Bowling tape: what it is, why you need it & how to use it


Woman bowling

We’ve all got that one player on the team. The one who shoots so poorly during warm-up then gets astronomically better as the game goes on. The usual reason they justify this is, “Just wait! My fingers will swell up by the third frame and I’ll be good to go!”

This approach is not a good one. Your warm-up is when you are supposed to be figuring out which of your balls is going to be best for the lane you are playing on, not just when you are slinging shots down the lane without trying!

Maybe you are this guy. Maybe you have to wait for your fingers to swell up before you can really bring your “A” game to the match. There is a tool to help counter this – bowling tape.

What is Bowling Tape?

Bowling tape is an essential tool in your bowling bag and was originally designed to protect the thumb and fingers from abrasion and scrapes that bowling multiple matches can cause. It has been discovered, however, that it is also useful in a pretty common situation that most bowlers experience (whether they realize it or not!): finger swell.

As you bowl, your fingers and thumbs start to swell up and, as such, will fill out your finger holes far better. Until they are fully warmed up, however, your fingers will not fit snugly in the holes and, ultimately, will end up creating poor shots.

Bowler’s tape eliminates this. It creates an artificial finger swell by filling in the space that your fingers and thumb will not fill until they are warmed up. It comes in thin strips that can be layered as necessary to create the perfect, snug fit for your fingers.

This allows for more accurate shots and helps eliminate your poor technique when trying to choose your ball right at the beginning!

Why Do I Need Bowling Tape?

Over the course of a day, every person’s hand and fingers change size slightly based on a number of conditions. It could be based on the temperature, the food you ate through the day, how much you have been using your hands and what you have been doing with them, and (for bowlers) how many games you have already played!

This will be most noticeable in the thumb but happens to every finger. As mentioned before, bowling tape can help to reduce the problems that changing finger size can create for bowlers by helping to create a snug fit, no matter the size of your hand!

What Kinds of Bowling Tape Are There?

Bowling tape comes in many different types and textures, each designed with a slightly different purpose in mind. When deciding what tape to use, experimentation will be your best friend and will allow you to figure out what is right for your hand.

Textured Tape

Textured tape – also known as white tape or grip tape – provides more grip and is often used in the front of the thumb hole of your bowling ball. It allows for a more secure grip on the ball, while not clinging to your fingers so much that it causes you to throw the ball into the ceiling tiles like some kind of amateur!

Textured tape comes in many different texture types ranging from high grip to low grip. These different textures will work better with different types of hands, so try a few different ones! There are also numerous colors available, so if you have a color scheme going on, you don’t have to throw it off.

Like with anything else, there are different manufacturers of textured tape that vary widely in quality, thickness, and how long it will last. As with anything else, experimentation is key here. Even the most highly recommended products may not be the best for you, so feel free to play around with different types of tape and find what fits you best!

Slick Tape

Slick tape is exactly that: it is slicker than textured tape and provides less grip. With that in mind, slick tape is more suited for use in the back of the finger holes so you are not trying to keep a firm grip on a slick surface while also trying to maintain a good shot.

Slick tape has multiple different variants in how slick it is, so once again, experimentation will be a key. Some skin types might actually stick to slick tape, rather than slide off it as you should, which can cause even bigger problems than finger swell can!

For those who would like to try using slick tape without spending a lot of money, it is not uncommon to replace a dedicated bowling slick tape with a roll of electrical tape that you can cut as you need it. It will provide a similar texture, but may not hold up quite as well as purpose-built bowling tape. Keep that in mind when bowling on a budget!

Protective Tape

Protective tape is a little different than other bowling tapes. Protective tape is applied to the hand, rather than the ball, and both help with the problem of finger swell and also provides an additional protective layer to help prevent against wearing down the skin and causing scrapes or rashes during long bowling sessions!

Protective tape can come in pre-cut lengths or rolls that you can cut yourself. Whichever way you choose to go, the best way to apply it is to start from the thumbnail and stretch it all the way to the big knuckle to ensure that it (A) doesn’t come off and (B) doesn’t roll up everything you put your finger in or out of the hole.

Generally, protective tape is less useful than textured tape or slick tape for filling in the space created by finger swell. With this in mind, it is never a bad idea to use protective tape in conjunction with another type, in order to fill in all the gaps as well as prevent abrasions!

