Two months ago, professional bowler Jason Belmonte stepped up to a lane in his hometown of Orange, Australia. He was on his 10th frame, three rolls away from bowling a 300. On this day, he felt a particularly intense pressure to achieve perfection — but not just for the sake of his professional career, still progressing after four years on tour, nor for his fans, who would be watching later on YouTube.
Belmonte had thrown 61 perfect games before this, but this one would be special. This time he was recording the experience from his face with Google Glass.
“When all the pins fell, it was certainly an exciting kind of feeling,” the 30-year-old Australian told Yahoo Tech. “I realized that I’m about to upload something that hasn’t been done before.”
Belmonte is almost certainly the first professional athlete to wear Glass, a headset-like computer from Google that places a small display and camera just above the wearer’s right eye and is currently available only to select beta testers. Amateur athletes have recorded their scrimmages using Glass, and Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate conducted a Super Bowl press conference with a pair. This summer at Wimbledon, American tennis pro Bethanie Mattek-Sands was set to wear them during an actual game, but, at the last minute, did not.
Instead, the title of first athlete to record a professional competition (a perfect one, no less) with Google Glass silently went to Jason Belmonte this December.
And even though the story played out like an uplifting ad for the powers of Glass, Google apparently had nothing to do with it.
“The biggest misconception is that Jason is sponsored by Google,” Tom Clark, commissioner of the Professional Bowling Association, told us. “That’s really not the case.”
Instead, Belmonte, who has always been a tech enthusiast, approached Clark with the idea to record his games with Google Glass during professional competitions last year. After getting the go-ahead, he was faced with the real challenge: bringing Glass Down Under.
In advance of general retail availability later this year, Google has been selling pairs of Glass for $1,500 to so called “Explorers,” testers of the device who submitted short applications to Google and were chosen by the company to be early users. Google stipulated that Explorers must be able to attend a “fitting” in New York or San Francisco before they would be able to take Glass home.
That presented a problem for the Australian Belmonte. But he did some research, bought an invite to the Explorer program from eBay and, after a lot of phone calls, got a friend’s friend’s friend’s girlfriend to talk to the Glass team and hook him up. Finally, he had them picked up and sent to Australia.
He was cautious at first while bowling with them. “I’m competing for my livelihood, for my career, for my sponsors,” Belmonte explained. “So I didn’t want to capture footage that was potentially bad.” Throwing around heavy balls while wearing a face computer, it turns out, is not an easy athletic feat to film steadily.
“Before I actually saw him use it, I was afraid his head might bounce around a lot and it would be really distracting to follow,” Clark admitted. “But when you watch him do it, his head stays very still. If we had put Google Glass on an amateur bowler, I think people would be surprised at how poorly they position their head and where they’re looking or focusing.”
Though Google’s PR team has been promoting “stories” that tout Glass’ technical capabilities for firefighters and DJs alike, the typical Explorer’s experience tends to be less mind-blowing than you might think. As Belmonte is neither a developer nor a darling of the Glass PR team, his capabilities in the bowling alley are essentially limited to recording his firsthand experience. Even live-streaming on TV, which is something he’s hoping to start doing during competitions, isn’t at the HD resolution he’d prefer.
Instead, he’s begun uploading his post-game footage for networks to splice in with recaps of the game. On a recent bowling program, ESPN cut straight to Belmonte’s Google Glass perspective — something he’s nicknamed Belmo Vision — during a game.
Clark said he’s happy that Belmonte’s pet project has gained some attention, as professional bowling isn’t always seen as innovative.
“To some people, it’s a played-out sport,” he said. “It’s something that was popular years ago, and its time has come and gone. So when people get word of advancements like this, and pro bowling’s willingness to try anything to bring fans closer to the action, it’s exciting for us. It gives people in the bowling industry some confidence that we can reach a new crowd and a new demographic.”
Still, Belmonte knows bowling is only a skinny slice of the pie.
“The day that [Seattle Seahawk Richard] Sherman wears them on the field, that would be the day the technology is integrated,” he said. “Of course, if you get tackled by a 300-pound guy, the glassware is definitely going to break. I don’t have to worry about tackling so much.”