How to select boules
There are two primary categories of boules: competition boules and leisure boules. Competition boules are made of quality metals and with fine tolerances, while leisure boules are made of thinner, lower grade metals, and filled with sand for weight. With leisure boules, there is generally just one choice, while with competition boules there are a number of things to consider
SIZES vary from 71mm to 80mm. 71mm is fairly large for someone with a small hand, but that is the smallest boule certified for competition. Figuring out the boule most correctly sized for your hand is usually a matter of measuring your hand and consulting a chart. Here’s a page that runs down several strategies to measuring the hand and choosing boule size: https://petanque.wordpress.com/select-boules/hand-size/ However, boule size is ultimately a matter of preference, not a mathematical fact of hand size.
WEIGHT varies from 650g to 800g. For whatever reason, the standard weights are 680 for shooting, 690 for middle players and 700 for pointers. Clearly, there are a wide variety of arm strengths on a Sunday afternoon at Lamorinda, so it makes little sense to assume the above, but it’s a starting place. If you have a hard time getting your boule to a cochonnet at 10 meters, perhaps you need a lighter ball? On the other hand, heavier balls have more mass, so they will continue to roll, longer, especially down hill.
HARDNESS is a more complicated and nuanced choice. Hardness is measured by kg/mm2 (don’t ask what that means, scientifically, we are only pétanque players, not engineers!), and boules vary between 110, which is a “very soft” boule and about 145, which is a “very hard” boule. There are stops at various hardnesses in-between, but 120/125 is the average/medium. A hard boule will roll faster and farther, while a softer boule will absorb more impact from the ground and come to a stop more quickly. Pointers tend to prefer harder boules, while shooters often prefer softer ones — a soft boule, when striking another boule during a shot, will rebound less, and thus there is a better chance of a carreau. A hard boule will last a very long time and keep its shiny finish for longer, while a soft boule will wear more quickly (which is still probably years of play). Hardness is very much a matter of preference and may depend on the terrain surface and the players style.
TYPE OF METAL is mostly a preference. Stainless steel is the most typical material. The other steel that boules are made of is carbon, which is more prone to rust and requires more care (or more play) to keep it rust-free. The two feel a bit different in the hand, which is much of why one is chosen over another. Both of these steels are available in multiple hardnesses, which are accomplished with variations in alloys and by how the boules are heat treated during manufacture. Also available is bronze, which are generally quite soft.
Boule brands and where to get them
The marketplace is dominated by Obut brand boules. Obut sponsors most of the competitions and spend a lot on marketing. They also own a few of the minor brands. But there’s no reason to think that Obut are necessarily better than other brands, and there are many who swear by more boutique brands like MS Petanque, La Boule Bleue, Boulenciel or others.
In the US, the primary domestic source for boules is https://petanqueamerica.com/. The choices are limited, comprised mostly of Obut and La Franc which are less expensive Asia manufactured boules, but probably not of markedly lesser quality.
The other domestic source is Decathlon, who sell an English made brand of boules called Geologic. Since they are readily available, several Lamorinda players use them. They are also reasonably priced. However, Decathlon has just closed its US retail stores, though they will continue to do mail order.
A much wider variety can be found at https://en.petanqueshop.com/ . Shipping form France is about $50 (shipping from petanqueamerica is about $12), but surprisingly fast (just a few days). If you want something out of the ordinary, you’ll have to pay the international air mail.
La Boule Bleue will cut a striped pattern into your boules to order (at no extra charge), and they offer dozens of choices, if you’d like to have boules that are easily recognizable. La Boule Bleue can be ordered direct from https://www.laboulebleue.fr/gb/ Futura and Unbloc also offer a variety of custom patterning, both of which make boules in bronze only, and can be ordered from petanqueshop, mentioned above.
Other than Decathlon, any of the boule retailers are able to stamp your name (or whatever words you’d like) into your boules for easier identification — especially useful if you play with a boule that many other players use.