Proper use of the boule towel

Most players are familar with the requirement in Article 16(c) always to carry a boule towel in order to be able to remove (enlever) any mud or foreign substance clinging to a boule before throwing it. The rules, however, do not contain precise specifications for boule towels, so it is hardly surprising that the most frequently-asked questions about the rules of petanque are questions about the boule towel— What kind of fabric should it be made of? How big should it be? How should it be held and used?

Perhaps the most surprising thing about boule towels is that the usual English translation of the French word (chiffon) is “boule towel“. In fact, toweling material, thick and fuzzy, is completely unsuitable for use as a boule towel. It quickly picks up stray bits of leaves, twigs, and thorns and is almost impossible to clean. Instead, we recommend a fabric with a much smoother, harder texture— a patch cut from the leg of a worn-out pair of jeans does the job nicely.

There is no regulation size for a boule towel. A towel that is too small to do the job is obviously undesirable; a towel that is too large will be clumsy to use and carry. We have found that a rectangle of fabric approximately 29cm x 43cm (11.5″ x 17”) works well. A cloth table mat makes an excellent boule towel.
Some so-called “experts” advise a player with a larger (or smaller) hand to use a larger (or smaller) towel. That’s rubbish, of course, since the relevant factor here is not the size of the hand but the size of the boule. A player who uses a larger (or smaller) size of boule should use a larger (or smaller) towel.

Finally, there is the question of how to carry and use the boule towel. Here, there are two basic requirements: one legal, the other practical. The boule towel must NOT be carried in such a way that it hides any boules that the player might also be carrying in the same hand. And, as a practical matter, the towel must be carried in a way that it can be conveniently used when needed, while not interfering with a player’s grip on any boule(s) that he may want to carry in the same hand.

The traditional provençal method of using the boule towel is to fold the long edge over the short edge, and then pinch the end of the towel into a small bunch,

The pinched end of the towel is then threaded through the fingers in the manner shown in the photograph (below).

When the hand is closed and holding a boule, the fingers naturally and effortlessly grip the towel firmly, and the tail of the towel falls cleanly away from the hand. When the towel is needed, the long loose tail can easily be folded up and over a boule in the hand in order to wipe the boule thoroughly. While doing this, it is easy to clean and dry the fingers and palm of the throwing hand by rubbing them vigorously with the cloth-covered boule.

Once you have found a boule towel that perfectly fits your hand and your playing style, you should treat it like what it is— a piece of personal hygiene equipment. Never lend your boule towel to another player; you don’t want to catch their cooties.

NOTE I am not a certified umpire. The opinions expressed in this post are solely my own and do not represent official rulings or rules interpretations of any organized petanque federation, national or otherwise. Posted April 1, 2017.

Are your boules toxic?

The answer is: No, they aren’t. But I wanted a headline that would grab your attention because there is an interesting story here. Read on.

There are basically three kinds of boules: boules made of stainless steel (inox), boules made of carbon steel (acier au carbone), and boules made of carbon steel that is then coated (revêtu, or chromé) in chrome to make the surface of the boules tougher and more resistant to rust (rouille). Some competition boules (e.g. Obut Match TR), but virtually all inexpensive leisure boules, are chrome plated.

Chromium is one of the elements; it is atomic number 24 on the periodic table of elements.

There are a number of different forms of chromium; some are helpful to human health, others are dangerous and harmful to the environment. The worst of these forms is hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6. Chromium 6 is a known carcinogen that can cause respiratory problems, rashes, ulcers, allergic reactions, kidney and liver damage, birth defects, and death. Its use in any industrial process creates a dangerous work environment and serious toxic waste disposal issues. (Do you remember the movie “Erin Brockovich”? It was groundwater contamination with chromium 6 that Erin uncovered.)

Naturally, chromium 6 has started to attract the attention of environmental protection agencies and health and safety regulatory agencies around the world. Governmental regulations are still much looser than they should be, but things seem to be getting better.

So— what does this have to do with petanque boules?

Well, nothing and everything. On the one hand, the chrome plating on your leisure boules is perfectly harmless. No worries there. On the other hand, the process that is used in chrome plating (of boules and other kinds of chrome-plated objects) uses hexavalent chromic acid— chromium 6. Bad news there.

