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Grab a Boule and Play Petanque

The popular game imported from France now has a club in Edmonds, whose members praise its universality and healthy attributes.

Mon ami, have we got a game for you.

Just about any age and size can play. It’s relatively cheap to stock up on essential equipment, easy to grasp, and it’s said that a leisurely one-and-a-half hours of play can burn off a mile’s worth of calories. That’s tres cool.

The game is petanque, and if you haven’t guessed already with the gratuitous French wordplay, it originated in France, the sunny southern part.

Here in non-sunny Edmonds – the weather doesn’t stop us, no sir – if you’ve driven or walked down Sixth Avenue South and wondered what was going on at Edmonds Civic Playfield, they're playing petanque Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

This week, during a match played under a steady drizzle, several participants gamely showed up to underhand toss a 1.5-pound hollow metal ball, or boule, as close as possible to a small, wooden red ball, or jack. It’s similar to bocce, bowls and even horseshoes, but in petanque players must remain inside a small circle while throwing.

“It’s fun and it’s great exercise,” said Chris Guitton, an avid player originally from France who has lived in Edmonds for decades. He retired as executive director of the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce in 2006. These days, instead of pitching the city, he’s pitching boules and the sport he grew up with in France.

“We get a lot of people walking by who stop and start playing,” said Guitton.

Although popular with retirees, Guitton says many who grew up in countries in Southeast Asia where the sport is popular – and these are players in their 20s and 30s – play in Edmonds. “They’re really good.”

Although anyone is free to play, the more serious members of the sport are part of the newly formed Edmonds Petanque Club. It was created by Edmonds resident Michelle Martin, who is originally from Leon, France. Martin approached the city’s parks and recreation department about building a court on the west side of the playfield. It was installed, and local travel guru Rick Steves – who has been known to visit France a few times – threw out the first boule last September.

The gravel-filled court can be uneven, which makes play even more challenging. The game is simple to master, but a prominent sign near the court has a step-by-step explaination on how to get the most out of it.

Petanque can be played for kicks, but can also be intensely competitive. Those who play on club teams, said Guitton, may have specialized players – those whose job is to coax the boule as close to the jack as possible, and those who aim to bump opponents’ boules out of the way.

Speaking of competitive, club founder Martin and her husband, Mike Martin, are in Louisiana this weekend for an international competition.

For those who get hooked on petanque and want to compete themselves, there are several competitive clubs on the West Coast, including in Seattle, Portland and in California.

Those interested in petanque accessories can purchase or rent them at Running in Motion in Edmonds. Guitton said that the Edmonds pétanque courts are always open but, weather permitting, players generally meet on Wednesdays at 9 a.m, Saturdays at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. For more information, go the Edmonds Pentaque Club website

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