TABLE OF CONTENTS
Information about ►types of boules ►sets of boules ►vendors
►Our recommendations for :: boules for new or beginning players
►Our recommendations for :: your first set of competition boules
►Our recommendations for :: a set of gift boules
►How to select competition boules (size, weight, etc.)
►Make a throwing circle ►Make your own jacks ►Buy a tape measure
►Buying boules for groups
►Boules for indoor play
►Leisure boules vs. competition boules
Types of boules ▲
Most discussions will tell you that there are two basic categories of boules — leisure and competition. But the situation is a little more interesting than that.
- Leisure boules are inexpensive boules meant for occasional or casual play. They may be called leisure (French: loisir), recreational, weekend, generic, or DOG boules. (DOG boules were one of Obut’s earliest models of leisure boules.) They are available in only one weight and size and with a bright chrome finish. They are made of thinner steel than competition boules, and are usually filled with sand or dirt to bring them up to the proper weight.
Most inexpensive leisure boules are made in China. As of 2017, a set of three Chinese-made leisure boules will typically cost around $30 plus shipping. The French company OBUT makes leisure boules of a higher quality and and a bigger price tag (three or four times that of Chinese leisure boules). Chinese leisure boules tend to run in the range of about 73mm in diameter, with a weight around 720g. The current (as of 2017) line of OBUT stainless-steel (inox) leisure boules are about 73mm in diameter and weight around 650g.
- Competition boules are boules designed for serious competition play. More precisely, they are boules that have been certified (homologuées) by the International Petanque Federation (FIPJP) for use in FIPJP-sanctioned tournaments. Competition boules must meet FIPJP standards, and are always hollow (i.e. never filled with anything). They are available in a variety of sizes, weights, hardnesses, and striation patterns. Competition boules are between 70.5-80 mm in diameter, and 650-800 grams in weight.
Competition boules are made of thicker and stronger steel than leisure boules, and they are more carefully machined so they will be more consistent in size, weight, and balance. They are also significantly more expensive than leisure boules. That’s why, when you’re starting out and learning the game, you should use a set of (cheaper, but still quite functional) leisure boules. Later, if you find yourself getting better and playing more often, you can upgrade to a set of competition boules. A set of three competition boules will, depending on what you purchase, cost from $100 up to two or three hundred dollars.
For adults, the smallest legal size of competition boules is 70.5mm. For many years, JB Petanque sold 70.5mm boules under the label Compét. Junior. Obut retired the line when it acquired JB, and it now offers 70.5mm boules as just another size in the regular lineup of sizes for its Match IT model.
For more information, see our page on leisure boules vs. competition boules.
- Junior competition boules — When playing in junior tournaments, children age 11 and younger may use “junior” competition boules (65mm diameter, 600g weight). Obut’s line of Match Minimes is available from Petanque America. Note that these ARE competition boules, but not for adult players; only for kids 11 and under.
- Junior leisure boules — Confusingly, Obut also makes a set of “junior leisure” boules (junior loisir or junior initiation or initiation enfant). These are leisure boules, in a smaller size suitable for children. Note that these are NOT competition boules for either adults or children.
- Boules for indoor play — There are a variety of types of soft petanque boules for indoor play. They aren’t real boules, but they aren’t quite toys either. For more information, see our page on indoor petanque boules.
- Mini boules are 35mm metal balls typically sold as “carpet boules” or mini bocce/ petanque boules. In France they are called jeu de boules d’intérieur. They look like real boules, but are about half the diameter. We keep a set so that the toddlers can play with boules that look like what the big people are using.
- Boule-like toys — sets of plastic or wooden balls aren’t real boules. They can be fun for the kids, or for playing not-too-serious games at the beach. For more information, google “beach bocce ball”.
Sets of boules ▲
Boules are available from various sellers in sets of two, three, four, six, or eight boules. You have to be careful about what you’re buying. You should buy boules only in sets of 3 or 6 boules. And even then, you have to watch out for the striations (stripes) on the balls — see the discussion of the Jacques of London leisure boules (below).
- In the past, sets of two boules in a leather carrying case were traditional for playing triples in the south of France. That’s why you frequently see old sets of this type on eBay. Do not buy such sets. To be able to play doubles you will need a set of three boules. That’s why today manufacturers sell competition boules only in sets of three.
- You may see “petanque” or “bocce/petanque” balls being sold in sets of four or eight. Such sets typically contain 2 or 4 sets of two boules each. Do not buy such sets. None of the standard forms of petanque can be played with that combination of boules.
- Be careful even with boules being sold in a set of six, such as the sets by boules by Jacques of London, L.L. Bean, and the Canadian vendor Marcod. These sets don’t contain 2 sets of three boules each — they contain 3 sets of two boules each. Do not buy such sets. None of the standard forms of petanque can be played with that combination of boules.
- Never buy a set of boules that comes in a wooden or metal box. In the fantasy life of people who don’t really play petanque, the box conveys an aura of expense, quality, and elegance. (That’s what allows a vendor to jack up the price of a set of cheap leisure boules.) In real life, the box is useless. Save your money for a good set of competition boules.
- Proper petanque boules are sold only in sets of 3 or 6 boules — that is, as one or two sets of 3 boules each. The picture at the right is of a set of 6 petanque leisure boules available from the Petanque America online store. Such a set is enough to equip two people to play doubles or triples.
Vendors (Where to buy boules) ▲
Before 2018 there were no brick-and-mortar stores in the United States where you could walk in and try out boules the way you might try on shoes in a shoe store. In 2018, the French mega-chain of sporting goods stores, Decathlon, opened a store in San Francisco where you can purchase a limited range of boules. For most players in Canada and the USA, however, to purchase boules, you must use an online, web-based vendor.
