Last year Sweden, this year Peru.
When Jacob Imoo of Richmond first picked up a 10-pin bowling ball out of pure curiosity at age nine, he couldn’t imagine, that 10 years later, he would be prepping to represent Canada at the upcoming Pan-Am Youth Bowling Championships in Lima, Peru.
It was the same feeling a year ago, when he represented his country at the International Bowling Federation World Youth Championships in Helsingborg, Sweden. How did this all come to be?
“In the summer of 2014, I was watching a YouTube video and saw this two-handled bowler,” recalled the amiable Imoo, who practises, competes and works at Lucky 9 Lanes in Richmond. “I never knew anything about the sport — even though my dad, Clay, told me we come from a long line of bowlers that includes a professional — and I instantly fell in love with it and started in a kids’ program.
“I bowled every day and joined the junior league in the fall and won my first silver medal. I just knew that bowling was right for me.”
In 2019, he finally captured his first gold medal in provincial competition and it was the springboard to reaching greater heights.
“It felt so great to win because it took five years and was quite frustrating because I was throwing the ball better than everyone else,” he said. “That year when I went to nationals, I won in Edmonton (Canadian Ten-Pin Federation) and Montreal (Youth Bowl Canada).”
Imoo played volleyball, basketball and football in high school, but never excelled in a team atmosphere. However, there was something about the technical and mental challenge of bowling that resonated with the effective pin-striker.
“What intrigued me was how in-depth the knowledge, skills and techniques are once you dive into it a bit more,” he said. “You can improve your timing and get more versatile with speed, rotation and control. But a lot for me now is the mental side with tactics to stay strong.”
The two-handed technique was pivotal in his rise to the international stage.
“It’s for young bowlers, who quite honestly, don’t have the strength,” explained Imoo. “The balls are so heavy that the best way to carry it (on lane approach) is with two hands instead of one. And because I was able to use this method, I got more curve, speed and power.
“I use the left hand to steady it until the release and then my right hand turns over the ball.”
The proof is in the production.
Imoo has already rolled five perfect 300-score games, and in national 24-game qualifying at Montreal in January to determine the four-member Pan-Am team, he sent a message. He had a perfect game and a near-perfect 290 to place third and punch his ticket to Lima for the July 30-to-Aug. 4 test of skill and will.
“I embraced that challenge,” he said. “Last year, was my first time qualifying and I actually qualified fourth and that was nerve-racking for sure. This year, I bowled that 300 and 290 in the first six games and was far ahead of everyone else. It actually felt a little scary having all the bowlers trying to catch me. I was the rabbit.”
What drives Imoo is the challenge to subdue the competition. In singles, it can be quietly going about his business or punching the air with a celebratory scream following a strike — anything to gain an advantage.
“I love all the eyes watching my one shot, feeling pressure to win a game with the last shot,” he added. “I crave that for sure. It (celebration) used to be a fist-pump, but these days I walk it off like I knew it was going to be a strike. You’ve got to act like you know what you’re doing.”
Some would consider that a form of intimation by getting in a guy’s head.
“I’m a very energetic and sociable person outside the bowling alley,” explained Imoo. “But as soon as I get there, I’m stone-cold (non-flinching, not emotional).”
Imoo’s advantage is staying true to these competitive beliefs:
“Throw it better than everyone else and act like you do. Bowling is just a game, win or lose, and just learn from it.”
For all bowlers, converting the dreaded 7-10 corner-pins split is a daunting task. Imoo has a tip.
“Hit the (seven) pin as hard as you can and pray — that’s the only chance,” he laughed about getting the right action off the side or back wall to also take out the 10 pin.
Imoo’s love of the sport transcends to YouTube. Along with brother Sean, 21, he runs a popular channel called JR Pro Shop. He posts reviews, tips, tricks and challenges, and has 40,000 followers. It’s a spinoff project to complement his study of film at Simon Fraser University.
“It’s a partnership with my pro-bowling cousin, who runs the shop, and me and my brother,” said Imoo. “With the charisma we have, we wanted to share that. The payoff has been going to tournaments in the U.S. and having people recognize me and asking for autographs and photos.
“We run a small video-production company, and ideally, in the future, I’m going to use this as portfolio work to land a job at a company and hopefully become an editor. It’s my favourite part, the post-production.”
In the interim, there are international titles to chase.
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