Honing their craft

GHENT?- Rolle bolle may be the most laid-back game that players are seriously obsessive about.

As the International Rolle Bolle tournament got under way in Ghent on Thursday evening, many players bowled with a beer in one hand and a bolle in the other. People wandered across the playing court, stepping around rolling bolles, and nobody yelled at them to get out of the way. The atmosphere was more like a family reunion than a sports championship, and that’s exactly how many people described it.

“I’ve come up here every year since I was 15,” said Brent DePauw of Genesco, Ill.

On Thursday, Brent DePauw was in Ghent with his whole family, including daughter Addison, 10, son JJ, 15, and his dad Roy, who all bowl – as did Roy’s father, Albert.

And Roy not only bowls, he makes bolles as his father did before him.

“I start with the raw rubber, press it in molds and bake it for 30 hours,” Roy DePauw said. “It can’t be bigger than eight inches in diameter or more than eight-and-a-half pounds.”

According to Roy DePauw, bolles used to be made by a man in Moline, Ill, who died in 1974. His successor in the business died in 1977, and the man who took over moved to Minnesota. That’s when Roy DePauw decided to get his father’s molds out and start making his own again.

A bolle looks like a wheel worn down on one edge, so it tends to roll in long curves. There’s no set ratio of inside to outside diameters though.

“It all depends on what the people like to bowl,” Roy DePauw said. “Some like them straighter, some like them to really turn. I do mostly what I call a standard turn. I use the molds my father made in 1978.”

Josh VanThournout of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has been bowling since he was 8 years old and is a regular customer of Roy DePauw.

“For people who roll they last a long time,” VanThournout said. “But I shoot. I buy about two a year because I break them.”

Shooting, versus rolling or leading, refers to rolling the bolle with speed and power to knock other bolles away from the goal post, or knock teammates’ bolles closer.

Jessica Verdick from Davenport, Iowa, has been bowling since she was 4 and uses both techniques.

“I get mine made by Roy, and I have one that was passed on by my grandfather,” Verdick said. “It depends on if I’m leading or shooting which one I use.”

Roy DePauw isn’t the only person making bolles, but he’s certainly made a great many of those used in the tournament.

“I’ve got one of Roy’s,” a player said.

“I’ve got one of Albert’s,” said another.