Pétanque (pronounced pay tonk) is a game played by tossing metal balls (boules) towards a wooden target ball, the jack. The goal is to get your ball closest to the …
Pétanque (pronounced pay tonk) is a game played by tossing metal balls (boules) towards a wooden target ball, the jack. The goal is to get your ball closest to the jack. The game quickly becomes competitive as you knock each other’s balls out of play.
We have a Pétanque celebrity among us in Port Townsend. Local player Bekah Howe won the silver medal last year at the World Games and will be representing the U.S. in the Women’s World Precision Shooting Championships Nov. 22-27 in the Bangkok, Thailand. Bekah is also a member of the U.S. team playing in the Women’s World Triples Championships in Bangkok.
Similar to bocce (Italian) or boules (French), variations of the game have been played since ancient Greece. It is popular in France and in former French colonies around the world. The Port Townsend Pétanque Alliance was established in 2012 and is a member of the national organization. All levels of players, from beginners to national champions, play at the bouledrome located at Fort Worden.
Here is how to play in simplified terms: Establish a 20-inch circle, throw the jack about 20-33 feet outside the circle and let the game begin. Keep both feet on the ground within the circle. Toss or roll the ball towards the jack. Try to get as close as you can, or try to knock competitors’ balls out of the way. Take turns playing until all the balls are thrown. The team or person with a ball(s) closest to the jack wins the round.
Bekah learned how to play 11 years ago in Port Townsend. The Pourhouse put in a court in 2012 when she was working there. Robert Force, the godfather of the game in Port Townsend, taught her and several other people how to play.
Besides the skill and competition, she likes the sport because anyone can play: men, women, those with wheelchairs or walkers, people of any age. It gets people outdoors in the fresh air where they can be as competitive or relaxed as they want.
Bekah loves traveling to competitions and meeting people from all over the world, including Germany, France, Tahiti, and now Thailand. Players in the triples championships in Bangkok must win a qualifying tournament as a team, so they’ve practiced together and competed as a team before. There are actually four players; one teammate is a former co-worker from the Pourhouse, who learned to play at the same time, but has since moved away. Another is an alternate.
Playing on a team means relying on your partners and working with them. Their strategy evolves as the game is played. Bekah is a shooter. She specializes in hitting her opponent’s boules away from the jack.
She is also representing the U.S. in precision shooting. Individual players show their skill by trying to play their boule behind another boule, in between boules, striking a boule behind the jack, or striking the jack itself.
Bekah plays several times a week and has a court in her yard. She invites everyone to come to the court at Fort Worden near Officers Row, Sundays at 1 p.m. to join others at play. Beginners are welcome and players are happy to teach new people. The main goal is having fun. Bonne chance!