Bowling is a beloved activity for friends and family, as well as a popular sport for professional players.
While the rules are simple, the game of bowling itself is surprisingly harder than it looks. It requires strength, balance, and above all, brilliant hand-eye coordination.
When you’re a beginner, a child, or if you simply aren’t good at throwing things in a straight line, this can seriously impact your bowling experience.
Sure, the ball might look like it’s off to a good start, but then it starts to drift down the middle of the lane, inevitably ending up in the gutter.
Luckily for you, bumpers are in place to prevent this from happening. But, “What is a bowling bumper, and when should I use it?”, we hear you cry. Here’s everything you need to know about bowling bumpers!
What Is A Bowling Bumper?
Bowling bumpers are covers or grills that automatically lift up in front of the gutters. These bumpers are designed to prevent bowling balls from going into the gutters, which keeps the ball on the lane.
The reason these covers are called “bumpers” is because bowling balls naturally “bump” off the side of them.
These bumpers are surprisingly strong and do not break under the speed or weight of a bowling ball, regardless of how fast it’s going down the lane.
When you go to a bowling alley with friends or family, you’ll find that bumpers can be optionally added for each person.
This means that the bumpers will automatically rise when it’s your frame to play, and then disappear when another player has a frame (if they have chosen to not use the bumpers).
However, in a professional bowling alley, bowling bumpers don’t really exist. Or if the bumpers are hidden underneath the lane, they very rarely get used.
This is because bumpers are used for practice purposes rather than for professional gameplay, as it hinders their performance.
Who Uses Bumpers In Bowling?
Bumpers can be used by anybody in bowling, but they are typically used by children, beginner bowlers, and those who struggle with aiming and throwing the heavy ball.
After all, there’s nothing quite as frustrating as consistently throwing the bowling ball into the gutter, leaving you with no pins knocked over.
This is especially useful for families with young children. Bowling should be a fun activity, which will quickly become the source of a large argument and upset if your kid has a meltdown about consistently rolling the ball into the gutter.
For the sake of your sanity and peace, bumpers can be a true savior.
However, you don’t have to be a kid just to use bowling bumpers!
Bumpers are also commonly used by teenagers and adults who are new to bowling (or just lack hand-eye coordination), as it helps to improve their aim.
The bumpers aren’t always used as an aid to push the ball in the right direction, they’re just there to prevent the balls from going into the gutter.
For some, knowing that bumpers are in the lane relieves them of worrying about the ball rolling into the gutter. This helps to build confidence and encourages players to not rely on bumpers in the next game.
However, it’s worth noting that not every bowling alley offers bumpers. If you know that someone in your group will rely on bumpers, then try to find an alley that has bumpers. These are often called “bumper bowling alleys”.
History Of Bumper Bowling
So, who do we have to thank for bumper bowling?
Bumper bowling was originated by Phil Kinzer, the owner of a bowling center in Dallas, in 1982.
After experiencing years of tantrums (from kids and adults alike) about how their bowling balls kept falling into the gutter, he was inspired to do something about it.
Not only this, but Kinzer’s wife added that his main motivation to create the bumpers was because he wanted his three-year-old son to enjoy the game without having a meltdown.
The creation of the bumpers meant that Phil could play with his son and not have to worry about tears.
Since 1982, Jupiter Lanes Bowling Center in Dallas has become wildly popular with children across the state, hosting a plethora of birthday parties and school trips every week.
Instead of leaving the kids to have meltdowns over their ball drifting into the gutter, the bumpers allowed them to have as much fun as possible.
Kinzer only ever wanted the bumpers to be convenient for kids. He found many ways to create the bumpers, from lining the gutters with cardboard tubes to inflatable plastic cushions.
Eventually, news caught on about this new invention, and the automatic bumpers that we know and love today were created.
Other bowling alleys started to invest in these automatic bumpers, and soon enough, almost every non-professional bowling alley in the Western world implemented them.
The inclusion of bumpers also helped to drastically boost business in these bowling centers, because it allowed for groups of children to book multiple alleys and play the game without any hassle.
Why Are Bumpers Used In Bowling?
So, we’ve established that bumpers are highly effective for kids who go bowling, as it prevents them from having a tantrum when the ball falls into the gutter. However, there are some more reasons why bumpers are so handy.
