Geologic boules and Decathlon’s arrival in the USA

[originally published 2018-02-23; revised 2018-07-18]
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.

February 2018
Our store is located at 735 Market Street, San Francisco 94103 (between 3rd and 4th)— close to the Powell BART Station. We ship to California addresses on orders over $50, and provide click & collect, where you can order online in advance and once you receive a notification, you can come to our store to pick up your items.

The web page for Decathlon France is www.decathlon.fr. The web page for the San Francisco store is www.decathlon.com. 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 www.facebook.com/DecathlonUSA. 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 $6.

 

 

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 offers three general types of boules: cheap leisure boules, a middle-of-the-range line of leisure boules called “Discovery 300” boules, and competition boules.

LOW-END LEISURE BOULES
Geologic’s entry-level line of leisure boules seems to me to be rather misguided. These boules are available in only one size/weight combination (70mm, 560g) and in only two styles (smooth, single grooves). This makes them too light-weight to be acceptable for serious adult players, and too large for many kids (junior competition boules are typically 65mm). Still, they might be appropriate for some younger players. Like other leisure boules, these boules are filled with sand. If/when they become available in the USA, a set of three will probably cost around $15.

HIGH-END LEISURE BOULES
“Discovery” is a line of moderately-priced ($41) hollow chrome-plated carbon-steel leisure boules. They come in only one size/weight combination, 73mm/660g, so they are normal-sized, rather light-weight adult leisure boules. They cost twice as much as Chinese-made leisure boules, but less than Obut’s line of stainless steel leisure boules. Three designs are available: “classic” (single groove), “jester”, and “baseball”. I don’t know how they compare in durability with Chinese leisure boules or Obut’s leisure boules.

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

  • Alpha – an inexpensive ($53) medium-hard (42HRC, >130 kg/mm²) chrome-plated carbon steel boule. Available in
    - 72 mm 690 g striations
    - 72 mm 690 g smooth
    - 74 mm 690 g striations
    - 74 mm 690 g smooth
  • Delta – a moderately priced ($75) relatively soft (39HRC, >126 kg/mm²) chrome-plated carbon steel boule. Available in:
    - 72 mm 680 g smooth
    - 73 mm 690 g smooth
    - 74 mm 690 g smooth
    - 75 mm 690 g smooth
    - 76 mm 690 g smooth
  • Polyvalent – a relatively expensive ($110) stainless steel medium-hard boule (42HRC, >130 kg/mm²). Available in:
    - 71 mm 690 g smooth
    - 72 mm 690 g smooth
    - 73 mm 680 g smooth
    - 73 mm 700 g smooth
    - 74 mm 680 g smooth
    - 74 mm 700 g smooth
    - 75 mm 680 g smooth
    - 75 mm 700 g smooth
    - 76 mm 700 g smooth

The real winner in this line-up is the Alpha, whose price should make it attractive to beginning players looking for a first set of competition boules at a reasonable price. (The downside is that you have no choice about weight and only two choices of size— 72mm or 74mm.) The Delta line doesn’t seem to offer a significantly wider range of choices than the Alpha. The Polyvalent line compares poorly with Obut’s MATCH line, which offers a wider range of choices at a lower price (as of summer 2018, at Petanque America).

Will this affect Petanque America?

When I first heard about the arrival in America of Decathlon stores, I was disturbed. I was afraid that we’d see in the boules market what we’ve seen in, for example, the books market. A huge high-volume 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 lose their small local independent vendors, and with them they will lose a lot the choices that they once had. Petanque America (and its counterpart in Canada, Marcod) is not something that we want to lose. 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 Petanque Amelia Island Open, American petanque would be a pale shadow of its present self.

