On Wednesday evening the Pins ten-pin bowling centre in Henderson is abuzz. There's music playing, balls rumbling along the lanes and crashing pins. Teams of two are playing in a social bowling league known as the Happy Gang, and the bowlers certainly live up to that name. They cheerfully exchange greetings and socialise as they bowl their practice balls. When their official three games commence the social aspect doesn't end. They chat between bowls and because handicaps are applied to their scores, they each have an equal chance of winning, regardless of their age or ability.
The Happy Gang bowlers were once casual players, but their desire to bowl more regularly and their enjoyment of the social aspect of the sport led them to join the league. Now they play every week and receive benefits such as $5 games, a 20 per cent bar discount and access to fun tournaments.
Team member David Brown, 30, tells me the teams in the Happy Gang league are a mixture of friends, workmates, families and those who simply came along and signed up.
The three games only take about 1.5 hours and a smooth transition to the next league, Premier Singles, follows.
The Premier Singles play four games and again they all appear to know each other with lots of high-fives and encouragement during play. This is a competitive league with no handicaps and the bowlers bring along their own custom-made balls and their own bowling shoes.
These players were originally better than average bowlers who wanted to have a more competitive league experience. They're aged between 20 and 70 years and their bowling is impressive. One of them, James Kelly, 29, tells me that he began bowling when he was 9.
"At 15 I bowled my first 300 game and I've bowled two more since," he says. A 300 game consists of 12 strikes in a row and is a rare feat for bowlers. Like many of the bowlers in this league Kelly is part of the New Zealand Squad, playing in both national and international tournaments throughout the year.
New Zealand Squad bowler and the manager of Pins, Sarah Young, 31, is enthusiastic and encouraging about the growing popularity of ten-pin bowling in New Zealand.
"You can join a league as a team or you can just come along on your own and we'll find someone to bowl with you," she says. "You can start by using the house balls and then our Pro Shop sells any gear you might want. Having your own gear is comfortable and it helps with consistency when you bowl, but it's not essential."
Young explains that the league action extends beyond Wednesday evenings.
"Pins runs leagues every day and most are social, with handicaps, so you don't need to be experienced." A number of the Wednesday bowlers admit to playing in up to three leagues a week and say that adding to their fun are the prizegivings and the end-of-year Christmas parties.
If joining a league as a novice seems daunting to you, Pins offer a seven-week beginner course to help get you started.
There is no age, size or strength restriction for bowling so anyone can give it a go but good hand-eye co-ordination and a willingness to learn and have fun will help you succeed. During the course you receive an hour of coaching each week and 10 free games to practice with. You learn correct bowling techniques and are taught how to bowl for strikes and spares.
You also learn rules and etiquette for play, like avoiding the foul line and that only one person should approach a lane at a time. At the end of seven weeks you receive your very own custom-made ball.
Where to bowl:
A seven-week beginner course at Pins in Henderson costs $160 and participants receive a bowling ball on completion, valued at $150. For course dates ph (09) 837 1111.
Participating in a league costs about $20 each week and there are 17 leagues to choose from. Visit pins.co.nz for more details.