Because of the health and environmental issues associated with chromium 6, at least some manufacturers are moving away from chrome-plated products. One of them is Obut. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Obut is no longer making its line of “Tatou” chrome-plated leisure boules. Starting about a year ago, Obut’s new line of “Obut Loisir Inox” leisure boules are stainless steel. Conçues sans chrome, contrairement aux Tatou, ces boules de pétanque Loisir inox sont écologiques. And in its lines of competition boules you now have only two choices: stainless steel or carbon steel.

I learned about this recently when I noticed that Petanque America seemed no longer to be selling La Franc boules. In response to my email question, Phillipe Boets told me that Petanque America had indeed stopped selling La Franc boules about a year ago. Apparently La Franc has been getting orders for 30/40 thousand boules at a time from French sporting goods stores. (One wonders if news of exploding leisure boules might have something to do with that.) In any event, La Franc seems to be slacking off on its service to smaller vendors— Phillipe reports that its deliveries had become unpredictable and unreliable. So now if you go to the Petanque America web site, you won’t see La Franc competition boules for sale. You will see only Obut competition boules. Phillipe sees the new Obut stainless steel leisure boules as filling the niche that La Franc boules once filled.

With the Euro taking a dive, the price difference between La Franc competition boules [which are made in Thailand] and French competition boules has become smaller. Obut also came out with a new line of leisure boules in stainless steel, about 73mm, 660g, in 8 different designs. At $64, they’re the perfect “middle-of-the-road” boule, between the cheap chrome Chinese boules and the range of competition boules.

Boules and rust

Let’s talk about boules and rust.

I have a set of La France SB boules, which are relatively soft carbon steel (acier au carbone) boules. During the summer, I lost one of the boules. About 4 months later, I found it under the edge of the carpet that I use to pad my shooting pit.

The boule appeared to be in horrifying condition. Outdoors in our monsoon rains, the carpet had kept the boule covered and moist. The Tucson summer heat will quickly rust anything that is outdoors and the least bit wet. By the time I found the boule, it was completely covered in a thick coat of orange rust.
Click to view larger image.

Despite appearances, this was not a disaster. A few minutes with a wire brush, and a few more minutes dragging the boule around on the ground to simulate a few days of play, and the boule was restored to playable condition. Here is a picture. The boule on the left is the rusty and restored boule. The other is another boule from the same set that was kept out of the weather and played with occasionally.
Click to view larger image.

There are differences between the two boules. The restored boule is darker in color, somewhere between black and dark-brown, and I expect the color change is permanent. It also has a noticeably rougher surface than its sister boule. Personally, I like the changes.

The moral of the story is— if you come across some rusty old boules, don’t write them off and throw them away. They can easily be restored to playable condition. Depending on your taste, they may even be better than they were before they got rusty.

Exploding leisure boules

On Saturday, September 4, 2016, in the German town of Nettetal, near Düsseldorf, during a neighborhood party, in the middle of a tent erected for the event, a petanque boule spontanously exploded. The explosion ripped a hole in the ceiling of the tent and left a small crater in the ground, but nobody was injured. A Düsseldorf bomb squad removed the remaining seven boules in the set and safely detonated them.

The investigation of this incident is still ongoing, but it recalls a similar incident that occurred in Switzerland in 2009.  In that incident, the Swiss Federal Laboratory for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) analyzed the remaining boules in the set in an effort to determine the cause of the explosion. The boules in question were cheap leisure boules with thin metal walls, filled with a sand-like mixture (French news reports referred to it as “mortar”) to bring them up to proper weight. The sand was damp and contaminated with iron filings.

The moisture in the sand corroded the iron filings. Inside the sealed boules, in the absence of oxygen, that chemical reaction produced hydrogen gas, which caused high pressure inside the boules. The cheap boules had poorly welded seams. Under the pressure of the hydrogen gas, the seam of one of the boules failed and the boule exploded. It literally blew its top.

In the 2009 incident the set of boules was sitting on a shelf in its original packaging. In that incident, the Swiss department store chain Coop, which sold the sets, immediately stopped selling them and launched an aggressive recall campaign.

On the Wednesday following the explosion in Nettetal, the German federal government issued a press release warning the public of the danger of cheap boules. The German Petanque Federation (DPA) recommended buying certified boules and shopping for boules in specialty stores rather than in supermarkets.


