Society

Bowling alleys attract new kind of players

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Westgate Shopping Mall's Strikez Bowling Singles League members. July 13, 2021. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Summary

  • Bowling appeals to a huge demographic, because it is simple, extremely participatory, and recreational.
  • People, no matter their age, can play the game and they do not have to be professionals to do so.
  • The swinging, throwing, walking with the weighted balls, and jumping when one scores help burn calories and exercise joints, ligaments, and tendons.

Not many Kenyans find great pleasure in watching a bowling match. The game of bowling has been known to appeal to a few families or friends seeking exercise, camaraderie, and fun from hitting duckpins.

But now it is gaining popularity as more people pay attention to the shouts that follow each hit of the pins. At Strikez Bowling Alley in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, they are even organising competition leagues.

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Westgate Shopping Mall's Strikez Bowling Singles League members during a game on July 13, 2021. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

On a Monday evening at Strikez Bowling Alley, people cheer each other on as they watch the balls roll to either crash into the pins or fall by the wayside into the gutter.

For the past month, most of these participants have been coming to this alley to compete against each other.

One of them is Moiz Sharafali. An avid bowler, this is the seventh league he is participating in.

“It’s great to see more people coming out to bowl. Not just during the competitions but also playing for leisure,” Mr Sharafali says.

“Those who play for the first time do so because they think it’s a cool game, and guess what? They are right!” Compared to other countries, the game whose origin is said to be Egypt is relatively new in Kenya. In recent years, however, it has been warming its way into people’s hearts, “especially in the last four years,” Mr Sharafali says, adding that the number of people in the alley on a Monday evening is evidence of this.

Several factors are making this game popular.

“Bowling alleys are great sources of entertainment for individuals, families, and groups,” says Victor Oreyo, the marketing manager of Strikez Bowling Alley.

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Westgate Shopping Mall's Strikez Bowling on June 16, 2021. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

“As people discover and try the game, they find that they enjoy it and just keep coming. Bowling is a game that supports romance since it’s a great activity for a first date.”

Bowling, unlike other sports, also appeals to a huge demographic, because it is simple, extremely participatory, and recreational. People, no matter their age, can play the game and they do not have to be professionals to do so. Technology has played a role in making the game easier to play.

Most clients at Strikez Bowling Alley are new to the game, having been brought by family or friends, or curious after coming across a social media post. The 17,000-square-metre space has ten bowling alleys. Each can accommodate eight people.

“It is not uncommon to find, especially during the weekends, players from as young as nine to senior citizens,” Mr Oreyo says, adding that their staff train newbies on bowling basics and help them choose the right weight of the ball to avoid injury so that they can participate as pros would.

Crashing pins

Martha Nyambura has been bowling since 2012, having been introduced to the game by her parents as a child. For her, the game is a great reliever of stress. The accompanying bowling sounds are the soundtrack she dances off her stress.

“There’s something very satisfying and joyous about the sound of the crashing pins. This totally boosts my mood and I leave the alley feeling lighter and happy,” she says.

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Westgate Shopping Mall's Strikez Bowling on June 16, 2021. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Besides helping in mental and emotional health, Ms Nyambura highly recommends bowling for other benefits it offers, which include weight loss and muscle strengthening, and toning. The swinging, throwing, walking with the weighted balls, and jumping when one scores help burn calories and exercise joints, ligaments, and tendons.

Bowling gives you a chance to compete against your friends and family members in a way that no other sport can because it is an inclusive sport.

It helps people find company among like-minded individuals. This is one of the reasons why the leagues are exciting.

“We have 40 members in this season’s leagues, the youngest is 20 years old and the oldest 45, all brought together by their love for the game. The teams are made of newbies and pro individuals who probably didn’t know one another before the league,” Mr Sharafali explains.

The interior designer by profession has bowled in all the continents.

“I actively seek out bowling facilities during my travels and just because I know the game, the proverbial ice between a stranger and I melts,” he says.

During the pandemic, the value of the bowling alleys has increased. Strikez Bowling Alley opened its doors in early 2021 and according to Mr Oreyo, the reception has been “very good” despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.

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Victor Oreyo, the marketing manager of Westgate Shopping Mall's Strikez Bowling. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

He saw an increase in the number of players. On a good day, the alley can serve 100 people. Had it not been for the Covid-19 regulations, it could have been more, he says, as people want to try out new experiences and create fresh and exciting memories.

“People want to go out reconnect with their friends and family, eat and drink all under one roof,” Ms Nyambura says.

“Bowling is one way of doing that. It is fun and engaging whether you’re a child or an adult. It’s also an amazing way to meet friends and ease loneliness especially currently being experienced.”

The sport is also affordable at Sh350 to Sh500 per game. However, despite the low cost, the location of the bowling arenas in high-end malls makes it hard for the game to accommodate all Kenyans.

Play in a league

To participate in a local league, the registration fee starts from Sh4,000.

To go professional, you will need to invest in gear. Mr Sharafali has invested in professional bowling balls, shoes, and gear.

Brands known for professional bowling balls and gear include Strike Force, Storm Columbia, Motive, and Brunswick among others.

“I had to import my gear from abroad because there are no bowling vendors in the country,” Mr Sharafali says.

“As the culture of bowling grows in the country, this is a great investment opportunity,” he adds