Selecting competition boules – striations

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Striations are the little lines or groves (and sometimes elaborate designs) cut or incised into the surface of the ball. They are sometimes called strips, stripes, tracks, or lines.

Striations have three functions.

  1. Striations help players tell their boules apart. They (the striations) function like brands on cattle.
  2. By interrupting the smooth surface of the boule, striations add to the boule’s traction, its “grab” on both the thrower’s hand and the terrain across which it is rolling. This added traction is important when a pointer is trying to put spin (effet) on the boule.
  3. Striations add an aesthetic dimension to boules. This is a small matter, of course, but it adds to the unique charm of petanque.

There are many types and styles of striations. Here are a couple of charts of designs available from La Boule Bleue.

Depending on where you order your boules, you may have the option (for an extra fee) of having a personalized engraving — your own name, for instance — added to the boule. Karl Lagerfeld went so far as to order a custom-made limited edition petanque set featuring the Chanel logo.

France’s biggest boules manufacturer, Obut, has a line of “tattooed” leisure boules designed to appeal to teenagers.

When it comes to boule selection, the standard philosophy is that pointers should have striations on their boules because striations grab the pointer’s hand as he throws, and striations grab the terrain while the boule is rolling. So striations make it easier for a skillful pointer to put spin (donner un effet) on the ball. To see what a skillful pointer can do, see our post on Putting a spin on the boule.

Shooters, in contrast and according to tradition, should play with smooth balls (boules lisses) to help them avoid “hooking the ball” when throwing — that is, to help them achieve a clean release of the ball. The reasoning here seems to me somewhat dubious, but it is true that internationally top-ranked players (who tend to do a lot of shooting) almost universally play with smooth balls.

These theoretical subtleties are irrelevant to a player selecting his or her first set of competition boules.

On the terrain, beginning players often have difficulty telling one player’s boules from another’s. So if you are a beginning player, here is what we advise.

Pick a design that looks and/or feels good to you. But also — pick a design that is distinctive. When you are watching the play, or picking up boules after an end, it is nice if your boules are distinctive enough (in your eyes at least) to stand out from the crowd.

And if you decide to go with a smooth boule, be prepared. Expect your smooth silver boules to look a lot like all of the other smooth silver boules on the terrain. After a while, you will learn to tell the different boules apart. If you’d still prefer to give your own boules some kind of distinctive markings or decoration, a broad-tipped permanent marker is cheap and easy to use. The decorations will wear off a bit with play, but that’s no big deal — it’s always easy to freshen them up a bit.

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