The boules that exploded in Switzerland in 2009. The boules were stored in the black bag shown on the right. Note the top of the exploded boule on the left side of the shelf, the sand scattered about the shelf, and the dent in the shelf wall at the right. It looks like the black bag must have been standing upright against the wall when the boule exploded.


Closeup of the bottom half of the exploded leisure boule in its original packaging.


Cross-section of another boule in the set. In addition to the sand filling, note the thinness of the metal shell.

For an interesting short video showing EMPA testing cheap boules, see THIS.

For EMPA diagrams comparing cheap leisure boules to competition boules, see THIS.

The EMPA engineering failure analysis, “Investigation into the mechanisms leading to explosion of pétanque balls”, is available HERE.

Pocket scorekeepers for petanque

Traditional leather scorekeeper

One traditional design for a pocket scorekeeper has two numbered wheels made of stiff leather sandwiched between a faceplate and a backplate, also made of stiff leather.

This American umpire’s scorekeeper for baseball (below) was manufactured in the 1870’s. At that time, the rules of baseball allowed nine balls and nine strikes, so the numbers on the two wheels go up to 9, and the wheels are labelled “balls” and “strikes”

The same two-wheel design is used in traditional petanque scorekeepers like this one from the French manufacturer Obut. The front plate identifies the two wheels as the scores for Nous and Eux — “us” and “them”. Numbers go from zero to 15 because international championships used to be played to 15. (It is available from Petanque America for about $14 plus shipping.)

The problem with this scorekeeper is that it is poorly made (or perhaps poorly designed).

  • The colored face is thin paper glued to the leather body. After moderate use, the paper face begins to peel away.
  • The tightness of the aluminum screws determines how easily the scoring wheels can be turned. It is difficult to adjust the screws so that they are neither too tight nor too loose.
  • The screws tend to loosen with use or vibration. If you drive around with this scorekeeper in your car, road vibrations will cause the screws to work loose and fall out, and possibly get lost.

Universal pocket scorekeeper

In 2006, Jill Barnes of Dublin, California (just east of San Francisco) was frustrated during her son’s baseball games. “Typically there aren’t any scoreboards, and if there is a scoreboard, it’s not functioning. My son was playing baseball. Like with all the other games, parents were saying, ‘Does anyone know the score?’ ‘How many runs is that?’   I thought, ‘I can design something. I know exactly what this needs to look like.’”

What she came up with was a simple universal pocket scorekeeper. Like the traditional scorekeeper, it has a set of wheels for “us” and “them”. (Well, “me” and “you”.) Its four independent numbered wheels can record scores of up to 99 for virtually any sport. (It is available from Jill’s web site,, for $6.99 plus $3.00 shipping.) The plastic construction is rugged, and the straightforward simplicity of the idea is great, but I found the wheels to be stiff and difficult to advance. I needed to use both hands to change the score.



Home-made pocket scorekeeper

I’m diabetic, and I use disposable insulin pens. To use an insulin pen, you twist the end of the pen— click, click, click— and dial in the number of units of insulin that you want to inject. When the pen is empty, you throw it away.

I took three of these discarded pens, cut off the ends with the twist counter, and glued them together in parallel to make a pocket scorekeeper.
This triple-barrel design is quite useful.

  • It is sturdier than the Obut scorekeeper and easier to use than the Pocket Scorekeeper.
  • In a cut-throat game, three players play against each other and you need to keep track of three scores, one for each player. That’s easy to do with this design.
  • Our favorite cut-throat game is Two Jacks, which is played to a winning score of 21. This scorekeeper is capable of recording scores of 21 (and more).
  • The best short form of petanque is one in which games are played to a fixed number of mènes. The third counter can be used to record the number of menes. Very handy.

If Obut was smart, THIS is the pocket scorekeeper that they would be selling.


Smartphone app

The requirements for a petanque scorekeeper app are quite simple. You need to be able to increase (and, in case of a mistake, decrease) the score of each of two teams. You need to be able to reset the scores to zero. And it might be nice to be able to count the number of menes played.

For Android, Pétanque: Marque Scores looks promising. It has a lot more features than just the basic ones I mentioned. Not surprisingly, it looks like it is the creation of a French software developer.screenshot_PetanqueMarqueScores

Apple’s app store didn’t seem to have any good petanque scorekeeper apps. Two general-purpose scorekeeper apps that had good reviews were Swipe Scoreboard and Score Keeper HD Lite.

