Pelote - the Basque game

Pelote (the Basque name is pilota) is a very popular game in the Basque region of south-west France (and in much of Spain and several south-American countries), and you will see the fronton centrally placed in many towns and villages in the region - a large wall with two vertical lines used for playing the game.

The game is very fast moving, and is often known as jai alai.

Perhaps best summarised as 'open-air squash' (although many pelote courts are inside), the game is often played in the traditional fashion using the palm of the hands to hit the ball, rather than racquets. Note that tennis also started as a game played with bare hands, then gloved hands, then later with racquets - and shares a common history with pelote.

There are numerous subtle variations of the game, with different courts for inside and outside; some courts with just one flat wall and others with two walls at right angles to each other; and various different style of racquet.

pelote court and rackets

Basque pelote court and rackets (see copyright)

While the courts seen in towns and villages usually have just one flat wall, indoor courts have two walls with the ball often ricocheting off the side wall before hitting the main wall.

The ball is 6.5 centimetres across, spherical, and made from leather sown around a rubber core.

The racquets are usually either short, wide and flat, and made of wood - this type of racquet is called a paleta - or with a basket shaped racquet called a xistera, where the ball is caught in the basket and flung back at the wall at extremely high speed (up to 300 kmh).

The general idea of the game is to hit the pelote ball so that it hites the fronton between the two vertical lines marked on the wall.

Note: just once, in 1900, pelote was an official olympic sport.