Street bowling was born in San Francisco in 2020 during the height of COVID-19, when all establishments from bars to bowling alleys were shut down. It transposes bowling from dimly lit alleys to light filled streets. It’s roots can be traced back to the American West, where residents of Jackson, Wyoming bowled down highway thoroughfares as early as 1994.
To play, you’ll need a bowling ball, two bowling pins and a stretch of street at least 50 feet in length.
The bowling ball should be made of rubber or foam (see Amazon) and weigh less than three pounds, which will prevent damaging bikes, cars, or passing pedestrians. A substitute is a no-bounce lacrosse ball or a lacrosse ball, although these should not be used in odd terrain or around cars. Any substitute for the bowling ball must be agreed on by all players or teams.
The bowling pins should be regulation bowling pins. Acceptable substitutes include any foams or plastic pins heavy enough to withstand a gust of wind. In a pinch, you can use full and unopened 12 ounce beer or soda cans, or any drink container. Any substitute for the bowling pins must be agreed on by all players or teams.
The street can be any level of street closed to traffic, such as those closed for “city streets” and streets inside parks. Some closed streets are still open to local traffic, so choose a low/no traffic street. A substitute for a street can be a sidewalk or empty parking lot. For more alternatives, see variations below.
Players (or teams) flip a coin to see which player will determine the length of the course and which player will go first. The player that wins the toss determines the length of the course, choosing a number between 5 and 15. The other player takes the ball. Each player takes one pin. Players stand back-to-back and then take the chosen number of steps (i.e. 10) away from each other, calling out each step and then turning to face each other after completing the steps and placing the pin where they stand. Players can take large or small steps, using the length of their steps to further influence the length of the course.
Players take turns bowling the ball and seek to knock the other player’s pin down. Each player must release the ball before their own pin and can aim and release from any point in the street behind their line. A point is scored each time a player knocks down their opponent’s pin. The first player to win three points wins the set and the first player to win three games wins the set. After each game, the course is redrawn, with the losing player choosing a number between 5 and 15, the pins being reset at that distance, and with the losing player taking the first throw.
Players can mutually agree to a different number of points in a game or games in a set. Matches are always one set except in tournament play.
Each player is responsible for their ball from the moment they release it to the moment it crosses the line of the opponent’s pin, at which point that player becomes responsible for the ball. If the ball comes in contact with any valuable object (i.e, a car, bicycle, person, planter) while they are responsible for it, their opponent is awarded a point. A player may run out at any point to save their ball from striking any object. Players are encouraged to help each other out. A player may not win a set on a penalty point.
In round-robin individual play, any number of players can play. A single set of three points is played. The winner of each set stays on the street while the next player rotates in for another set. This can go forever, with individual players keeping track of their wins.
In team play, teams can consist of 2, 3 or 4 players, with each player taking turns bowling. If there is an odd number of people on each team, all teammates remain on the same side. If there is an even number of teammates on each side, sets should alternate between “semi-social” (with team members remaining on the same side) and “fully-social” (with two team members on each side). The first team that wins three (or the number of players on each team, whichever is greater) points wins the set, and the first team to win three sets wins the match.
Very few regulating street bowling games have been played, most are variations:
Full and unopened cans of beer are substituted for bowling pins. The can is consumed each time it is knocked down by the opposing player. In team play, multiple cans are used as pins: two players-two cans, three players-three cans, etc. Cans are placed exactly one can apart and each set concludes when all cans have been knocked down.
A single pin is placed at the bottom of a steep hill or stairs. One player is on the top to release; the other player is on the bottom to receive. Once the player on top throws the ball, they jog down the stairs following the ball. The player on the ball receives the ball, runs to the top and takes his turn. The rotation continues until a player wins the set (three points) and then the match (three sets), or when one player can no longer continue.
Self-balancing rules seek to equalize play between two players of different skill levels. If a player is ahead by a point, they must bowl from one body length behind their own pin, effectively making for a longer course. If the player is ahead by two points, they must bowl from two body lengths behind their own pin. Once the score is even, the player that was head returns to bowling from the line.
- I Rule!
This variation simply allows the winner of each game to add a rule that both players must follow. The other player must agree with the rule, and cannot reasonably object.