Over the last few years, a new activity here in Port Townsend has been the discovery and joy of playing pétanque.  This is a game developed over 100- years ago in Provence, France, which spread to the rest of France, then Europe and to Francophone colonies and countries around the globe – including the USA.

Pétanque Players recreating 1890s France – Courtesy of the Musee Des Tourneurs Sur Bois in Aiguines France

Today, 10-12,000,000 people play it in over 160 nations.  In France, virtually every town has a public Pétanque field, most homes have a set of balls or “boules” as they are called, and over 10,000 participants compete in the annual Marseille World Pétanque Championships. 

Pétanque Court in Aiguines France – Photo By Al Bergstein All Rights Reserved

 It is somewhat like English lawn bowling, and a bit like Italian bocce.    If you can throw a ball, you can play Pétanque.    It is quite simple to play and involves two teams, each made up of one, two or three players.  It can be played virtually anywhere and uses hollow metal balls which weigh about one pound each and a small ball called the jack or cochonnet (“little piglet” in French).   In France one can often see in any public park men and women playing.  There is a campaign for its recognition in the 2024 Olympics.  This article outlines many persuasive reasons why Pétanque may just be the best sport.   7 Reasons Why Pétanque is the Best – Frenchly.    

Below are a variety of images of original Pétanque balls from the Museum of Wood Turning in Aiguines France. Originally the balls were wood turned and the nails were hammered in. The hammering work was usually done by women, perhaps due to a similarity to upholstery work, which tacks the fabric onto the wood frame. (Photos from the Museum by Al Bergstein)

In our small town of Port Townsend, we are incredibly lucky to have 19 excellent Pétanque courts (roughly 45’ by 12’ in size), each with a slightly different consistency of gravel and sand.  It is a popular game here, and at 1:00 PM on almost any day players will gather and play at these courts.  It began at the beach bar, “The Pourhouse” but migrated to Fort Worden where the following photos were taken.

We are fortunate enough to have several world class players in our local team – It is really fun on any given day to be paired with or against one of these players and pick up tips.  We just completed a Port Townsend Pétanque Tournament, which attracted great players from all over Washington State and the US, as well as players flying in from France, Mexico, Madagascar, and Tahiti.  I was lucky enough to play recently against a top player from Tahiti and learned a lot. 

Pétanque is a very social game, and by playing in our small town I have met and made friends with dozens of people of all ages from all backgrounds.  

Pétanque players in Port Townsend. Yes, those are local deer wandering through the playing area…sigh…

One aspect that makes Pétanque fun, aside from the fact it is easy to play, is that almost anywhere you go, there are Pétanque courts and players are happy to play.  You just Google Pétanque and the town you are in.  My wife and I are heading this year to Paris and Morocco, both hotbeds of Pétanque, and we look forward to playing with locals in the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paros and in Casablanca and Marrakesh.

So, if you are mature or young, and wherever you live, give Pétanque a try!  If interested, here is a simple primer on the basic rules:  Ten Basic Pétanque Rules for Beginners – AthensPetanque.    It’s no longer just played by elderly men in France in in flat hats – it’s the height of Cool. How boules got cool | Celebrity | The Guardian

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Tayloe is a former history major and history high school teacher. He devoted most of his career to practicing land use law in Seattle, until he left law to start and serve as Dean of the Seattle Graduate Campus in South Lake Union for Northeastern University. He has retired and he and his wife Deborah now live in Port Townsend, where he devotes his time to tennis, Petanque, biking and service on the Fort Worden Foundation Board. As he has a nautical flagpole outside his home, a few times a week he writes a “Mast Memo” on the flags being flown that day, which covers a topic of current or historical interest.


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