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Hippocrates, the Greek ‘father of medicine’, once said, “sport is a preserver of health”. As well as being good for your body, doing sport allows you to get out and enjoy the sunshine while at the same time offering the chance to meet new people. And what better way to integrate into your local community, than trying your hand at some of its popular sports. To get the ball rolling, here are a few of the sports that you can play in Catalunya.
Go anywhere in the Costa Brava and the chances are you will see a group of elderly men enjoying a game of petanca (it is sometimes also known by its French name, pétanque).
The joy of this game is its simplicity. It can be played almost anywhere as long as the ground is flat with a space of around four metres by 12. The game can be played one against one, two against two or three against three, as long as each team has the same number of boles (boules in French), the silver balls used in petanca.
The aim of the game is to throw your boules as close as possible to a smaller ball, known as the jack (bolig in Catalan, boliche in Castilian). The game starts with the throwing of the jack, after which both teams throw their boles, attempting to get them as close to the jack as possible, or alternatively, to knock their opponent’s boles away.
The name of the game derives from the Occitan phrase pès tancats literally meaning ‘closed feet’, and all players must throw their boles while standing in a small circle drawn on the ground.
Once all the boles have been thrown, the round is complete and the points are counted up. A point is awarded for every bole that is closer to the jack than those of the opposing team, and games usually run up to 13 points.
Find out where your nearest club is:
Pitch and putt
Pitch and putt—not to be confused with mini golf—is similar to golf but played over a smaller playing area, taking around two hours to play a round instead of five. The object of the game is to putt a ball into a sequence of holes using clubs.
Under European guidelines governing the sport, an 18-hole course should be no more than 1,200 metres long with the length of each hole being between 40 and 90 metres. The player can only use three clubs, one of which must be a putter, and they must use a wooden or plastic tee peg to strike their first shot at each hole.
However, individual member countries are allowed to vary the distances and number of clubs used for domestic competition. In Catalunya, there are some notable differences from the European rules: players can use up to seven clubs, including a putter, and the courses are between 1,000 and 1,600 metres long with the length of each hole being between 40 and 120 metres. Players can also choose whether to use a tee or not.
Although the sport was only introduced here in the Eighties, it has enjoyed immense popularity and success, with Catalunya winning the sport’s first-ever World Championship in 2004 and again in 2006, and came third last year, having competed against Ireland, Denmark and France, amongst others.
Pitch and putt is far more accessible to beginners than golf as they can start to play after a few lessons. Pitch and putt courses can be found all over Catalunya.
For more information see the Associació Catalana de Pitch & Putt (ACPP) website:
For a different type of golf, head to the Costa Brava resort of l’Estartit where members of the Estartit Sands Golf Club regularly play on the beach.
The club was born out of a chance meeting between Michael Bailey and Sir Roy Flavell back in the Seventies. Bailey had gone to practise bunker shots on the beach when he met Flavell, another keen golfer. Together they started a competition, creating a nine-hole golf course around different elements they found on the beach including the foundations of an old summer bar and an abandoned pram.
The club now boasts more than 50 members who play the beach course during the winter season. Players can only use two clubs, not including a driver, and a special ranking system is used so that good players have to play better than less skilled ones in order to beat them.
For more information, visit the website: http://esgc.galeon.com
Padel, which is a cross between tennis and squash, is a popular racquet sport in Spain, where around one million people play it.
It is played on an enclosed court of 20 metres by 10 metres—about half the size of a standard tennis court. Scoring is the same as in tennis, progressing from 15, 30 and 40 points to game, but two clear points are needed to win a game. Six games make a set and matches are usually the best of three sets.
The main difference between padel and tennis is that in padel, like squash, the balls can be played off the walls. In addition, padel balls are similar to tennis balls, but the rackets are either solid or made from carbon fibre with holes in the head. The serve is played underhand and the game is almost always played in doubles making it a good sport for people of all ages and abilities, as it is both quick and easy to pick up, while at the same time being less physically demanding.
There are a number of padel courts in Girona province, many of which are linked to tennis or sports clubs.
A list of Padel clubs can be found at: www.padelcat.com
In Catalunya the sport is governed by the Federació Catalana de Pàdel. See their website at: www.fcpadel.com
Pilota / Pelota
This rather unusual sport can be played with your hands, a bat, a racket or with a large basket strapped to your wrist. It can be played in a court (which can differ in form and size), against a wall or in the street.
Although it is most commonly associated with the Basque country (where it is called pelota) and the Community of Valencia, where it is considered a ‘national’ sport, it has also long been played in Catalunya where a federation to govern the sport was set up in the Twenties.
In the Basque country, the sport is typically played against a wall, with the bare hand, a bat or basket, while Valencian pilota is always played with bare hands by two people or teams facing each other across a line or net.
The Catalan federation has had most success with a variation of the game called frontenis, which is played on a three-walled court called a frontón, using a tennis racquet and a tiny frontenis ball. It can be played as a singles game with two people playing against each other, or in pairs.
Most Catalan clubs are in Barcelona and Tarragona provinces, but there are pilota clubs at Grup Excursionista i Esportiu Gironí (GEiEG) in Girona and Roses Club Frontenis.
The website of the Federació Catalana de Pilota can be found at: www.fcpilota.org
Now you have all the information you need, the ball is in your court. Give it your best shot!
First published in The Resident, 2009.