Make your own jacks

There are several reasons why you might want to make your own jack. You may need only one (which isn’t worth ordering online and paying shipping on). You might need a jack TODAY and can’t wait for it to come in the mail. You might want a color that is not available. (Obut seems to have discontinued making RED jacks!)

Here’s a suggestion. Go to your local craft store or woodworker’s supply store. Buy a wooden ball whose size is one-and-a-quarter (1.25) inches in diameter. (If you can find a ball labelled hardwood, that’s even better.) It will probably cost you about 80 cents.


Once you have your wooden ball, color it red with a permanent marker. Voilà! A jack!


You’re probably thinking— It’s OK to be a little flexible about the size of the jack in casual play, but I would never use a home-made jack in an official competition.

But in fact your home-made jack isn’t a poor substitute for the real thing. The 1.25″ wooden balls are just under 31mm in diameter. That means that they are within the 1mm tolerance of the official 30mm size. (Obut painted jacks are usually just under 30mm.)

Your home-made jack will weigh around 13g, which places it in the middle of the required weight range (10g to 18g). This isn’t surprising. The requirements for the jack are requirements for a wooden ball, and that is exactly what your home-made jack is.

In short, your home-made jack meets FIPJP requirements for both size and weight. What’s more, it is not covered with a coat of paint. That actually makes it more like a traditional bouchon than the painted jacks sold by Obut.

So give it a try. I think you’ll like your home-made jack.

After using my homemade jacks for a while, I began wondering if it would be possible to get a shiny painted surface like the Obut jacks have. After a bit of experimentation, I made these. They are painted with three coats of “Sally Hansen Hard-as-Nails” fingernail polish ($3 per bottle). The first coat is white, the second coat is colored, and the third coat is clear.


Players in my club think that the easiest-to-see jack is Obut’s Fluorescent Yellow jack. But I have found that Testor Fluorescent Yellow Enamel Paint (which I found at my local Hobby Lobby) is even easier to see. My homemade jack (below) is on the left, and the Obut yellow jack is on the right.

The paint on Obut jacks gets badly chipped pretty quickly. I’m experimenting to see if a couple of coats of clear “Hard-as-Nails” on a new Obut jack might extend its useful life….

Are your boules too big?

I’m beginning to suspect that most of the traditional advice on how to select boule size is bogus, and that many players may be playing with boules that are too big.

  1. The traditional advice and its problems
  2. Do shooters really play with bigger boules? Not any more.
  3. What happens when you play with boules that are too big?
  4. The solution — smaller boules

The traditional advice and its problems ▲

There is one question that all petanque players confront when purchasing competition boules — “What size should I purchase?”

There are two different schools of thought (theories, really) about how to select the size of boules.

  1. The Role-based Theory is that “It depends on what kind of player you are. Small boules for pointers, because small boules make small targets for shooters. Big boules for shooters, because a bigger missile is more likely to hit its target.”
  2. The Hand-size Theory is that “It depends on how big your hand is. Small boules for small hands. Big boules for big hands.”

There are problems with both of these schools of thought.

The Role-based Theory is useless for the average player. Beginning players aren’t yet skillful enough to classify themselves as pointers or shooters. Sometimes they will need to point, and sometimes they will need to shoot. The division of players into pointers, middle-men (millieux), and shooters really makes sense only for world-class players playing triples.

The idea that a boule is a more difficult target, or a more effective missile, because its radius is one millimeter less or more than some other boule… well, that’s just ludicrous. It’s like telling a Marine sniper to use a larger caliber bullet so he’ll have a better chance of hitting his target. Or telling a fat dictator that he needs to lose weight so he’ll present a small target for an assassin.

Most damaging to the theory, though, is the fact that the whole idea is questionable. A big wheel is better than a small wheel at rolling over lumps and bumps in its path. That’s why bicycles have bigger wheels than roller skates. So you’d think that a pointer would want to play with larger, not smaller, boules. Byron Putman reports that “Many club players contend that a pointer should use the largest boule that he can comfortably throw.” [Petanque, p. 103] Conversely, it would seem sensible for a shooter to prefer a smaller, not bigger, boule. One would think that being able to really wrap your fingers around a smaller boule would give a shooter more control over the boule.

