TABLE OF CONTENTS
Information about ►types of boules ►sets of boules ►vendors
Recommendations for new players for ►leisure boules ►competition 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 indoors 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, generic, or DOG boules (after a popular line of Obut leisure boules, no longer being manufactured). 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 rocks and dirt to bring them up to the proper weight.
Most inexpensive leisure boules are made in China. As of 2016, a set of three Chinese-made leisure boules will typically cost around $20, and a set of six boules might cost $35.
The French company OBUT also makes several lines of leisure boules. The Obut leisure boules are of a higher quality and come with a price tag two or three 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. OBUT leisure boules are bigger and lighter, about 74mm in diameter, with a weight around 630g.
- 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 metal than leisure boules and 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 $90 up to two or three hundred dollars.
For more information, see our page on leisure boules vs. competition boules.
- Compét. Juniors — For adults, the smallest legal size of competition boules is 70.5mm. It is a size very much appreciated by serious women players with small hands. For many years, JB Petanque sold 70.5mm boules under the label Compét. Junior. Obut acquired JB, retired the “Compét. Junior” line, and now offers 70.5mm boules in its the Match IT and Match TR lines.
- Juniors — When playing in junior tournaments, children age 11 and younger may use “junior” boules (65mm diameter, 600g weight). It is not clear that La Franc is still making its line of junior boules. 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 for for kids. They are available in the USA from Petanque America and in the UK from Pen-Y-Coed. Note that these are a smaller size of leisure boules, leisure boules for children. They are NOT competition boules for either adults or children.
- There are a variety of types of soft petanque boules for indoors play. They aren’t real boules, but they aren’t quite toys either. For more information, see our page on indoors 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” boules being sold in sets of four or eight. For example, Playaboule sells sets of 8 metal boules that it calls “bocce/petanque” balls. Such sets are typically 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 1 or 2 sets of three boules each. The picture at the right is of a set of six 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) ▲
There are no brick-and-mortar petanque stores in the United States — places where you can walk in and try out boules the way you might try on shoes in a shoe store. To purchase boules, you must use an online, web-based vendor.
- Petanque America is really the only good choice for buying boules in the United States. It is the only USA-based vendor that specializes in petanque equipment. If there is a specific set of boules that you want and they don’t have it in stock, they can special order it for you.
- PlayABoule is a good source for bocce balls as well as inexpensive petanque leisure boules.
- 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 beginning or new petanque players ▲
Don’t spend a lot of money on boules before you’ve had time to really get a feel for the game. So…
Leisure Boules ▲
For your first set of boules, we recommend Petanque America’s set of six leisure boules.
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 May 2015, 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.
- 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).
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. Red is a popular color but we think that yellow is more visible.
Competition Boules ▲
For beginners we recommend the La France SM. It is a hard boule and will stand up well to rocky ground. Until you’re shooting au fer in regional tournaments, don’t worry about getting softer boules. When you do, Byron Putman calls the semi-soft La Franc SB “the best under-$100 entry-level competition boule available to the U.S. market”.
La Franc are true competition-quality boules, but they are less expensive than other brands because they are manufactured in Thailand, rather than in France. Don’t be afraid that these are shoddy products made in some some third-world sweatshop. Thailand is a world-class petanque-playing nation. (For the interesting story of how that happened, read our post about Petanque in Thailand.)
When you select a competition boule you need to specify five basic things about it — material, hardness, size, weight, and striation. In selecting a model you are selecting material and hardness. Once you’ve selected a model, you will be asked to specify a size, a weight, and a striation pattern. Striation patterns are a matter of taste. For advice on selecting a size and weight, see our page How to select competition boules.
As an alternative to the La Franc line of boules, OBUT’s Match model is relatively inexpensive. It is popular among players who want an affordable boule that carries the Obut name. Obut is a French company, and the largest boule manufacturer in the world.