Buying boules advice

First of all, if your computer/tablet/phone allows google to translate you can ignore what I have written and visit the following French site instead:

Boules de compétition

There are 2 main categories of Boules:

  1. ‘Competition’ Boules approved by the Federation Internationale de Petanque & Jeu Provencal (FIPJP). Approved Boule.
  2. ‘Leisure’ Boules, which are not approved by FIPJP.

Only approved boule are allowed to be used in competitive play, unless the competition is a small non serious affair where this rule may be locally relaxed.  The official rules of Petanque specify approved boule.

Apart from the above, even a ‘club’ player who does not wish to take part in serious competition will benefit from purchasing and using a set of approved competition boule.  This is because they have two very important controls which leisure boule do not.  Firstly, you can choose a particular weight of boule, and when you choose a weight each boule in a set will be very close in weight to specified tolerances.  Secondly, you can choose a particular size of boule.  Size of boule is particularly important as with incorrectly sized boule you will struggle to grip it properly.  Again with approved boule sizes are controlled within tolerances and you can be assured each boule in a set will be virtually the same size.

One more thing you get with approved boule is quality metal.  Approved boule are made of pure metal whereas most cheaper leisure boule are filled with sand or concrete to make the weight.  You do get high end leisure boule, but the price differential between those and cheaper approved boule is small.

Weight – Lets deal with weight first as this is reasonably simple.  Approved boule are allowed to weigh between 650 grams and 800 grams.  Firstly get a weight that feels comfortable to throw. This will entail borrowing boule of different weights from other club members and trying them out.  Secondly, be wary of getting too heavy a boule.  As you improve you may start shooting and lobbing and this gets more difficult with heavier boule.  My set are 680 grams, and a typical player will choose boule between 680 grams and 720 grams.

Size – Things get a little more difficult here as it’s quite important to get a size of boule which works for you and your hand-size/finger-length.  Different boules companies have different charts which supposedly help you choose, but in my view these tend to over-size boule, particularly for those with smaller hands. The best way to get the correct size is to try boule of different size until you get something that feels comfortable.  Before even doing that, make sure you know how to hold a boule correctly.  This will involve speaking to different club members and trying out their boules.  If you get boule too large you will find it difficult to throw straight as your grip will inevitably have spread fingers and might even end up using your thumb, you will have difficulty putting backspin on the boule as you won’t be able to release it properly through the fingers, and your hands/wrists may well tire early.

Markings – Often called ‘striations’ it is very helpful to have boule with somewhat individual markings. There is nothing more frustrating than a game of petanque where you cannot tell one boule from another (usually due to oft repeated and in my opinion rather irrelevant advice that good shooters use large boule with no striations, often called ‘lisse’ boule).

Carbon/Stainless/Chromed – All 3 have pros and cons. Chrome coated boule[geologic/decathlon] are cheap and will not rust. However they can be very slippy in the hand, and as they do not develope a ‘patina’ can be difficult to recognise from other similar boule. Stainless steel boule do not rust and give decent grip, but they are more expensive than carbon steel. Carbon steel are the cheapest. They do rust so you need to be careful to dry them after use. Rusting and developing patina helps grip though so it’s not all bad. Carbon boule are often coated/painted when you buy them but the coating quickly wears off. I would personally advise Carbon steel, but if you have ‘acid sweat hands’ like me they can get messy which is why I changed to stainless.

Lastly Leisure boule – These come in various guises. Important to look out for is correct weight as many leisure boule are underweight, typically 560 grams as opposed to the correct 650-800 grams.  Also correct size as many leisure boule come undersized.  Get lucky and leisure boule can last for years, bad luck will see boule that dent and deform needing quick replacement.  They can be very cheap so good for non competitive players, but if you wish to improve competition boule are advised as you won’t be able to enter many competitions with leisure boule. Often leisure boule are called ‘dog boules’ so if you hear someone talking about dogs at petanque they might not woof.