Geologic boules and Decathlon’s arrival in the USA

Decathlon (technically, the Decathlon Group) is a world-wide chain of sporting-goods stores. It is, in fact, the largest sporting goods retailer in the world. It was founded in France in 1976. In the mid-1980s it started to expand into other European countries. In 2003 it started to expand into China, India, and Southeast Asia. Today, it has more than 1,100 stores (many of which are large superstores that stock a wide range of sporting goods) in 38 countries. There are about 40 stores in the UK, and one in Mexico. For us petanque players, the interesting thing about Decathlon stores is that they stock petanque boules and other petanque equipment.

Decathlon has multiple research and development facilities in France dedicated to developing new designs for sporting equipment, and, since 1986, it designs and manufactures its own lines of sporting goods. There are now over 20 “Passion” brands, each dedicated to a single sport (or to one type of sport) for 70 different sports. The “Passion Geologic” brand, or simply Geologic, was created in 2008. It is dedicated to “target sports” such as darts, archery, pool, and petanque.

Early in 2018, Decathlon opened its first store in the United States, in San Francisco, California. This was a “soft launch” that enabled the store to operate in California, and to ship products to customers within the state, but not outside California. As of February 2018 they are working to clear the regulatory hurdles that will allow them to ship everywhere in the USA. The business plan is to become able to ship anywhere in the USA, then to open stores in other states in the USA, and then (in a year or two?) to expand into Canada. Their website says that their goal is to make every Decathlon product available throughout the USA.

The web page for Decathlon France is The web page for the San Francisco store is At the bottom of that page you can subscribe to a newsletter that will notify you when the store starts shipping out-of-state, or a new store opens in the USA. The San Francisco store also has a Facebook page at It is possible to order petanque boules via the store’s petanque page. Note that in addition to boules, you can purchase a throwing circle for about $5.

About Geologic boules

Geologic boules have a reputation for being relatively high-quality at a relatively reasonable price. Decathlon can do this by offering a very limited range of the most popular patterns (no grooves, single groves), weights (680g, 690g), and sizes (72mm, 73mm). The highest-end line of Geologic boules offers a slightly (but not very much) larger range of choices.

Geologic boules fall into three categories: cheap leisure boules, a middle-of-the-range line of leisure boules called “Discovery 300” boules, and competition boules.

Geologic’s entry-level line of leisure boules isn’t yet available in the USA. If/when these boules become available a set of 3 will probably sell for around $15. These boules come in only two styles (no grooves, wide single grooves), and only one size/weight combination, 70mm/560g. Frankly, I think that this makes them too small and too light-weight to be an appropriate choice for most adult players. But in casual play they would be acceptable, and they might be a good choice for younger players or players with small hands. Commendably, and unusually, Geologic is up-front about the fact that these boules are filled with sand, which their web site says is 100% sand. Given that some cheap Chinese leisure boules have been known to explode because of the crap inside them, I find this reassuring.

The “Discovery” line are moderately-priced ($35) hollow (chrome-plated?) carbon-steel leisure boules. They come in only one size/weight combination, 73mm/660g, so they are normal-sized if light-weight adult leisure boules. Discovery boules come in a variety of interesting and unusual designs, including one that looks like a baseball.

Geologic offers three models of FIPJP-certified competition boules. Read more about the hardness of boules HERE.

  • Alpha – an inexpensive ($43) medium-hard (42HRC, >130 kg/mm²) chrome-plated carbon steel boule.
  • Delta – a moderately priced ($75) relatively soft (39HRC, >126 kg/mm²) chrome-plated carbon steel boule.
  • Polyvalent – a relatively expensive ($110) stainless steel medium-hard boule (42HRC, >130 kg/mm²).

The real winner of the three is, I think, the Alpha. It looks like a good replacement for the need that La Franc boules used to fill— an entry-level, low-cost, but certified (and therefore high-quality) competition boule. There is a Decathlon store in Singapore where you can just walk in and buy a set of these boules, and the Alpha is popular among the players in Singapore for just this reason. The downside, as I noted earlier, is that you have only a limited set of choices— four, to be precise. You can get 72mm or 74mm, no grooves or single wide grooves. That’s it. You can get any weight you like, as long as it is 690g.