Now, however, after a more thorough review of Geologic boules, I am less worried. Geologic’s low-end leisure boules are suitable for neither adult nor junior players. Discovery leisure boules cost twice as much as Chinese leisure boules and offer no significant advantages over them. Discovery boules cost less than Obut’s leisure boules, but they don’t have Obut’s reputation for quality and they aren’t stainless steel (see Are your boules toxic?). When it comes to competition boules, Obut’s MATCH line is better and cheaper than Geologic’s Polyvalent line. The only really attractive Geologic model is the Alpha; as the cheapest competition boule on the market, it is attractive to players buying their first set of competition boules. LW Cheah reports (see comment, below) that Decathlon is planning to introduce another Alpha option of 70.5mm and 670g. For players who prefer a smaller boule, that would certainly be good news; it would make discarding their old 73mm leisure boules and moving to a 70.5mm Alpha a no-brainer. Even if that happens, however, the Alpha options will still be so limited that it seems unlikely to me that anyone would buy Alphas as their second set of competition boules.

The bottom line is that after taking a hard look at the Geologic line-up, I don’t find it especially compelling. I don’t see Geologic boules posing a serious threat to Petanque America among either serious or casual players. Economics is funny, of course, and people are unpredictable, so I may be wrong. But that’s the way things look to me right now.


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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.


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.

jacks
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.

boules
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.


How to send text messages from your laptop or PC

If you’re trying to co-ordinate a group of petanque players, it can sometimes be handy to be able to send them text messages via email from your laptop or PC. Here’s how to do it.

The first thing you need to know is that, for the purposes of emailing a text message, each cell phone has an ordinary email address. The format of that address is

phoneNumber@carrierSMSgateway

The phoneNumber should be 10 digits. It should include the area code. It should include only numbers – no dashes or parentheses. So for a phone number of (333) 444-5555 the phoneNumber in the email address is 3334445555.

The carrierSMSgateway is the SMS (“Short Message Service”) gateway provided by the telephone carrier. If you know a telephone number, there are several free web sites that will let you look up the carrier of that number, and the carrier’s SMS gateway. One web site that I found easy to use was freecarrierlookup.com

freecarrierlookupdotcom

In the image, you can see that the carrier for this particular number is Verizon Wireless, and Verizon’s SMS gateway is vtext.com. Very conveniently, freecarrierlookup.com provides the full SMS gateway address (5206644133@vtext.com) for the number that was looked up, so I can just copy-and-paste it into my email program.

When the recipient receives your text message, he will see your email address (the “Reply-to” email address that you provided when you sent your email message) in the place where he would normally see the caller’s telephone number. If the recipient replies to your text message, his reply will be sent to that email address.

But, a WARNING—
Email providers often regard email that is sent from a telephone number as coming from an unknown or suspect source. Some will flag such email as spam, so that the reply ends up in your email’s JUNK MAIL folder. Some will greylist the reply and delay it (this message was delayed for an hour).

X-Greylist delayed 3601 seconds by postgrey-1.34 at mail8.webfaction.com

Some email providers will silently and completely filter out the reply— you receive no reply and no indication whatsoever that the recipient replied to your message. So, at least until you’ve experimented and determined otherwise, don’t assume that replies to your text message will get through to you.

When the recipient receives your text message, he will receive a text message consisting of the SUBJECT line of your email message (in parentheses) followed by the text of the message. You can use a very short subject line. When I send a text message with a question, I like to make the subject line just a question mark, so the recipient gets a text message that starts with “(?)”.

Keep your messages (including the SUBJECT line) short. Try to keep the whole thing to less than 160 characters. If your message is longer than 160 characters, your message will be broken down into chunks of 153 characters, and each chunk will be sent as a separate text message. Some carriers are smart enough to re-assemble the short chunks into one long text message, but most are not.

If you’d like to review your message before sending it to others, send it to your own phone. Then, if it looks good, you can send it to the real recipients.

Note that this information only applies to telephone numbers with US and Canada area codes. That is: numbers with country code = 1. You can send text messages to foreign countries, too. When dialing, you first specify your country’s “exit code” to get onto the international exchange, then you specify the recipient’s country code and his telephone number. For international dialing, one source that I found to be useful was www.howtocallabroad.com. It will tell you, for instance, that the exit code for the USA is 011.


How to access region-restricted web sites

On December 23, 2016 the world championships in Madagascar were streamed on a French TV channel, La chaîne l’Équipe. But if you are in the USA, and went to that web site to watch the championships, you saw a message saying that the channel is what is generally known as “region restricted”. You can see the message now if you wish— just click on this link to www.lequipe.fr/lachainelequipe.video_region_restricted

I won’t go into the technology behind how region restriction works, or the several ways to get around region restrictions. If you’re interested in that, you can Google for that information.

