Bowling is sexy. But don’t take it from me, the gal who thinks it’s hot to pair a leopard skin jacket with combat boots.

Take it from my boyfriend, who I am convinced would not be my boyfriend in the first place if we had not gone bowling on our first date.

You can also take it from Caryn Bustos, general manager of Tucson’s Golden Pin Lanes at 1010 W. Miracle Mile.

After Bustos laughed at the question, she had to agree that bowling is, in fact, sexy.

“It can be, sure,” she said. “It’s a very social sport.”

While bowling may not feature football’s tight pants or hockey’s alluring goalie masks, it offers so much more.

“Bowling is fun,” said Dave Petruska, a Tucson Citizen staffer who has been hooked on the sport for more than 50 years. “You make a lot of noise. You can do it whether you are 8 or 80. And size doesn’t matter.”

It’s also a great first date. Folks are engaged in a unifying activity, immediately putting them at ease.

There is no need to force conversation or come up with dumb pickup lines about astrological signs.

You don’t even have to be good at it. Although I’m Polish, I only averaged something like 70 on our first date. And he still asked me out on a second one.

Bowling is also a welcome break from the bar scene, Bustos said, especially when places like Golden Pin Lanes offer late-night cosmic bowling.

“That’s where it gets a little more sexy,” Bustos said. “Some of the girls come in with hardly anything on.”

After all, the only dress requirement is the shoes (which I also find incredibly attractive in some sick, twisted way).

Not just the nearly naked late-night set are taking to the lanes.

Senior citizens, elementary and high school students and full-fledged families are lacing up their bowling shoes.

Ever since the economy went in the gutter, Bustos has noticed an increase in bowlers.

For a mere $30, a family of six can bowl for two hours at Golden Pins, with the price of shoe rental, a pitcher of soda pop and a large pizza included.

Compare that with a bunch of $7 entrees, $10 movie tickets and $5 boxes of those little chocolate candies with white sprinkles.

Kids who are too small to lift the ball can get help with a big wire ramp. The kid using one next to us got fewer gutter balls than I did.

Bowling was also rated the No. 1 participatory sport for 2007, with more than 67 million folks heading to the lanes at least once that year.

“Bowling, as a recreational activity, has always been hot,” Petruska said.

While he said bowling leagues have never regained the popularity they once boasted from the 1950s through the 1970s, bowling has become more widespread in other venues.

Twenty states across the nation offer high school or college bowling as a varsity sport; 25 others – including Arizona – offer it as a club sport.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association sanctions women’s bowling as a varsity sport, Petruska said, and more than two dozen schools are in on the action.

And that’s not all.

Bowling has fully blasted into the national scene, with the 2009 United States Bowling Congress National Tournament in Las Vegas expecting a hefty 17,200 teams, for a total of 85,000 individual bowlers.

They will be hurling large, marbleized balls at a bunch of defenseless pins for 154 days straight.

You don’t get much sexier than that.

Bowlers may get bathroom breaks in between, but the tournament’s heavy action runs from Feb. 21 through July 24 – longer than a lot of relationships last.

That just proves bowling can keep people together, even long after a smashing first date.

Ryn Gargulinski is a poet, artist and Tucson Citizen reporter who used to wear bowling shoes as a fashion statement. Listen to a preview of her column at 8:10 a.m. Thursdays on KLPX 96.1 FM.


Award winner: This column earned Best in Bowling Journalism honors from U.S. Bowler, the official membership publication of the United States Bowling Congress.

This column originally appeared in the Jan. 9, 2009, issue of the Tucson Citizen newspaper.