Rolling with the champ

West Van lawn bowler a national champion

STEVEN Santana, a member of the West Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club, jacked the competition last month to become the Canadian men's lawn bowling champion.

Relying on gracefully curving draw shots that clustered around the jack, Santana defeated Saskatchewan's Alex Scott 21-9 in the gold medal game held Aug. 20 at Willowdale Lawn Bowling Club in Toronto, Ontario.

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"In the beginning it was tight," Santana said of the championship contest. "Then I sort of carried it away just with being more consistent and closer to the jack."

The two competitors are friendly with each other, having each carved out a place on the Canadian national team, but there weren't a lot of smiles during the match.

"During the game against each other we're at each other's throats, but after the competition we hung out," Santana said.

The victory gave Santana a berth in the World Bowls Champion of Champions tournament set for Cyprus in 2012.

Santana said his main concern before facing off with Canada's other nine provincial champions was the artificial surface at Willowdale.

"I just trained at a couple other clubs here in Vancouver that have the same type of artificial surface to get the form and feel leading up to Toronto," he said. "When you're playing on an artificial surface they're quite weight-sensitive."

After winning the B.C. singles championship in June, Santana began training three times a week with West Vancouver's Tim Mason, himself a two-time national champion, in preparation for the national tournament.

"He's pretty much done everything in the sport of bowls," Mason said of Santana.

Santana's next major event is the Atlantic Rim lawn bowling tournament in Cyprus this October, something Mason thinks might give Santana an edge at the Champion of Champions contest next year.

"Those are the same greens that he'll play on next year, so he'll get a feeling for the atmosphere," Mason said.

While lawn bowling may appear like a warmer version of curling, the challenge resides in the uneven weight distribution of the ball. Because of that weight, the player needs to put enough spin on the ball to send it wide of the target before the ball arcs back toward the white ball, known as the jack.

The game is further complicated by the sandy trench at the end of the grass, where bowls go to die unless they can take the jack with them.

Inspired by his grandparents, Santana first rolled when he was 13. He's since competed in lawn bowling tournaments in Hong Kong and the United Kingdom and captured the Canadian men's indoor title in 2001.

Placing an emphasis on calm focus, Santana said he tends to warm up with a brisk walk or run while his earbuds blare the 1982 inspirational rock standard Eye of the Tiger.

"Once the game starts, it's on," Santana said with a laugh.

Santana, 30, acknowledged the stereotype of lawn bowling as the exclusive domain of senior citizens in ivory-coloured outfits.

When asked if his friends mocked him when he started playing, Santana replied: "Absolutely. And still do."

Now wearing bright colours and talking a little trash to his competitors, Santana said the perception of lawn bowling is shifting.

"The stereotypical view is starting to change. . . . Guys between 15 and 30 are getting into the game."

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