This page contains information for the American player who has decided to purchase his/her first set of competition boules. For our specific recommendations based on this information, see the recommendations on our page for beginners.
Features to consider when choosing boules ▲
Considerations related to the boule’s physical composition include:
- the material (carbon steel or stainless steel)
- the hardness (how elastic or “bouncy” the boule is)
- the finish (for carbon steel boules… chrome finish, matte chrome finish, no finish)
Other things to consider include:
- the size (the diameter, in centimeters)
- the weight (in grams)
- the striations (the pattern of striations on the boule)
- the manufacturer of the boules, and the cost
When you go to an online web site and select a model you are basically selecting the material, hardness, and finish. Once you’ve picked out a model, you will be asked to specify a size, a weight, and a striation pattern.
Manufacturer and cost ▲
The situation with boules manufacturers is similar to the situation with PC manufacturers in the 1990s. There are three basic categories
- The market leader
There is the single, big, well-known manufacturer that dominates the market on the basis of its reliability and wide selection. In the world of petanque boules, this means Obut, the French giant that has over 85% of the world market share in boules. A number of other, non-Obut, brands are in fact subsidiaries of Obut.
- The boutique/cult brands
These are smaller brands that compete on perceived superior quality. Their prices are high, and they tend to have a small but loyal fan base. In the world of boules, this means such brands as KTK and Boule Bleue. Over the years OBUT has bought up and retired many of the boutique brands, including JB Petanque, MS Petanque and Boule Noire.
- The mass market
Finally, there are manufacturers who compete on the basis of simple, solid quality at an affordable price.
In the world of boules, this means La Franc. Solid quality at a reasonable price makes La Franc boules the boules of choice for your first set of competition boules.[Unfortunately, as of the end of 2016, Petanque America no longer carries La Franc boules.] Marathon is another line of Thai-made boules, but they aren’t easily available in the USA. Geologic boules are now available in the USA.
For a bit more about brand names, see our brief overview of boules manufacturers.
Role-based recommendations ▲
There is a traditional school of thought that says that you should choose your boules based on the role you play in a triplets team — a pointer should use a small, heavy boule with striations, a shooter should use a large, light, smooth boule, and so on. In our opinion, the whole idea of role-based recommendations is dubious at best, and useless for beginning and mid-level players. To read more about it, see our post on player role and boule selection.
An FIPJP-licensed competition-quality boule must be in the size range of 70.5 to 80 millimeters (mm) in diameter. Generic Chinese leisure boules are typically 73mm in diameter, while Obut leisure boules are 74mm.
It is only common sense that there must be some approximate relationship between the size of a person’s hand and the size of a boule that will fit comfortably into that hand. A person with small hands will probably prefer a small boule; a person with middle-sized hands… etc. etc.
A number of methods have been devised for picking a boule-size based on a person’s hand-size. We discuss these methods in another post. But shopping for boules is like shopping for shoes — the best way to do it is to go around trying on things until you find the size that fits you. If you have friends who own competition boules, ask your friends if you can try out, or at least hold, their boules to see if you can find a size that feels comfortable. At first, all sizes will feel the same — don’t worry, that’s normal.
We advise beginning players— even the biggest of men with the biggest of hands— to start with a boule no larger than 74 mm. For most people (and especially women, who tend to have smaller hands) the best choice is a smaller boule (73, 72, or 71 mm). If in doubt, we recommend going smaller rather than larger. If you find that (when playing a lot) your forearm gets tired and sore, you probably should try a smaller boule, or a different grip. (Read our posts Are Your Boules Too Big? and Two ways to hold a boule.)
Many serious women players like the smallest legal size of competition boules— 70.5mm. It is available in Obut’s Match IT and Match TR lines.
Drawing by Phillipe Boets, 2006
A FIPJP-licensed boule must be in the weight range of 650 to 800 grams — about 2 or 2.5 pounds. “Junior” boules for players 11 and younger, can weigh as little as 600 grams.
Weight, like size, is often simply a matter of personal preference. Most players prefer boules that weigh between 680 and 720 grams. Slight differences of weight that would be important to advanced players are not important to the beginning player, so for your first set of competition boules, we suggest that you choose a set that weighs 680 grams, and then don’t think about it again for at least a year.
If you find that you are using all of your strength to muscle your way through the throw, you probably don’t need a lighter boule (and a lighter boule wouldn’t help). More likely, you need to work on your form. Learn how you can use the weight of the boule rather than fighting it. If you find that your hand and wrist get sore from gripping and holding on to the boule, you may need a smaller boule rather than a lighter one.
For your first set of competition boules, we recommend harder boules. Harder boules tend to be cheaper than softer boules, and they are less likely to develop gouges and burrs if you play on surfaces with hard, sharp rocks. Until you become very skillful, the hardness of your boules is going to make no real difference in how well you play.
For advanced players, soft or semi-soft boules may be a bit easier to control — although we DON’T buy into that old wives tale about softer boules being more likely to produce carreaux. For more information, see our page on Selecting competition boules – hardness.
Striations (aka grooves, lines, stripes) ▲
Choose whatever striations, or no striations at all, appeal to you. The more unique the shape of the striations, the easier it will be to identify your own boules. Putting a little magic marker, acrylic paint, or fingernail polish in the striations can make them even more distinctive.
Paint doesn’t stick to chrome, so for chromed boules we recommend using a broad-tipped permanent marker in the grooves. Magic marker will slowly wear off, but it is cheap and easy to re-apply. For more information, see our page on Selecting competition boules – striations
Materials and finish ▲
Today, virtually all boules are made of steel (acier) — either stainless steel (inox) or carbon steel (carbon).
Carbon steel boules, if unused for a long time, or left outside, may rust— stainless steel boules will not.
If played with regularly, a carbon steel boule will continue to be polished by its contact with the terrain, and its appearance will remain largely unchanged. If left to sit in humid conditions, a carbon steel boule may develop a coat of orange rust or may blacken.
If you stop playing for a length of time, you can keep your boules from rusting by throwing some dry rice in with them, dusting them with talcum powder, or giving them a light coating of oil or WD-40. If they do rust, or if you find an old rusty set, a steel brush or a few days of play will remove the rust and leave the boules with a rusty or darkened color and a slightly rough surface that gives a good grip.
- Stainless steel boules are grey or silver colored. They may have a “satin” (very bright shiny, glossy) finish like the chrome trim on your automobile, or a more subdued “matte” or “brushed steel” finish. Stainless steel boules tend to be more expensive than carbon steel boules.
- Chromed carbon steel boules have an outer layer of copper and chrome, with the chrome having a satin or a matte finish. Most leisure boules have a very glossy chrome finish. The chrome layer is thin but very tough and (while it lasts) rust-proof — it will take a significant amount of play before you start to see scratches and dings. After a lot of play, the boules will start to turn vaguely red-orange as the chrome layer wears off and the copper layer is exposed.
- Un-chromed carbon steel boules will arrive from the manufacturer covered in a thin coat of paint to keep them from rusting while sitting on the shelves. Brands like Boule Noire and Boule Bleue get their names from the color of this coat of paint, not from the color of the steel itself. The paint will wear off after a few hours of play, leaving the naked carbon steel. The boule may then appear shiny silver or dull grey.
Different players have different preferences when it comes to high-gloss finishes. Some prefer the feel, and believe that they get a clean release when they throw. Others find that if their hands get dusty or sweaty, very smooth boules can become either slippery or sticky.
See also our post What is a boule made of?
Byron Putman’s book Petanque has a very good chapter on boule selection.