Will this affect Petanque America?

Decathlon’s move into the American market may threaten home-grown sporting-goods chains like Dicks, but it is especially disturbing for American petanque vendors and players. It looks very much like what we’ve seen in other markets, e.g. books. A huge high-volume international vendor moves in and drives out small independent vendors by offering a limited set of the most popular items at much lower prices. Customers gain by getting lower prices on the most popular items, but they may lose their small local independent vendors, and with them they will lose a lot the choices that they once had.

Petanque America has been a reliable supporter of petanque in the USA for many years, as well as a consistently reliable source of high-quality boules and equipment. Without Petanque America and the Petanque America Open Amelia Island Petanque Open, American petanque would be a pale shadow of its present self. Petanque players in the USA need Petanque America. In the future, we need to support them, and we must hope that they survive the invasion by Decathlon. But life may become harder for Petanque America, and its counterpart in Canada, Marcod.

On the other hand, life is strange. Barnes and Noble hasn’t completely killed off small independent local bookstores. If Decathon stores make petanque equipment more visible and easily available, it may actually help to promote petanque in America, and increase the number of discriminating buyers looking for the wider set of options provided by Petanque American. We’ll have to wait and see.


The Ten Commandments of Petanque (postcards)

Paul Ordner had a long and successful career (starting in 1923) as a commercial artist, creating illustrations for advertisments, magazine covers, and posters (especially for sports-related magazines and events) as well as humorous and political cartoons. Around 1960 he began creating humorous drawings and cartoons for postcard publisher Éditions Photochrome à Toulouse. Eventually he designed almost 300 cards. He died in 1969 at age 68. A book of his art, Paul Ordner: 40 ans de dessin sportif, humoristique et politique, was published in 2014.

His series of postcards called “The Ten Commandments of Petanque” (Les Dix Commandements de la Pétanque) is popular with Petanque players.

01: You may tell your wife to go to hell, but thou shalt finish the game first.

02: The next time, thou shalt write down the points.

03: When measuring, thou shalt not cheat.

04: Thou shalt not bother your partner.

05: Despite the presence of your mother-in-law, thou shalt throw only at the boules.

06: As you promised your wife, thou shalt play only at boules.

07: In boules, thou shalt think only of the terrain.

08: When throwing toward the open ocean, thou shalt avoid throwing too hard.

09: While an obstacle is going through, thou shalt wait patiently.

10: When you get a good thrashing, thou shalt kiss Fanny willingly.

What killed the Mondial de Millau

For 34 years, starting in 1981, Le Mondial de Millau was one of the most important petanque competitions (perhaps THE most important competition) in France and in the world, attracting the world’s top pétanque players. Unlike Le Mondial la Marseillaise à Pétanque which is only a triples event, Millau held open singles, doubles, and triples competitions for both men and women, as well as a mixed triples competition. It was a 5-day pétanque festival that attracted 15,000 spectators (or 50,000, depending on who you ask) and 5,000 players. It was supported by an army of 400-500 volunteers. While it was being played in mid-August, it was impossible to find an un-booked hotel room within 80 kilometers of Millau.

The event was hugely profitable for the city— the Millau tourist office estimated the economic benefits to the city at around €2.5 million. But the size of the event also caused disruptions to the lives of residents. Traffic became a problem, and cars and huge motor homes were parked everywhere, in spots both legal and illegal. (In 2015 the local police department issued over 500 parking tickets to vistors to the event.) Residents living near La Victoire Park, the location of the event, couldn’t find parking close to their own homes.

Matters came to a boil after the 34th Mondial, on August 26, 2015. There was a meeting at the sub-prefecture office, attended by the competition sponsor, Millau Pétanque Promotion (MPP) (represented by its four co-presidents— Claude Lacan, Claude Bonneviale, Bernard Rouquayrol and Jean-Pierre Mas), the mayor of Millau (Christophe Saint-Pierre), the sub-prefect of Millau (Bernard Breyton) and the police commander.