How to Use Bowling Tape

Bowling tape is fairly easy to use, but it is equally easy for those who do not have experience with it to get it wrong. As a general precaution, it is best to check the fit of every ball you plan to use before you begin to bowl and apply the bowling tape as necessary. One of the most common mistakes bowlers make when using tape is placing it in the wrong spots, which might even eliminate the benefits of having it in the first place.

1.)Marking the Spot

            Some people think that the most effective spot for bowling tape is in the middle of the thumb hole. Others think that you draw a straight line from the bridge to find the proper placement. Both of these theories are wrong. The best way to determine where to place your bowling tape is by using your own natural grip on the ball.

            The best way to mark where to place your bowling tape needs only a grease pen. Mark all over the middle of your thumb and fingers – on both sides – with the grease pen, then take your natural grip. Now, rub your thumb and fingers up and down through the holes to get the grease to transfer to the ball and show you where your natural grip is positioned at.

            It does not hurt to wet the tip of the grease pen before doing this if necessary, to ensure that the grease transfers fully and clearly to your fingers. This will allow the most visible markings on the inside of the hole so you can easily see exactly where to apply your tape. Also, after you have figured out your best placement for tape, you can make a small mark in the top of the thumb hole for future reference when applying bowling tape.

2.) Preparing the Tape

            Applying bowling tape is not as easy as it sounds like it might be. It is important to remember that this tape is going to see some extreme stresses – between your fingers rubbing on it, the ball hitting the lane, and the oil and dirt that can gather on the adhesive part of the tape if you are not careful with how you apply it, it is pretty easy to get this part wrong too! Keeping the tape’s adhesive clean and dirt-free before you put it on will ensure some longevity out of your tape and make your match that little bit easier.

            Putting tape on your ball starts with how you peel the tape off its backing. This is especially important with your grip tape, as this is the tape that is likely to see the most stress. When removing the tape from the paper backing, you will want to start at the bottom corner and peel upwards rather than at the top (which is usually the more rounded part on pre-cut pieces, although this is not always true) and peel down. The top is where it is most likely to fail, as this is the part that will see the most usage stress, so the less handling that adhesive can get, the better off you will be!

            Your next step in applying the tape will be attaching it to a tool, like a precision screwdriver or something similar, at the top of the tape. This will allow you to get the tape down into the hole while still being able to see your grease marks! Mount it firmly, but not so firmly that you get an indention in the tape from the tool. Doing that will allow more dirt and oils into the tape and cause the adhesive to fail quicker.

            Use your thumb and index finger to bend the sides of the tape up slightly while it is still on your tool of choice. This bow in the tape allows it to more accurately match the contour of your finger hole before sliding it into the hole.

3.) Applying the Tape

            Finally, your last step is to actually put the tape into the hole. When doing this, make sure to place the tape directly over the grease mark you left behind so you know it is positioned for your natural grip. You do not want the tap to be at the very top of the hole. Rather, place it one eighth to one-quarter of an inch below the opening for the finger or thumbhole so you lower your chances of accidentally pulling it out as you take your shot.

            Make sure that the tape you place has fully covered the grease mark you left in the first step. The goal of placing the tape on this mark is to get the mark directly in the center of the tape, as this means your thumb will be perfectly centered on it and will have a nice, even release. If the tape is too far to one side or the other, it might slightly hook your release and cause a less accurate shot.

4.) Checking Fit

            Now that your tape is in, it is time to check your fit! Slide your finger or thumb into the hole and see if it feels snug without being tight. If it fits perfectly, you are ready to start going!

            If it is still loose, you can apply another piece in the same way you did the first. If applying more than one piece of bowling tape, however, it is best to layer it going lower into the thumb hole like a flight of steps, rather than stacking them directly on top of each other. This makes it easier to remove individual pieces of bowling tape as your thumb and fingers swell during your match.

This method is used the same way on both the front and back of the hole. You may not get the placement right the first time, and that is okay! It may take some practice to be able to accurately place the bowling tape, every time. Slick tape is often harder to apply than grip tape due to their differences in flexibility, thickness, and general texture. So placing slick tape will almost definitely take some practice to really get it right.

