Three local petanque players who have been selected to represent New Zealand internationally in the sport say it is not just an oldies' game.

Horowhenua's Dave Gatchell along with Shirley MacDonald and Ann Hogg of Ōtaki have been picked for the sport's Trans-Tasman Competition, to be held in Newcastle, Australia on March 16th and 17th.

The trio say that Petanque suffers from a declining youth membership due to perceptions it is a game only for seniors.

"Unfortunately, petanque is perceived as a casual pastime for retired folk, but in reality, it is a demanding and tactical game, requiring a high level of skill, fitness and knowledge to reach representative level," said Shirley.

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"It is estimated there are 10 to 12 million players in 160 countries worldwide."

The game involves players scoring points by throwing metal balls, or 'boules,' closest to the target, called a cochonnet, or by hitting opponents' boules away from the target, while standing inside a circle with both feet on the ground. It is usually played on hard dirt or gravel.

Shirley and her co-players are training hard for the international competition, working on a toolbox of skills, both mental and physical, that they need to beat some tough opposition.

It's got a bit of chess in it - 90 per cent of it is played in your head," Dave said.
"It gets a hook in you."

Shirley agrees.

"I'd liken it to snooker in a way too," she said.

Players can walk around 11km in the course of a match, proven by some wearing pedometers to check, Dave said. One of the most spectacular skills is 'shooting,' where a player fires the metal boule at speed to hit away another player's boule from the target.

"It can be fast and spectacular. Sparks can fly," said Ann.

She and Shirley are both members of the Ōtaki Petanque Club, with Dave having played for four years and representing internationally three times, and Shirley clocking up 13 years playing and eight years of representation.

Dave, a member of Horowhenua Petanque Club, has been playing for six years, with this year his third time as a New Zealand representative.

The two women also took part in the Oceania Tournament held in Christchurch in October 2017, which included teams from Tahiti, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna Islands, Australia and New Zealand.

"Petanque is very popular throughout the islands, with the French connection, as well as very strong in the Asian countries, and of course, in the Northern Hemisphere, as well as North America, all playing at a very high level," said Shirley.

She said she was pleased the sport was also finally being recognised by the Olympic organisation, and is to be included in the 2024 Olympics.

"New Zealand is in dire need of younger players, but all ages and abilities can take part," she said.

"[It is] an easy game to learn, but a hard one to master."

She said there are world competitions held each year that New Zealand players participate in, located in places such as France, Belgium, Turkey, Indonesia and Thailand.

World youth competitions also attract a large number of talented young players from many countries.

Anyone interested in trying out petanque can contact their local club and turn up on a casual basis, MacDonald said.

"Everyone is welcome. It can be a lot of fun and could also take you to the Olympics."

The contact for Horowhenua Petanque Club is Carleen Fitzgerald - phone 06 368 0312. For Ōtaki Petanque Club contact Val Clark on 06 364 5213.