You see the problem here. These ideas are just theories that somebody came up with because a priori they seemed to make sense. But completely opposite theories also make sense. They are all just theories. They have no basis in actual facts. That’s what makes them bogus. As Byron Putman says, “Be skeptical of most club-level boule selection advice… because it is often based on urban myth and contradictory inferences.”

In contrast to the Role-based Theory, the Hand-size Theory seems practical and sensible. There is obviously a relationship between the size of a hand and the size of a boule that will fit comfortably into that hand. So the slogan “Small boules for small hands; big boules for big hands,” seems to make sense.

The problem lies in the practical application of the theory. Boules manufacturers have tried to create formulas based on this idea (“a player with hand-size X should use boules of size Y”). But the numbers in their formulas are questionable, if not downright bogus.

The first sign that something is fishy is the fact that different boules manufacturers offer different ways to measure your hand. In theory, if there was a specific feature of a hand that made a boule more or less suitable for that hand (the length of the fingers, for instance) then everybody would know that, and all boules manufacturers would ask for the same hand measurement. But they don’t. Some measure the length of the middle finger from the hand to the finger tip. Some measure the distance from the base of the hand (the wrist) to the finger tip. Others measure the distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the middle finger. (Read our post on the various methods.) There is, in short, no standard formula for measuring hand size. Nobody really knows what should count as “a small hand” or “a big hand” for the purpose of picking boules.

You encounter the second bit of fishy business when (having measured your hand) you consult a manufacturer’s table that maps boule size to hand size. Suppose you measure your hand and get a measurement of X centimeters. And suppose that the table says that someone with that hand size should play with a boule of 74mm. But where did they get that number of 74mm? Could that number be wrong? With a hand size of X cm, perhaps you should be playing with a 71mm or 72mm or 75mm or 76mm boule. How do we — or they — know what size boule a person with an X-centimeter hand should use?

On the left, Steve Ferg (USA).  On the right, Daniel Duflot (France).  Which player do you think plays with the larger boule?

Steve Ferg (left, USA) and friend Daniel Duflot (right, France). Steve plays with a 74mm boule. Daniel uses a 75mm boule.

This brings us to the question of how much the choice of boule size is determined by anatomy, and how much it is determined by culture.

  • In the USA, a boule size of 73 mm seems to be the average for men, with smaller sizes such as 71 mm being popular with women. In France on the other hand, the most common diameters for men are 74–75 mm, and for women 72–73 mm.
  • Generic Chinese leisure boules of the kind that you might buy from Petanque America are about 73 mm, but Obut (French) leisure boules are 74 mm.
  • Since French players are probably on average smaller than American players, why are they using bigger boules?

And if French players prefer larger boules than Americans, and French boule manufacturers design their size-selection guidelines with their largest market (French players) in mind, then the size-selection guidelines provided by French manufacturers will tell Americans to buy boules that are too large. So why should American players follow the advice of French manufacturers?

When I used the hand charts, they said that I should play with a big boule — 76mm. Despite my gut feeling that that was too large, I went ahead and bought 76mm boules. Why?

  • Partly, it was because I was new at the game, I knew that I didn’t know much and I assumed that the boule manufacturers knew their business. As an ignorant newbie, I accepted established authority.
  • Partly, there was some stupid macho bullshit rattling around in my brain — the kind that equates “big” with “strong” and “manly”. And the fact that I actually am a tall guy helped me not to recognize the macho bullshit for the bullshit that it was.
  • But the strongest reason was the Role-based Theory. I wanted, some day, to become a really good petanque player, i.e. a shooter. So, I reasoned, I should buy shooter’s boules — big boules. The Role-based Theory led me, an aspiring shooter, into playing with boules that were too big.

I suspect the same kinds of things happen to other players.

Do shooters really play with bigger boules? Not any more. ▲

On Youtube, there is an interesting video of a clinic that Claudy Weibel gave at the 2012 Petanque America Open. After the clinic, during the question-and-answer period, one gentleman asks Claudy “When do you know that the boule is too big for a shooter? Because when we shoot, we like big boules, but what is too big?” And a bit later in the video we can see him with a boule in his hand, and it looks too big. It is pretty clear that he has been playing with, and having trouble with, a boule that is too large for his hand, and that he’s been doing it because of the tradition that shooters play with big boules.

