We have joked a lot about petanque over the years, in our blog posts, and in real life. Through naturist history, the balls have become an essential part of being a naturist (pun intended). Every naturist resort we ever visited had at least one petanque court. Often several more. Petanque tournaments are always on the naturist calendar. It’s what naturists like to do, throw a couple of big balls towards a small ball.
We’ve also complained about the naturist petanque scene. From our point of view, this could be one of the reasons why naturism fails to attract a younger audience. Let’s be honest, the “Annual naturist petanque tournament” doesn’t really seem as attractive to a 30-something like a concert, a party, body painting, or pretty much every other sport. In fact, where we are from, petanque is merely seen as a sport for the elder generations. Unfortunately, also naturism is often considered as something you do when you’re well over 60. We figured that if we wanted to get rid of the stigma that naturism can’t be fun for the younger generations, we better start with throwing out the petanque courts.
Why does the naturist play petanque? (we think)
Let’s start off with a bit of history. From as early as the 6th century BC, there have been recordings of ancient Greeks throwing big flat stones towards a coin or a smaller stone. Yet, the game of petanque as we know it, also called “jeu de boule” or “boules”, was only invented in the early 20th century in the Provence region in France. In fact, at about the same time as the first naturists started gathering in Germany. A coincidence? Most probably.
During the next decades, naturism spread in the direction of France where it got quickly picked up. Already in 1924, the iconic Héliopolis was established on Île du Levant. A few decades later, the international naturist federation (INF-FNI) was established at the other side of the country, in the beachside resort CHM Montalivet. France became an important place for organized naturism, that much is sure.
Meanwhile, also petanque gained popularity. Lots of villages and cities in France have public petanque courts, where people can spend a couple of hours throwing balls with friends, or with strangers. Friendly tournaments during weekends are all but rare. The official petanque federation in France (Fédération Française de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal), counts more than 300 000 members. Believe us, it’s a popular thing. Anyway, although the following is purely hypothetical, we don’t believe that there’s a coincidence between France seeing a rise in naturism and naturists adapting the game of petanque. It was probably the most logical consequence.
That time when we started playing petanque
During our recent nude road trip through France, we looked with suspicion at all those petanque games in the late afternoon. The typical image of the naturist campsite. The image that we wanted to get rid of so badly. What’s so great about it anyway? Can’t they do something else, something cool? What would the image of naturism look like if skydiving, surfing, or climbing became our preferred sport?
The thought got its grip on us, until one sunny evening. The day had been hot and we had been hanging around the swimming pool most of the time. With the sun dropping, we started to feel like doing something. Something not too hard, not too heavy. Just something else than lazing around. We had noticed the sign at the resort’s reception saying “free rental petanque balls”. From our camping pitch, we noticed that the petanque court wasn’t occupied yet. Should we play a game?
We took some snacks and a bottle of rosé wine (hey, if we’re doing typical stuff from the Provence, we’re going all the way). We picked up some balls and started playing. Since then, we’ve been playing petanque at pretty much every naturist resort that we visited along the way.
Why does the naturist really play petanque?
It definitely wasn’t as boring as it seemed. In fact, if you’re a bit competitive, you’re likely to have some hair-rising, nail-biting games. The cool thing is that you don’t really need specific skills. There’s no long learning curve. If you can throw a ball more or less in a certain direction, you’re ready to get started.
We don’t want to make it seem like super-easy though. Some people get pretty great at petanque. That’s the fun thing. You start at a moderate level and once you learn to aim better, control your throwing distance, estimate how far the ball will roll, and predict the effect of the court on your ball, you just get better. But everyone can play it and actually enjoy it. No matter how little experience.
We weren’t far into our first game when another couple showed up and asked if they could join. That’s when we started to understand the social aspect of petanque. It’s much more than just a game, it’s also an ice breaker for conversations and a great way to meet new people. And there is no limit to the number of players. Lots of people can be in the same game.
The game of naturists
We have tried as many sports and games in the nude as we could. Just because we just enjoy the new experiences. But not every naturist feels the same way. Many have told us that they feel nothing for nude yoga, for example, because it can be very exposing. Others don’t enjoy nude volleyball, because they don’t like the feeling of their yo-yo-ing body parts. These are things that you don’t need to care about when playing petanque. Just like swimming, there isn’t any reason why you should not play it in the nude.
The fact that anyone can play petanque, adds to this inclusivity. In naturism, we’re all the same and it’s great to have a sport that can be enjoyed by anyone. Young or old, athletic or less mobile, it just doesn’t matter. Also, the social aspect of naturism is found in petanque. More than often, we found that the chat is more important than the actual game. It’s a fun way to get to know other naturists. Yet, if you’re skilled in petanque, you’ll also find your peers at naturist resorts and get the chance to play some high-end games.
Have we become petanque converts?
We still believe that the picture of a bunch of elderly naturists playing petanque isn’t the best way to promote our lifestyle towards the younger generations. But we’ve definitely learned why so many naturists love to play that game. And we’ll surely play again at the next naturist resort that we visit.
If we look at the previously mentioned values, the inclusivity, the friendly games, and the friendships it builds, we can’t really think of a better sport to link to naturism. What used to look like a bunch of old people playing a boring game, has now become a great representation of naturism. We only hope that the rest of the world can see this through the same eyes.
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17 thoughts on “Petanque: The Game of Naturists”
Well you have opened my eyes now. I did also see it as an odd game for naturists to play, but when you explain it around it’s anyone can play no matter what level, and it’s an icebreaker to make friends, it makes much more sense now.
I have lousy hand-eye coordination. My depth perception is not great. Yet I love playing petanque. Especially nude.
