The focus….the intensity….the stamina, sweat, and style….the sweetness of victory…and the soul-stripping agony of defeat. This ain’t your average playing with your sag…er…weighted balls. This is the knockdown dragout sport of Bowls. Otherwise known as……lawn bowling.
Beware, what I’m about to share with you may be disturbing to the faint of heart. 🙂
Alright, so it was too easy not to start out poking a little fun, especially when it comes to balls. It never gets old. But lest you are mistaken, this is a serious sport with serious players, and not all old either. It’s also international with annual championships and the whole 33 and a half meters (the minimum length of a “rink”, or field of play). It’s said the Egyptians invented it so, you know, it’s been around just a tad longer than say our American-style football. And while it’s not exactly a blood sport- quite the 180-degree opposite really, where I heard opposing teams complimenting each other on their “lovely bowls” throughout the tournament I photographed- it does deserve some respect for the amount of skill needed to place those things exactly where they need to go.
Before I continue, though, I have to mention it’s often the case when I do event photography, or really any kind of documentary-style shooting, that I don’t know a lot about what I’m seeing. To a large extent, that’s why I’m there in the first place. It’s always a learning experience and it gives me the challenge of presenting a subject with fresh eyes. However, fresh eyes don’t always translate into capturing critical moments of the story, because I don’t always recognize when those are happening. For example, I photograph women’s flat track and banked track roller derby and after a year and a half I’m barely getting to the point where I know what’s going on because of the complexity of strategy and play. And so it is with “Bowls”. It would take awhile to really figure out the strategy so what follows are more of my first impressions of the sport. Hopefully, you learn a little about it, too!
So how can one not first be impressed by the style? All (or mostly) white.
Of course, you always have your rebels.
And here in Arizona, you better be wearing something to protect yourself from the sun.
And you have to keep your hands sweat-free so you can really handle those bowls, so everyone has one of these around.
Oh, and it’s always a good opportunity to work on your tan here, haha.
Then there are the tools of the game. I guess the balls themselves, or bowls as they’re called, are the obvious starting point. An important thing to note is that the bowls are biased, or weighted, so a little understanding of geometry and physics can go a long way. [Ed.- Apparently, they used to be weighted. Now they’re just shaped so they roll on the curve.]
The small white ball is the “jack”. Essentially, the closer your bowls are to the jack by the time everyone has bowled, the more points you’ll get.
I asked if it was kinda like bocce. I received an emphatic “only this takes skill” as a response. Sorry bocce boys and girls.
You also have your ball collector. I’m sure it has a more technical name but I didn’t catch it.
You have the mat where all bowls are played. From what I could tell, it also helps players line up.
Some folks roll with a fancy contraption.
Finally, you have to have your chalk to mark “dead” balls and your “measure” to see who is in fact closest to the jack.
And that’s about it for the tools. Of course, as with almost any sport, the players are what make the game. The thing I noticed immediately was the form various players had when bowling.
At one point I was talking to a gentleman who said when he was told I was photographing the tournament, he thought it’d be as exciting as watching paint dry. But I found it really fun watching the intensity with which they played. Particularly some of the guys who would literally chase their bowls down the rink to see where they ended up.
And they were often heard talking to their bowls, too.
And the intense concentration and strategizing amongst teammates was fascinating.
And that’s about it. There are some details I’m leaving out. For example, each team has a “lead” and a “skip” that are pretty much like player positions. And each game consists of a set number of “ends” which are when all the bowls go from one end of the rink to the other. And I’m not even touching on the strategic aspects, which are numerous I’m sure.
I can definitely see the appeal of the game for the older generations. It’s not too physically taxing, unless you’re playing in the middle of a summertime day here (i.e., 115-degree heat). And I’ve always been of the opinion that a little healthy competition keeps the mind and body more fit than it would be otherwise.
And hey, they’re playing for money, too! I mean, they’re not gonna retire on the purse, nevermind all these players are retirees, but money always makes games that much more interesting to play.
Finally, after three days of competition (yes, THREE….a single game can last a couple hours and they play two a day), the victors of the 2012 Bob Lane Mixed Triples Tournament. Congratulations!!
FInally, finally, I had to add this one I’m calling “Get off my lawn!” 🙂
[Ed.- This is the first of a series I’ll be doing on active senior living here in northwest Phoenix.]