Claudy’s answer is interesting. You can watch the video on YouTube, and I have made a transcript of the conversation (below). Note that Jean-Pierre Subrenat (president of the New York Petanque Club, and a very strong player in his own right) is translating for Claudy, and sometimes he offers his own thoughts as well as Claudy’s. The conversation begins at 12:15.

When do you know that the boule is too big for a shooter? Because when we shoot we like big boules, but what is too big?

It’s totally the contrary. Me [Claudy], I play 73. I [Jean-Pierre] used to play 75. Now I play 72.

A shooter doesn’t have to have big boules to shoot. On the contrary, you have to control the boule in your hand. [When you play with a smaller boule,] when you release the boule, you release it better, you can control it better with your fingers.

[Jean-Pierre, talking to the student:] I think this boule is too big for you, just by looking at your hand.

[They examine the boules. The student says that he thinks his boule is 76 or 77. Claudy compares his hand to the student’s hand. The hand sizes look to be about the same. Claudy says that he plays with a 73. The implication, of course, is that the student is probably playing with a boule that is about 3mm too big for him.]

I [Jean-Pierre] was playing 75, then with my team we got sponsored by KTK, the brand, and when they gave me the boules, I said I want 75. They said no, all the big players are playing with smaller and smaller boules. Quintais plays with 71. 71! And he’s bigger than you!

Yeah, the smaller… And that is a trend that is new. When you think that Quintais plays with boules that are smaller than my 72, its amazing, the results that he has.

When you point, you can control the smaller boule ten times better. All these years, I went from 75 to 72. I cannot play now with 75, at least not any more, at least not decently.

Dylan [Rocher] plays with 73. Marco [Foyot] plays with 74. Damien [Hureau] plays with 73.

QUESTION: So it’s a trend then?

ANSWER: It’s a trend. It’s the results… you see the results!

At the very end of the video Claudy makes some remarks in French that Pierre does not translate. I think I hear “It is important to have a good grip on the boule in the hand (bonne tenue en la main).” And later, something about “leaving the hand well (bien sortir en main).”

The bottom line is that Claudy and Jean-Pierre think that the old orthodoxy of “big boules for shooters” is dying. The new thinking is “Not too big. You can control a smaller boule better.”

I recently discovered more support for this idea. On August 16, 2014, there was an interesting post on one of the forums of the petanque710 web site. Its subject was diameter of the boules of shooters (Diamètre des boules des tireurs). Here is my rather free translation of the post.

When I started playing petanque I noticed that the majority of the players, and especially shooters, played with boules of 75 or 76 mm in diameter, with 75mm being the most used. But now I notice that small diameters (72-74) are being used, with diameters of 75 and 76 now being quite rare in games. And even more surprising, many of the great shooters are playing with the small diameters.

So I decided to make a list of the diameters and also the weights of the boules that the great players are now using. If you find any errors in my list, you can correct them and add other names to the list.

  • 74 – 700 – Foyot
  • 74 – 700 – Miléi
  • 74 – 690 – Quintais
  • 74 – 680 – W Chapeland
  • 74 – 680 – Fred Michel
  • 73 – 690 – Weibel
  • 73 – 690 – Savin
  • 73 – 690 – J L Devernois
  • 73 – 690 – Gasparini
  • 72 – 680 – Dylan Rocher
  • 73 – 680 – S Chapeland
  • 73 – 680 – J Darodès
  • 73 – 680 – Dufeu
  • 73 – 680 – D Olmos
  • 72 – 700 – Suchaud
  • 72 – 680 – Maillard
  • 72 – 680 – Leboursicaud
  • 71 – ??? – Christian Fazzino
  • 71 – 700 – Gross
  • 71 – 680 – A Papon

The result, as you can see, is something that might seem strange. Almost all of the top female and male shooters in the world play with 71 and 72mm — the smallest diameter.

The original post (which has now been taken down) reported Marco Foyot playing with 76 and Dylan Rocher with 72. I've changed their information based on Jean-Pierre Subrenat's comments, which I consider more reliable because I know that he has personally played against Marco and Dylan. I've left other contradictions unchanged (e.g. the list reports Quintais as playing with 74, but Jean-Pierre reports him as playing with 71). Note also that the closing remark that the top shooters play with 71 and 72 is contradicted by the list information. According to the list, most are using 73, with about an equal number split between 74 and 72/71.

