Why Do You Have to Wear Bowling Shoes?

The Real Reason Behind the Mystery of Those Ugly Shoes

USA, Arizona, Scottsdale, Man tying bowling shoe
db2stock/Getty Images

For now, we'll ignore the strategic use of bowling shoes and how they help bowlers perform better. That's another issue altogether that only applies to bowlers who want to be able to understand how their shoes can maximize their performances and throw more strikes, either through customization or strategy (yes, it gets very in-depth).

For those of you who bowl a couple times a year and don't have your own bowling shoes, you're required to rent some before you bowl, despite likely not caring about how well your shoes will help you bowl.

Depending on your mindset, this is either a fun experience or a disgusting bother.

But why do you have to rent them? Are bowling centers trying to squeeze you for every extra dollar they can? (Not necessarily.) Do bowling shoes really make a difference? (Yes.)

Maintain the Approaches

One of the most important pieces of a bowling alley is the approach. This is the part of the lane that you walk on, leading up to the foul line, prior to releasing your ball. For maximum performance, the approach needs to be flat, moderately slick and free of debris.

Imagine a chewed piece of gum on the approach. You walk up to throw your shot, don't see the gum, step on it, stick when you're expecting to slide and fall on your face. Not only is this embarrassing, but it's extremely painful. The lanes are built to absorb repeated impact by 16-pound spheres and thus will not give your face any special treatment.

The potential for gruesome injury due to unexpected sticky approaches is why most bowling centers restrict food and drink to behind the lanes.

That gum didn't have to come from someone in the bowling center, though. Imagine if you didn't have to wear bowling shoes. The person who was in the lane before you walked in wearing street shoes that had gum stuck to the bottom.

As be bowled, that gum wore off on the approach. When you take over the lane, the approach is sticky and dangerous. Because no one can possibly know what is on the bottom of anyone's street shoes, bowling centers need to make sure you don't wear them on the approach.

Have you ever walked into a bowling center while it was raining or snowing outside? More than likely, there was a sign at the door asking you to remove your shoes right there. Moisture can get on the bottom of bowling shoes, causing people to stick and fall on their faces, and we don't want that.

How do Bowling Shoes Help?

Outside of the performance reasons, bowling shoes are strictly worn in bowling alleys. So, as long as no one takes the bowling shoes outside, theoretically, the shoes are clean. They definitely don't look clean, but the soles are far more controlled than if everyone was allowed to walk in off the street with filthy shoes.

It's important to have clean soles in a controlled environment for all the above reasons. Any debris that finds its way onto the approach, however small, could cause disaster for an innocent person simply trying to have a couple hours of fun.

Bowling-alley managers are not trying to gouge you out of a couple dollars.

They're trying to keep their equipment in top shape while avoiding accidents and averting danger for the customers. And, while they're at it, they might as well get a couple dollars, as they are running a business, after all.

Bowling-Shoe Tips

Even when renting bowling shoes, you should avoid going outside in them, especially in the rain or snow. Likewise, you should not wear them into the bathrooms or walk through spilled food or drink anywhere in the bowling alley. If everyone takes care to not track filth all over the approaches, everyone is safer and has more fun.