Here I will describe the fairly simple and easy tool that I used, that allowed me to watch the championships. It is a product/service called TunnelBear. TunnelBear is a highly-rated VPN provider, and it worked well for me. Here’s how you can do what I did.

  1. Get the Chrome web browser. It is a good, fast browser, and it is free. It can be downloaded from Google’s web site.
  2. Open the Chrome browser. Go to the TunnelBear web site and navigate to the DOWNLOAD page.
  3. On the DOWNLOAD page, scroll down until you see “Browser Extensions”.
  4. Download and install the TunnelBear extension for Chrome.
  5. The download comes with 500Mb of free data. That’s enough to watch several minutes of video and to make sure the browser extension is working, but it is not enough to watch an entire petanque game. I signed up with the TunnelBear service for a monthly subscription, which comes with unlimited data, at a cost of about $8 per month. That was enough to allow me to watch all 8 hours of the world championships. (You can also get the TunnelBear service for a much lower cost with a yearly subscription.)
  6. After you have watched the championships, assuming that you have no other use for TunnelBear, remember to go back to the TunnelBear web site and cancel your monthly subscription. (Technically, the way you cancel a monthly subscription is to downgrade it to a free subscription.) The cancel/downgrade process is quick and easy. If you don’t cancel/downgrade, your monthly subscription will remain in effect and TunnelBear will continue charging your credit card every month.

If you stream French TV, you need to be aware of time differences between France and the USA. Right now, where I live, we are on Mountain Standard time, which means that we are 8 hours ahead of French time. The French broadcast started at 1600h (4pm), which means that it started at 800h (8am) our local time. Depending on your time zone and whether or not you are on daylight-savings time, your time will vary.


How to blacken your boules

There are a number of reasons why you might want to make the entire surface of your boules black. You might want to make it easier to tell your boules from other players’ boules. You might want to play solitaire. You just might like the color.

Gun blacking comes off on your hands and wears off quickly. Black magic marker (permanent marker) is time-consuming and messy to apply, and leaves your boules slightly sticky for a while. Now Kim Badcock, of the Mission Beach Petanque Club in Australia, has a tip for what may be the best method yet.

In response to our post on boules and rust Kim wrote

Did you know you can make your SB boules black again and very easily. A soak or wipe over with a very weak acid solution (vinegar, lemon juice, dilute hydrichloric acid etc) will change the outer molecular layers of your boule to magnetite (black colour). Quickly wipe with an oiled cloth afterwards to help seal in the colouring.

This should work with all carbon-steel boules. It shouldn’t work with stainless steel boules or with chrome-plated boules (which means that it shouldn’t work with leisure boules).

Following Kim’s suggestion, I bought an inexpensive jug of distilled white vinegar. I left two La Franc SB boules to soak in the vinegar overnight. (La Franc SB boules are relatively soft carbon-steel boules, acier au carbone.) In the morning they were really black. When I washed them off, a lot of black came off on my hands. The boules were left with a deep uniform matte gunmetal grey color. There was a small shiny spot where they had been sitting on the bottom of the container.

In this picture, the brownish boule in the front is a rusty boule that has been brought back from the dead. The two vinegar-blackened boules are at the back. The boule at the left has been played with more than the boule at the right, so it is more scratched-up. The image doesn’t really capture the color of the boules. The boules, while not absolutely black, are a much darker grey than they appear in the photo. In play, they do appear to be black.
Click to see larger image.

This picture was taken immediately after I treated the boules. Since then, I’ve played with them a couple of times and the color seems relatively long-lasting. In any event, even if the color doesn’t last forever, renewing the color with another vinegar soak is essentially effortless. I’m happy with the result.


Update, April 28, 2017
Today, about 5 months after the date of the original post and after perhaps 30 to 50 hours of play, I thought the boules were beginning to look a bit shiny, so I blackened them again. Soaking them for 6 hours in distilled white vinegar restored them exactly to the condition that you see in the pictures in the original post.