What happens when you play with boules that are too big? ▲

There seem to be two consequences of throwing boules that are too big. One is accuracy issues, and the other is forearm fatigue and soreness. These problems occur with notable regularity among women players, who as a group have smaller hands than male players.

Byron Putman, in his book Petanque, notes that many players compensate for throwing oversized boules by unconsciously pulling their fingers apart. There may also be undesired thumb friction. The result is that players throwing oversized boules often have chronic issues with undesired sidespin (causing non-linear rollout) and release hang-ups (which can cause difficulties in controlling the distance of a throw). [pp. 75-77]

In addition, a larger (or heavier) boule requires a greater gripping force. The player must squeeze the boule harder in order to hold it. The squeezing tightens the forearm flexor muscles, producing forearm fatigue and soreness. I’ve had a friend — a small lady player — tell me that she experiences forearm soreness. And Carl Herbert, of the Seattle Petanque Club, reported the same thing in a recent email exchange.

Yes, I believe you are correct that Americans use bad advice for selection of boules. After six months of playing daily with boules that caused my forearm to ache, I tried using smaller boules and found I shoot more accurately with them. I suspect I point better with smaller boules as well… I play mostly with a set of 71mm 650g boules now, and I like them very much.

The solution — smaller boules ▲

The obvious solution to the problems of boules that are too big, is to play with smaller boules. Byron Putman found this to be especially true for the women players in his group. [Petanque, pp. 104-5]

The minimum certified boule size is 70.5mm. According to the boule sizing chart a 71mm boule equates to the hand measurement between 170mm and 180mm. I’ve measured the hands of over 50 women with a variety of heights and bone structures. The average thumb to middle finger span is about 163mm which, according to most sizing charts, would specify a 69mm boule!

Putman tells the story of a female friend with a very small hand who suffered “chronic release issues” while using 71mm, 680g boules. Her release issues vanished when she switched to “competition junior” boules of 70.5mm, 650g.

Even 1/2mm and 30g can make a huge difference to a player with petite paws… Of the 12 regular women players in my summer group, eight of them throw [compet. juniors] — and they absolutely love them!

During my email conversation with Carl Herbert, he wrote

I think there is better advice to give newcomers than what I got myself. I feel strongly clubs should provide a range of boules for new players, especially smaller sizes. Many clubs provide only the 73mm Chinese-made boules or the 74mm Obut leisure boules for lending to beginners, and I think that is a grievous error. They start out hindered even before they know how to play the game.

I see a lot of new players buy Obut leisure boules because they are relatively inexpensive, but many women who start with such large-diameter boules have trouble with them. B.W. Putman mentions in his book that women in his area who play with junior boules (70.5mm, 650 to 670 grams) like them and play well with them. I like them too! I have yet to hear a reasoned explanation why anybody can’t play with smaller, lighter boules to good effect. Indeed, my experience has been that I generally play better with them.

Perhaps I will experiment again with larger-diameter boules in the future, but I expect I will always find smaller-diameter boules more precise. One reason is that boules with a relatively smaller fit within my hand permit me greater variation in my grip. The tactile variability of the boule in my hand allows me better consistency in how I grip it. I have a better feel for minor differences of my grip.

I started with my 71mm, 650-gram boules this past January after having played with 72mm boules for a few months. I had played with a set of junior boules during a visit to California, and I liked them very much. My benefit was immediate and considerable.

I suggest new players are better off starting with boules in the 70.5mm to 72mm range unless they have very large hands. Even then there’s no reason they can’t play the small boules for a while. I suggest it is better to start small and move gradually to larger sizes than it is to use the various selection guides to guess compromising sizes to suit an ideal skill level that players may attain in the future. The latter approach probably costs a player more money and accumulates more steel boules in their closets.

I can certainly identify with that last sentence. I have several sets of 76mm boules that are going up for sale on eBay one of these days.

In summary… There are good reasons to suspect that the traditional advice about boule size tends to steer players toward selecting and playing with boules that are too large. If you are having consistency or accuracy issues with your throwing, or are experiencing tiredness or soreness in your forearm, you should probably consider experimenting with a smaller size of boule.