hybrid style. A solid resin gets more friction on the lane and can achieve a more even roll, while reactive Pearl coverstock gets less friction (though still much more than a polyester coverstock). As you might be able to guess, a hybrid coverstock is going to be a combination of the two, making for a more evenly balanced ball.

Core Types

There are a few different types of cores used in bowling balls, but the specific type doesn’t matter as much if you’re just starting out or if you’re more of a casual bowler. A pancake core would work fine for most people still learning the game, as it offers a pretty standard bowling experience. If you are looking for a ball that will give you more options in your play style, then you’re going to be looking at a symmetrical or asymmetrical core type. The major difference between these two types comes down to how you choose to drill your finger holes, as the more pronounced asymmetrical designs can create more flare with certain configurations. Basically, unless you know exactly how to handle your bowling style, a symmetrical core will give you the most options without leaving you with a ball that requires extensive skill to use.

Hooking

Hooking in a bowling ball simply means the amount that it curves to the side after you throw it. There are a lot of factors that go into how much a ball can hook once thrown, which is called its hook potential. Coverstock probably plays the biggest role, as it determines how much friction the ball has on the lane. More friction means a wider hook, while less friction means the ball will travel in more of a straight line. Of course core type, finger hole positioning, and polish also contribute to hooking, but these factors are secondary to coverstock. You might see hook potential listed as simply “high” or “low” for some balls, while others will give you a numerical value ranging from 10 to 175.

If you’re a beginner or still learning the intricacies of bowling, then you’re probably going to want a ball with a low hook potential. This will make it easier for you to focus on getting the ball down the lane without ending up in the gutter, so you can score more while you work on your form and technique. If you’re already familiar with more complex techniques, or ready to start learning them, you’re going to want a ball with a higher hook potential. Hooking allows you to control how the ball enters the pocket and hits the pins. It’s a higher-level skill that gives you more options for different lane types and grease patterns.

Weight

Weight is something that is going to be different for everyone, as it really does depend on your own strength level. Most men and more skilled bowlers tend to use heavier balls, as they allow for more control over the ball’s motion. However, using a lighter ball means that it will spin faster, which some bowlers use to reduce hook potential and achieve more backend action. Children are also typically going to go with lighter bowling balls, around the 10 pound mark, since these are much easier to control.

Overall Look

It might seem silly, but the look of your bowling ball is an important part of the entire buying process. If you don’t like how your ball looks, you’re not going to be confident while you play. Playing without confidence is going to affect your form and how much power you can put into each throw. Make sure you choose a ball that has a color and pattern that suits your personality, so you can feel good while you play. Also, note that some hybrid resin coverstocks will create unique flowing color patterns compared to the solid colors of other styles. Just remember, the look of a ball is not going to affect how well it handles.

Final Advice

If you can, head to your bowling alley and try out a few different balls so you can understand the differences for yourself. Speak to an attendant so you can find balls with the various coverstocks and core types if necessary. This allows you to really see the differences for yourself; that way you can bring some actual experience and real life preference into the buying phase.