- Petanque America is the only USA-based vendor that sells boules made by Obut, the world’s largest manufacturer of petanque boules. If you want a set of boules from some other manufacturer, they can special order it for you. PA also sells other petanque equipment and relatively high-quality leisure boules at a reasonable price.
- PlayABoule now sells only bocce equipment; it no longer sells petanque leisure boules.
- The Decathlon store in San Francisco has a limited set of offerings of petanque boules.
- You can buy petanque boules on Amazon.com. Note however that almost all of the sets of petanque boules offered on Amazon (except sets sold by Petanque America) contain contain two, three, or four pairs of 2 boules. In addition, some boules (like those from Kikkerland) come in two sizes. The “large” size is 73mm, the standard size for a leisure boule. The “small” size is for “mini” balls (see above).
- Marcod, in Canada, is a reliable online vendor of Obut competition boules. They also sell leisure boules, but be careful. Almost all of their sets of leisure boules are sets of two or three pairs of boules, which we think is a bad idea (see above).
- It is possible to order directly from French manufacturers and suppliers, but shipping costs from France are extremely high. For special requests, you’re probably better off contacting Petanque America and seeing if they can special-order the specific boules that you are seeking.
- eBay is generally not a good source for boules. It is very difficult to tell exactly what is being offered — in many cases the sellers themselves don’t know. Most boules that you find on eBay America are not certified competition quality. And remember that we recommend that you not purchase sets of two boules. Watch out for the seller location— French sellers sometimes have listings on eBay America, and shipping costs from France to the USA can be ruinous.
- It’s fun to look for boules on eBay France. But be warned, shipping costs from France to the USA can be ruinous. Unless you’re made of money, you’re better off shopping first at Petanque America.
- If you’re in the mood to look for old boules, it can also be fun to look for boules on etsy.
Our recommendations for boules for new or beginning petanque players ▲
You shouldn’t spend a lot of money on boules before you’ve had time to really get a feel for the game. So for your first set of boules, we recommend Petanque America’s set of six leisure boules.
One set of six boules will equip two players. A cost-effective approach is to buy TWO sets of six boules each. That will be enough (12 boules) to equip four people to play doubles. Two such sets can fit into one “If it fits, it ships” box, keeping shipping costs to a minimum. As of October 2018, that will be a one-time cost of around $75 (includes shipping).
With two such sets you will have six “smooth” boules (boules lisses) and six double-groove boules. You’ll be able to distinguish the boules of the two teams (grooves vs. smooth), but not the boules of individual players. If you want every player to have his own distinct set of boules, for a few more dollars you can buy—
- one set of 6 boules (three smooth, three double-groove boules), and
- one set of 3 boules (single-groove wide), and
- one set of 3 boules (single-groove narrow).
When you order your boules, think about adding a couple of Obut jacks to your order. Your set of boules will include a jack, but the Obut jacks are noticeably better, and there is no extra shipping charge if you add a few to your order. Pick the color that you think will be most visible; we recommend orange or yellow.
Our recommendations for your first set of competition boules ▲
There are a number of reasons why more advanced players purchase competition boules. (A) Competition boules offer greater consistency of balance, weight and size within a set than leisure boules do. (B) You have a larger selection of choices of size, weight, groove patterns, materials, anti-rebound technology, etc. (C) You want to play in an FPUSA- or FIPJP-sanctioned competition. (D) You plan to play in Europe, where players and clubs tend to be a bit more judgmental about these things than we are in the USA.
We formerly recommended La Franc SM boules as a beginning competition boule, because of their relatively low cost. Unfortunately, because of recurring shipping problems on the part of La Franc, Petanque America no longer carries La Franc boules. Now your your best options are the Obut “Match” line of boules from Petanque America, and Geologic ALPHA boules. Alphas are inexpensive (for competition boules) but you have limited or no choices of material, hardness,weight, and size. “Match” are good competition boules at a reasonable price, and they offer a good set of choices for size, weight, etc.
In selecting a model you are selecting material (basically stainless steel or carbon steel) and hardness. Once you’ve selected a model, you will be asked to specify a size, a weight, and a striation pattern.
- Both carbon steel and stainless steel (inox) make fine boules. If you live in a hot, humid climate, or if you put your boules into long-term storage, you will need to take steps to protect carbon steel boules from rust, but rust is not normally a day-to-day issue even with carbon steel boules.
- We recommend a weight of 680g if it is available. 700g boules are often more easily available and they work well too.
- A diameter of 73mm is a good choice for the average-size male American player. If you have unusually large hands, you might consider a larger boule of 74mm or 75mm. For players with smaller hands we recommend a diameter of 71mm or 70.5mm. (70.5mm is the smallest size allowed for adult competition boules.)
- Striation patterns are a matter of taste.
For considerations when selecting competition boules, see our post on How to select competition boules (size, weight, etc.)
Our recommendations for a set of gift boules ▲
If you’re ordering a set of boules as a gift for someone, and want to make it something nice without breaking the bank, a set of Geologic ALPHA boules or a set of Obut stainless-steel leisure boules would be a good choice. The Obut leisure boules (picture HERE) are high-quality stainless-steel leisure boules (which means that they can NOT be picked up with a magnetic boule lifter). Geologic Alphas are actually competition boules, and actually might be a bit cheaper than the Obut leisure boules. A set of 72mm Alphas would be a good choice for a player with smaller hands.
By the way, a nice gift for a player who already has it all (or almost all) is a folding umpire’s ruler. This kind of ruler is by far the best way to make measurements in petanque, but most players do not have one. You can see some pictures HERE.