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How to Choose the Right Pair of Bowling Shoes

Updated on September 13, 2009

For many casual bowlers, the only type of bowling shoes they have ever worn are those ugly, dried out leather shoes that are available for hire at most bowling alleys. Most of us get by with these shoes because we don’t know any better and are not experienced enough to appreciate the benefits of having our own specialised bowling shoes. However, if you want to develop your skills as a bowler, having a good pair of bowling shoes is almost as important as having the right bowling ball.

Guide to Buying Bowling Shoes

1. The Sole

Although rented bowling shoes are great for beginner bowlers, if you are serious about improving your game, there will come a time when you will outgrow them. The main problem with rented bowling shoes is that they are made with a universal sole to suit beginner bowlers. A better bowler may find these that these soles offer too much traction or that they are too slick.

Unlike rental shoes, professional bowling shoes are unique - each shoe has a different purpose. One shoe is intended for sliding while the other is for braking. Which shoe offers friction and which one is slick depends on whether you are right-handed or left-handed. If you are a right-handed bowler, your left shoe will have the sliding sole while the right shoe is for braking.

Most people aren’t aware of the differences in the soles of bowling shoes because rental shoes come with two soles that are the same – they are universal soles intended for beginners and are not specifically for braking or sliding.

You can also opt for bowling shoes with interchangeable soles. These allow you to change your soles to match the lane conditions of the bowling alley you are playing at as different alleys have different surfaces that only a more experienced bowler can detect. Shoes with interchangeable soles also allow you to adjust the degree of slide to match your style of bowling.

2. Types of Bowling Shoes

There are generally two types of bowling shoes – performance bowling shoes and athletic bowling shoes.

If you are a beginner bowler who just prefers to own your own pair of bowling shoes rather than having to rent them, then the athletic bowling shoe may be a more suitable pair to shop for. Designed to look and feel like a regular athletic shoe, athletic bowling shoes have two sliding soles that are great for beginner bowlers with little experience.

For more serious bowlers who are focused on improving performance, the better option would be to go for the performance shoes. Performance bowling shoes come with one slick sole and one sole with traction. The slick sole, which is made with leather, facilitates the sliding of the foot opposite to your bowling arm to provide an easier finish of your delivery of the bowling ball. The traction shoe has a sole with a high friction material such as a rubber base that allows you to brake.

3. Shoe Size

It goes without saying that having a pair of shoes with the right fit is important for any sport. Likewise in bowling you do not want a pair of bowling shoes that are too tight - which can affect your ability to move smoothly - or too loose - which can throw you off balance. Both can have a negative effect on your game.

Bowling shoes also have a variety of widths (another feature that is not available with rental shoes) so make sure you have your feet properly measured. As your feet do tend to expand as they heat up during play, it is wise to shop for your shoes in the late afternoon (after a relatively full day of shoe wearing) to ensure you do not end up with a shoe that is too small to play comfortably in.

4. Cost

Bowling shoes can cost anywhere between $30 to $200 depending on what you’re looking for and what your budget is. Though true bowlers will be more interested in the performance of the shoe, these days you can find trendy bowling shoes that will not only serve you well at the bowling alley but will make you look good, too. Brands such as Dexter or Etonic offer some pretty aesthetic bowling shoes.

5. Other Features

Though athletic shoes are generally more comfortable to wear, performance shoes can also be made more comfortable with cushioned insoles and lined interiors. Since you will be wearing the shoes for the entire duration of the game, it is worthwhile looking for a pair of shoes that not only provides performance but comfort as well.

Many bowling shoes come with leather uppers which are fairly breathable and comfortable to wear. If you do happen to choose a bowling shoe with non-leather uppers, you may want to make sure they are breathable for extra comfort.

6. Online Shopping

While you can find a considerably larger range of bowling shoes online, it is not recommended that you buy your bowling shoes online as you will not be able to test the fit and comfort of the shoe before buying it. Reserve your internet searches for research purposes only and make your actual purchase in a brick and mortar bowling pro shop. That way you can also get the professional advice of experienced sales staff.

Having the right pair of bowling shoes is like having the right bowling ball. It does affect your performance and can help you bowl better. Know what your requirements are, do your research and make sure you try on a variety of bowling shoes to determine which shoes are the best ones for you.


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