While reading this I thought about the sport of curling, much made fun of Olympic sport that few understand. Several years ago, my wife and I sat down and actually watched curling. By the end of the match, we not only understood the game but were hooked on it.
It’s not a game or sport many nudists probably play, especially at a nudist resort but because of our reaction to the sport, it’s opened my eyes to others. Petanque being one. Although we learned the game as called Bocce Ball.
Pickle ball has become more popular. Miniten, or mini tennis, and Dirty Bird Badminton. But like Petanque, not sports or games the younger generations know much about. But we’re not that young anymore. A good game of beach paddle ball wears us out today.
Only game I can think of that the younger folks enjoy and that I can see played at resorts and would possibly be something us older folks would also play is Cornhole.
That’s funny, when we were in covid quarantine in Mexico, we’ve played very many hours of nude cornhole with our Canadian friends. We’ve also seen the game appear at a nudist resort in southern California
Curling also has a big following here in Montana. Lots of strategy!
One of our favorite summer games is hacky sack.
Last year we spent time in France and were introduced to the game called Molkky. It’s from Finland. Another throwing game (a stick this time) . A bit more energetic and great for the whole family, Best played in a petanque court!
We’ve seen Molkky a lot this summer, but haven’t played it yet. That’s something for next time 🙂
I wonder where the perception of Pétanque as sport for old people comes from. Maybe it’s the people you see at the village square most of the time. That doesn’t mean that young people don’t play it though. During my studies in France, I used to play Pétanque a lot with friends and colleagues – and I had not even hit the 30 years at that point. Long story short, it has a huge popularity in France, and I think the fact that France is the No. 1 holiday destination for naturists, that led to the widespread adoption in the naturist community – besides the fact that it is easy to get into and fun!
Bocce (similar to petanque) is a great game. I introduced dozens of (clothed) people to it in my 20s and 30s and they all loved it. Sometimes you just need the introduction. Being able to play with a beer in your hand is a bonus too. Playing clothes free makes it even better.
Another great game is Kubb. It’s a game of throwing sticks at blocks. It’s also a litte more complicated than bocce/petanque, but it only takes a couple turns to figure out all the rules. It has much of the same social and accessible benefits as bocce/petanque. I once brought to a clothing optional resort and it proved to be a great ice breaker. As a moderate intervert it helped me meet way more people than I would have otherwise.
When we joined a naturist club nearby in the early nineties, people played petanque overthere, but I was not in the mood to join. I think for the same reasons as you both mentioned. Not for people of my age, which was in fact thirty something in those days. Secondly, there was a quite big group playing volleyball at the resort which I joined very often. Unfortunately the number of people playing volleyball became less and less, until we had not enough people anymore to continue playing once in a while. At that time I started to join the petanque group and like you I started to enjoy playing petanque. For the same reason as mentioned. When we left the club in 2010, mainly because the children becoming adolescents did not enjoy being there anymore, I still wanted to continue playing and I joined a local petanque club. I still do play, but now at an age everyone expects you to play petanque :-). As always, practising a sport, any sport, is much more fun than just watching. This applies for petanque as well and as soon you know a bit more about how to play and how to control the movement of the ball and where it will stop, it can be very challenging and exciting.
You wouldn’t catch me playing Boules! In Britain, we have the infinitely superior game of Bowls. This is played on a lawn (on which several such games may be played at once). A small white ball called the Jack is rolled out by one player. Each player also has his Woods, which are not quite spherical, but will usually curve in their course towards the Jack as they are rolled on its equator towards it. As a wood comes to rest, it will usually topple over with the equator horizontal. The skill is to get it to do so plumb next to the Jack. Each player alternates with two goes each, so it gets potentially complicated as Woods may get in the way, and you may have to use a roundabout route to get to the Jack, or adopt the tactic of kissing off already played Woods to get near the Jack, or knocking your opponent’s Wood farther away from it, or a combination of all of these. Skilled players may “drive” their Wood hard and fast directly at their opponent’s, with the aim of knocking it off the lawn altogether (where it does not count) but leaving their Wood in its place. When both players have had two shots, the Wood nearest to the Jack gets the point, or, if the two nearest belong to the same player, two points are awarded. This is repeated until one player gets the required number of points, and wins the “End”. Play then moves to the opposite side of the green for the next “End” and so on, until the winner has obtained the agreed total of “Ends”.
There are two types of Bowls: in the South a flat green is used, but we in the North favour the Crown Green, where there is a small but distinct bank across the green, making the game even more difficult.
When we (finally) make it to Britain, we definitely have to try that!
It is worth a go, because, even if you and your opponent are not very good, somebody has to win. It only gets tedious if one player totally outclasses another. Don’t play the local champion!
At least one naturist club I know of has a bowling green so is worth a visit for a game or two!
Well the first time I saw folks playing Pétanque I thought that’s almost as exciting as watching bumpers rust . Well after a couple of games I was hooked. I bought a few sets of boules and it’s high on my list of fun things to do when I get to winter in Fla. I’ve made many good friends on and off the “court”.
This game has even made it Thailand.
Dragonfly Naturist Village has the only one. Guest enjoy it very much.
Pétanque is relatively new to me but I’ve been a nudist for decades.
My husband and I moved to Europe to take care of his elderly parents and while exploring my area discovered this game. Myself and four colleagues have started a pétanque club. I publish a quarterly newsletter and would like to include some references from your article in a piece I’m writing about nude pétanque. Would that be ok? I would happily forward my last edition for your peruse (I’ve only published two so far 🤣). Many thanks, Alesa Goga
Feel free to include all the references you want 😉