The mayor noted the complaints by residents. He noted the cost to the city of supporting the event: about €100,000 out of an annual budget of €600,000. And he requested that the MPP start taking responsibility for managing the parking and traffic issues associated with the event.

That theme was continued by the sub-prefect, who asked the MPP to be aware of the problems that the event was causing for local resident, and to comply with the local parking and traffic ordinances. The MPP co-chairs admitted that they had never read the municipal ordinances governing such subjects. The sub-prefect expressed the opinion that the event organizers clearly hadn’t given much thought to these issues, that that was damaging for the city of Millau, and was not acceptable. (On September 19 the prefecture of Aveyron issed an official position statement, supporting the city and noting that the “anarchic” parking of vehicles around the event hindered access of security personnel and emergency response vehicles trying to get to La Victoire Park.)

The mayor then went on to outline specific proposals for dealing with the issues that had been raised. The city, he said, appreciated the importance of the work done by the many volunteers, and the need for the volunteers to be able to park their vehicles near La Victoire Park. He proposed that during the event volunteers could park at the Crés school and that the city could also allocate to the volunteers all or part of the parking lot of la Menuiserie. On the delicate question of motorhomes (specifically for travelers who settle everywhere, particularly along the Boulevard Jean Gabriac, a site where family gardens had been vandalized) the mayor proposed using the parking at la Sernam as a supplemental reception area. “I also asked the neighborhoods (collectivités) to make an inventory of potentially usable reception areas on the outskirts of the city to organize the competitors parking.” He proposed that MPP should be in charge of shuttles running between La Victoire Park and the parking areas on the outskirts of the city, and also installation of signs (created by the city) directing motorists to the event parking locations. And he proposed that MPP organize pre-registrations for the event on their website. “By having early contact with the players, MPP could inform and direct them to a particular parking area. They already do this at Espalion and the Marseillaise. I don’t see why we can’t do it at the Mondial. In other big local events, it already works like that.” [See the mayor’s position paper.] In closing, the mayor promised to work with the MPP and the various municipal services to refine these proposals, with the goal of working out an arrangement that would be comfortable for both the competition and the residents. And he specifically noted that the city was committed to continuing support for the Mondial in the future.

The mayor and the sub-prefect may or may not have been very tactful in stating their concerns and proposals. In any event the MPP co-chairs came away from the meeting angry, feeling that they had been verbally assaulted (“We were even accused of not being able to read”), and with a strong feeling that the mayor, the sub-prefect and the police commander were all hostile to the Mondial.

On Wednesday, September 9, 2015, the four co-presidents of the MPP announced that they had decided that there would be no 35th Mondial de Millau. They had decided to kill the Mondial de Millau. The spokesman for the group, Jean-Pierre Mas (son of the event’s original founder, Damien Mas) said Nous sommes dans l’incapacité de poursuivre l’organisation du Mondial car les conditions ne sont plus réunies pour cela… (“We are unable to continue organization of the Mondial because we can no longer meet the conditions for it.”) “The positions of the sub-prefect and especially the police commander are incompatible with pursuing the Mondial. We will never be able to comply with what the sub-prefect asks us. Traffic and flow of visitors outside La Victoire Park must not be our responsibility.” Later he was quoted as saying L’ordre public ne relève pas de notre compétence. (“Public order is not our business.”)

Social media immediately erupted with a firestorm of criticism of the mayor for killing the Mondial.

In response the mayor pointed out that it was the MPP, not he, who had decided to kill the Mondial, and he characterized the MPP’s decision as “regrettable”, “hasty” and “disproportionate”. “I never questioned the competition as such. What I said was that because of the success of the event, there were elements of the way that participants are welcomed that needed to be managed, especially around La Victoire Park, to ensure normal living conditions for the residents. There was no attack on my part [on the Mondial]. On the contrary, I am defending it … but I also have the right to say what is wrong.”

The four co-chairs of the MPP remained committed to their decision. The Mondial was dead. End of story.

