Pétanque can be played on most hard outside surfaces, but pétanque courts or pistes usually have flat, crushed-lime or shell surfaces. The game is played by two teams of one (singles), two (doubles) or three (triples) players. The aim is to throw metal balls (boules) as close as possible to the ‘jack’, a small wooden ball. The first team is chosen by tossing a coin. The first player draws a 35–50 centimetre circle on the ground, from where the boules are thrown. The player throws the jack between 6 and 10 metres away and then throws the first boule. A player in the second team then tries to throw their boule nearer to the jack. The boule that lies nearest to the jack leads.
The losing team then throws their boules until it gets a leading boule, often by knocking the leading boule away. When the teams have no more boules – three boules each in singles and doubles and two each in triples – the points are counted. The winning team gets as many points as it has boules closer to the jack than the best of the losing team. A player from the winning team then throws the jack from where it had landed and a new game starts until one of the team gets 13 points.
Calder’s zen moment
National MP Cam Calder became a pétanque player while studying medicine in Europe. On returning to New Zealand in the early 1990s he began a boule importing business. He helped found Pétanque New Zealand and was a New Zealand representative in the 1995 world championships. He said, ‘Sometimes you take great pleasure out of a clean caro, when your ball lands on the opponent’s ball and displaces it … It’s almost a zen moment.’1
Pétanque originated in southern France in 1907. It derived from the ancient game of boules or bacci, which had been played in Mediterranean countries for centuries. Pétanque arrived in New Zealand in the early 1990s, when enthusiasts and importers of boules began promoting the sport. The first pétanque tournament was held in Devonport, Auckland, in 1992 and led to increased public interest and participation in the game. It particularly appealed to the ‘café set’ – urbane professionals – with the places such as wineries putting down pétanque courts to entice custom. As with lawn bowls and indoor bowls, the game’s more sedate pace attracts older people of both sexes, but it is played by people of all ages.
In 1993 Pétanque New Zealand was formed as the national governing body for the sport. Clubs soon formed around the country and in 2012 there were 45 affiliated clubs. A national championship tournament is held annually. Among the leading champion players in the early 2000s have been Georgio Vakauta and Andre Noel.