As another side note, if you are using protective tape, make sure to have the protective tape on before you start applying grip tape and slick tape to the finger holes – otherwise, you might make it too tight when you add your protective tape!

Do not be afraid to add or remove tape as you go through the game. Some players (even professional bowlers) add and remove tape between every single frame! Remember, the whole goal of the tape is to make your game better. If that means you need slight adjustments all the time, then there is no shame in doing just that. Your teammates should be happy to wait for a good shot, rather than have anyone line up unprepared and potentially cost the match.

What Bowling Tape Should I Buy?

Bowling tape is made by a number of manufacturers, many of whom also make other bowling essentials (like balls and shoes). With such a wide variety of options, it can be difficult to sort through and find the tape that works best for you without dumping a bunch of money into different rolls that may or may not be the right fit for you and your hand.

When buying bowling tape, there are a couple of different things you want to consider. The most obvious one is how it affects your performance. Does it provide the snug fit you are looking for and prevent you from dropping the ball? Does it allow for a consistent release, regardless of the technique you choose to use for your shot? Does it help protect your hands if you chose protective tape?

It’s also important to keep in mind the ease of use. Bowling tape should not leave a ton of sticky residue behind when you peel it off, and it should not be that hard to apply or remove. However, it should also hold securely when it is applied so you are not having to put on a new piece every frame.

Another important consideration in bowling is the texture you are looking for. This is important in textured tape, as some textures will allow your individual finger and hand shape and texture to get a better grip on the ball, and, as such, allow for more control.

Your budget is also a factor to keep in mind when looking at bowling tape options; your choice in bowling tape should not mean you can not afford to eat or pay your rent this month!

With that said, there are some brands that see more recommendations than others among bowlers.

Bowlingball.com features one of the most recommended textured tapes, known as their Monster Bowling Tape. It comes in two different textures and multiple sizes, allowing for people with different size and shape hands to use this effectively. Monster Bowling Tape can also be re-used if it is removed carefully and reapplied to its backing. However, it does not provide any protection factor and it is likely you will still see callouses and scrapes without an additional protective tape. It is also a thicker textured tape, so it may not be for you if you need only a small adjustment.

For someone with a thinner hand, they might see better results from something like Turbo Grips Thumb Tape. It has a strong adhesive and a thin profile, plus it is lightweight. It has been reported staying in place for multiple games, although exact numbers are not given very often. Turbo Grips also guarantees an improved grip if it is applied properly. However, this is a more expensive tape so it may not be for the budget-conscious bowler.

Vise’s bowling tape sees generally positive reviews but is also known for its own set of issues. This tape is generally reviewed as long-lasting, easy to use, and not too expensive. It comes pre-cut so you do not have to worry about trying to cut it yourself. It also is some of the thinnest tapes on the market, which is good for bowlers who need only a slight adjustment to their finger holes. However, it has also been noted by numerous reviewers that, if your hands are not properly cleaned per their instructions before application, the adhesive can wear down rather quickly.

Where Can I Get Bowling Tape?

Because bowling tape is a fairly common part of the sport of bowling, there are numerous places where you can get bowling tape. There are plenty of online eCommerce shops where you can buy rolls or packages of pre-cut pieces. Sporting goods stores in your area are also likely to carry it as long as they carry other bowling supplies. To put it simply, the place you get the rest of your bowling equipment is also probably going to have a selection of bowling tape available as well!

Keep in mind that your best selection of options is likely to be available online, but this can also be to your detriment. Being overwhelmed with options can make choosing the right one a nearly impossible task. As mentioned before, it never hurts to ask if you can borrow some from your teammates and try out what they are using. When in doubt, go with a brand you know and trust first and see if their options is going to work for you.

Closing Thoughts

Bowling tape is one of the unsung heroes to bowlers. It provides protection and allows you to play accurately for your whole game. As your finger swells, it is easy to remove and replace to make sure every shot your throw has a perfect fit to your hand, and you are able to play your best every time!

With so many variants, options, and choices, bowling tape is one piece of equipment that need some experimentation from the bowler using it. Try a few different brands. Maybe even borrow some from your friends if you can! This will allow you to find out what works best for you, what fits your hand well, and, ultimately, will allow you to find out what you need to make your game a cleaner game.

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