A few months after the Mondial was cancelled, a new group was organized to create a replacement for it. The Association de Gestion Sportive Millavoise (AGSM) was created in order to host a Festival International de Pétanque Évenement de Millau (FIPEM)( In 2016, only 500 players participated in the festival. The festival acquired new organizers, who managed to recruit more volunteers and to partner with a local petanque club, Pétanque Club Joyeuse Millau. When the second Festival was held in August 2017, most of the competitions were limited to 512 teams, which (for triples) means a total participation of about 1500 players. (I don’t have the actual participation numbers.)

The new festival has adopted the city’s proposals for traffic and parking management. “Free shuttles will run between La Victoire Park and the free car parks which will be at your disposal a few minutes from La Victoire Park. No parking will be tolerated near the entrance of the Park.”


A throwing form that allows you to throw effectively is something that you can work on. In this post we look at one aspect of effective form— torso torque. The expression refers to the way a shooter twists his torso while throwing. (See Byron Putman: Pétanque: The Greatest Game You Never Heard Of (pp. 82-85)— highly recommended.)

When you watch world-class shooters you will often see this…

  • Before the player starts his backswing, he is basically standing upright, with shoulders level and chest facing forward toward the target.
  • As the player begins his backswing, he leans forward slightly— this allows for a higher backswing. His throwing shoulder drops a little and moves backward, causing his torso to twist backward slightly. At the same time, his non-throwing arm starts to move backward so that at the height of the backswing both arms are raised behind his back, balancing each other.
  • The player begins his throw. During the throw, his throwing shoulder dips slightly, so that during the throw it moves forward gracefully in a shallow U-shaped dip. At the same time, his torso starts to untwist, so that at the end of the follow-through his throwing shoulder is in front of his body. At this point his posture is “open”— an observer standing to his non-throwing side can see the front of his chest, as in this photo of Marco Foyot. (For more pictures, see How to throw a boule.)

Here is a sequence of clips from the Youtube video of Ledantec shooting during the final of the Masters de Petanque 2004.


Start of backswing.

Continuing backswing. Player leans forward slightly. Non-throwing arm starts to swing back.

Approaching full backswing. Non-throwing arm is as high a throwing arm.

At the height of the backswing and just beginning the swing. The throwing shoulder is just starting to drop lower than the non-throwing shoulder.

Throwing shoulder approaches bottom of U-shaped dip. Note the angled slope of the shoulders. Torso has started to untwist. Note that the non-throwing arm has continued to move backward, balancing the throw.

Almost ready to release the boule. Torso is almost fully untwisted as throwing shoulder moves forward.

Release of the boule. Throwing shoulder is starting to rise after the lowest point of the U-shaped dip. Note that the non-throwing arm remains behind the back, counter-balancing the throwing arm which is now in front of the body.

After release. Torso is fully untwisted. Throwing shoulder is almost finished rising at the end of the U-shaped dip.

Here is the whole sequence as a slideshow.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Almost all of the great shooters (to a greater or lesser degree) demonstrate this ideal form of torso torque. And you will see it (again, to a greater or lesser degree) in pointers as well as in shooters.

Why do players move this way when they throw? Byron Putman calls it “torso torque” because he thinks it is a way for a player to use torso rotation to add power to his throw. Personally, I find that the motion of my body is more natural, and my accuracy is greater, when I twist my torso and bring my throwing arm forward while throwing. I suspect that shoulder anatomy is coming into play here, but I don’t know enough anatomy to be able to say exactly what is happening.

Note that when referring to a player (of unspecified gender), I use “he” and “his” as abbreviations for “he or she” and “his or her”.

How NOT to fly with boules

With the Petanque Amelia Island Open coming up next month, and players from all over the world planning to fly to the event, the following news item is worth noting.

For a long time we’ve warned players not to put their boules in their carry-on luggage when they fly. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers consider boules to be dangerous objects (like hammers) and will not allow them to be carried onto a plane in carry-on luggage.

The other issue is that, to a TSA officer who has never heard of petanque, a boule looks like nothing so much as the stereotypical image of an anarchist bomb.