Firstly, bowling balls are heavy, especially for young children. Whether they use the aid of a ramp or their parents, they’re not going to have the upper body strength to roll a bowling ball at a fast speed or a straight line.
So, when a bowling ball lacks momentum, it’s going to drift into the gutter.
When creating the bowling bumpers, Phil Kinzer expressed how bowling bumpers were simply the bowling equivalent of playing baseball without strikes.
They’re simply a tool to prevent children from losing their confidence and enjoyment of the game.
Not only this, but bumpers are there to encourage children to learn how to bowl a ball properly. Eventually, bumpers won’t be there to rely on, they will simply act as a reassurance that the ball will not go in the gutter.
The aim of bumpers is to give kids the confidence to eventually bowl a ball without them there. In a way, bumpers work like stabilizers on a bicycle.
Am I Too Old To Use Bumpers In Bowling?
While bumpers were originally invented for children, that doesn’t mean adults can’t use bumpers!
Anybody can use the help of bumpers in bowling, including adults who have only ever been bowling a handful of times, elderly players, and disabled players.
As bowling is considered an inclusive sport, it makes sense to offer the use of bumpers to disabled people who struggle with hand-eye coordination or upper body strength. After all, everybody should be allowed to enjoy the game.
However, some bowling centers have restrictions on who can use bumpers.
Depending on where you go, there might be a specific age limit for bumper use, which limits the use of bumpers to children under the age of ten only.
Some bowling centers might not offer bumpers to any player at all. While this might seem slightly unfair for children, these bowling centers would argue that the use of optional bumpers makes the game unfair all together.
Without the risk of rolling the ball into the gutter, then bowling doesn’t pose a challenge.
So, if you’re an adult who prefers bumper bowling (or if you’re going bowling with the kids), then make sure to look for a bowling center that offers bumpers to all players.
Types Of Bowling Bumpers
Bowling bumpers have come a long way since the days of cardboard tubes and manually placing the bumpers in place.
Jupiter Lanes Bowling Center might’ve been ahead of the game, but they needed other bowling centers to hop on board for bumpers to develop into what we know today.
Plastic Inflatable Bumpers
Plastic inflatables were among the first makeshift bumpers used in Jupiter Lanes Bowling Center.
These inflatable cushions were ideal for withholding the pressure from rolling bowling balls and also stopped them from going in the gutter.
However, plastic inflatables were quickly ditched. The amount of manual labor that went into keeping them inflated and in place was too much effort for the bowling center.
Still, you might find some bowling centers still use plastic inflatable bumpers if their automatic bumpers are not in use.
The plastic inflatables were shortly replaced with steel bumpers, which provided a more permanent option that didn’t require regular manual maintenance.
These bumpers were still manually placed along the gutters in a lane – for example, if a kid’s party or school trip came to the bowling center, employees would bring the steel bumpers out and install them by hand.
However, the manual installation and transportation of the steel bumpers soon became a chore, not to mention the efforts of trying to store them.
So, after the decision that steel bumpers were still too much work to install, automatic retractable bumpers were soon created and installed in most bowling centers.
These bumpers are still commonly used in the majority of bowling centers in the Western world to this day.
Automatic bumpers are installed as part of the lane and can be optionally used depending on the player.
When not in use, they retract underneath the lane, so the gutters are exposed. They are then erected when a player chooses to use them.
The only downside to automatic bumpers is that they are expensive to install, which also means they are expensive to fix if they break.
Still, as most bowling centers in developed countries have these bumpers already installed, the cost is definitely worth it.
The best part about automatic bumpers is that they can be erected and retracted for each player.
So, if you’re an adult playing with kids, you can add the bumpers to each of the children on the scoring system, and take the bumpers away for your own frames.
How To Use Bumpers
Using bumpers in a bowling lane is easy. Bumpers are designed to help your gameplay by allowing you to always at least knock one pin, as the ball won’t roll into the gutter.
So, the best way to use bumpers is to bowl as you normally would. The bumpers are there as a backup if the ball rolls toward the gutter.
However, some players also like to spin the ball to bounce off the bumpers, which can either help or hinder their performance.
So, there you have it! Bumpers are a highly useful addition to a bowling lane, and while they aren’t used by professional players, they’re certainly helpful for children, beginners, and those who struggle to keep the ball out of the gutter.
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