Volume 2, Issue 7, The 59th Edition
By Angel Zobel-Rodriguez
When I first moved to the San Fernando Valley about seven years ago, most of the bowling centers had wood lanes. I had moved from a center in the next county that had converted to synthetic lane surfaces during my tenure there, and ever since then I've bowled on both types. Having twelve centers to choose from in the Valley has always given me many choices. But over the years, things have evolved to where up to this summer half the houses were wood, and the other half had synthetic lanes. And so there was a sort of balance to the lane distribution.
Over the next two weeks, the center where I'm bowling my summer leagues is going synthetic, so instead of six of one, half dozen of the other, synthetics will make up a majority of the centers and a majority of the lane beds in my association.
I sense a disturbance in the force.
This week, I realized I will see a day where there won't be a house left with those familiar dark boards that hint to a visiting bowler where the house shot is commonly played. Sure some sythetics have places to watch for a bowler's break point, but that's not the same. I liked knowing where "most" bowlers threw the ball when I got there. And before anyone starts quoting Yoda about "I sense much fear in you. Fear is the path of the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." Don't worry, I won't suffer.
This feeling I have really isn't much different than a couple years ago when the last drive-in movie theater closed up to become a 20-plex. Sure, stereo surround sound and stadium seating are wonderful innovations, but so was laying down in the back of a hatchback and being able to talk through the movie if I wanted.
Seriously, I'm not afraid of synthetics. I can't even say I have a preference between the two. They're definitely not the "Dark Side." I'm just a fan of variety--different lane surfaces, different lane conditions. And the only suffering I will be doing will be when I don't have that wooden lane option available to me anymore.
So many bowlers fear synthetics, what's the difference, anyway? Personally, I think people just let something unknown get to them. Maybe I was lucky when I had my first synthetic experience. Averaging 107 that year, nothing that happened really could be blamed on the lanes. And actually, I had a good experience on synthetics, and I continued to learn and improve, so I never had trouble with synthetics. It comes down to bowling on a real wood (pine and maple) surface, or a high-density particle board. They're both certified the same way, and they both get lane conditioner. Any differences between wood and synthetic isn't that much different than different oil patterns. There are definitely people that have trouble with the synthetic approaches, and luckily, some houses are now keeping their wooden approaches.
In the end, the decision to convert to synthetics is a business one. The fact of the matter is that synthetics cost more to install initially, but everything after that makes them the darling of bowling proprietors. They last three or more times longer than wood lanes, without the hassle of resurfacing every few years or even the mess of rescreening every year. So for a higher initial investment, synthetics become the work horse of lane construction. So I can't really blame proprietors for choosing the more economical, heck, sensible, alternative. But as the person who certifies houses, I know that seams are another area of the lanes I have to check, and synthetics are just one more reason for my team mates to fear a particular center.
So just because I understand the decision, doesn't mean I won't miss the wood lanes any less. I'll be seeking out the remaining wood centers until they shutter or convert the last one. And I'll probably have a party there. Maybe I'll ask them to put out some short oil, and I'll pull out my Pink Hammer for old time's sake.
(Many thanks to Steve Mermelstein for his help explaining the intricacies of synthetic and wood lanes.)