That was emphasized today when a 63-year-old petanque player from Jersy (in the UK) attempted to fly to a competition in Denmark with his boules bag. The bag contained, along with his team uniform and his set of personalized boules, a phone changer and its cord, some kind of white electronic device (perhaps a voltage converter to go along with the cell-phone charger), and (something that older and arthritic players will immediately recognize and sympathize with) three containers of Biofreeze.

The Jersey TSA officers thought that the assemblage looked like a collection of bomb-making parts. They seized the bag. Since the player was an experienced veteran, I think that the bag must have been in his checked (not carry-on) luggage, but the bag was seized anyway. The player had to fly on to the competition without his bag. He played in a borrowed uniform, with borrowed boules, but didn’t play up to his usual level. His bag finally caught up with him, but too late for it to make a difference.

Apparently most players at the competition found the story amusing, but there is a serious lesson here. The TSA is (rightly) paranoid about containers that contain any kind of liquid. Electrical timers and wires are stereotypical parts of a bomb. (“Should I cut the red wire or the blue?!”) TSA officers must process a lot of bags quickly— they don’t have time to stop and carefully analyze something that on quick inspection looks like it might be suspicious. So they just act.

For petanque players the moral of the story is—
When flying to a competition:
(a) put your boules in your checked (not carry-on) luggage, but also
(b) in the same bag, don’t put anything that contains liquid, looks even vaguely “electronic”, or has wires.

Unboxing Obut order from PetanqueAmerica

I ordered some jacks, an umpire’s folding ruler, and a set of the new Obut stainless steel leisure boules from Petanque America.

The first item in the order was several orange Obut jacks. I’d seen the orange jacks on Youtube videos and the color seemed to be easy to see. I’d describe the color as matte (not glossy) flourescent orange.

umpire’s folding ruler
The second item in the order was the Obut fiberglass folding umpire’s ruler. The best way to compare distances is with a folding ruler with an extension. I’d been using a carpenter’s ruler; it worked well but the shortest length it could compare (between boule and jack) was about 18cm. The segments of the umpire’s ruler are shorter (10cm) and it can compare lengths as short as 11.5cm. It is marked with numbers on only one side; the reverse side is blank. The extension isn’t loose in the channel and it doesn’t bind; it has a smooth action and I’m looking forward to using it.
Click below to see larger images.

The third item in the order was a set of the new Obut stainless steel leisure boules. I was interested in getting a set because I was under the impression that the new Obut stainless steel leisure boules are smaller and lighter than Obut’s previous line of chromed carbon steel leisure boules.

The boules came in a nice cardboard box, similar to the box used to package competition boules. The box described itself as a “ready to petanque” set, and in the box, in addition to the three boules, I found an Obut jack (varnished but not painted) and a light cloth bag for carrying the boules.
Click below to see larger images.

The boules themselves consistently measure very close to 73mm in diameter (vs 74mm for the old chromed boules) so they are a bit smaller than the old chromed boules. The old chromed boules averaged about 625g per boule. The new stainless steel boules average about 650g per boule, putting them in the valid range for competition boules.

More exploding boules

We’ve blogged before about exploding leisure boules, but until now no-one has been killed or seriously injured by such an explosion. Today, however, a Thai newspaper reports that a player in Thailand has been killed by an exploding petanque boule. The story is rather bizarre.

Apparently some Thai players believe that soaking boules in water and then heating them can somehow improve a player’s ability to put spin on the boules. In preparation for an after-work game with his buddies, a firefighter named Decho Phetchnin had been heating his set of 3 boules on an “Ang Lo” burner for about two hours when one of the boules exploded, blowing the burner apart and scattering debris in a 10-metre radius. The explosion occurred while Decho was bending over the burner stirring the boules. A metal fragment from the exploded boule struck Decho in the forehead, piercing his skull and killing him instantly.

The photo that accompanies the story looks like the boule might have been a leisure boule (rather than a competition boule), although it’s hard to be sure. The dust visible in the picture suggests that the boule (like many cheap leisure boules) was filled with sand.
CLICK for a larger image