Making Your Own Practice Terrain


Petanque Coach

Petanque Talk!

First off, lets make it clear that we are talking a simple practice terrain and not a terrain that is going to see a lot of wear, as would a club's terrain. Your practice area just needs to be large enough that you can throw into it

A clear area, without too many rocks and free of grass of maybe 8 feet wide and 10 feet long will allow you to practice your shooting and semi-lobbing and high lobs. It will be too short to practice rolling throws, but if you are serious enough about improving your skills to make a practice terrain, you are probably not rolling much anyway. Of course a practice surface that is 40 feet long and 10 feet wide is even better! You might be able to incorporate that into your landscape as a walkway or a parking area. The important thing is that you want a place to practice conveniently in your own yard.

Practive Piste

What I've tried to accomplish.

I live over 120 miles from the nearest petanque clubs. That means that I can't practice on the clubs' terrains on a regular basis as can most of the members of those clubs. I thought that would put me at a bit of a disadvantage when participating in club tournaments. Besides not knowing the condition of the surface that particular day, and not knowing the slopes and idiosyncrasies of the surface, I simply had no way of training for a fast smooth surface or a soft gravelly surface. In an effort to prepare myself better for tournaments I decided that I needed to create practice terrains in my yard to simulate as closely as possible the surfaces on which I would expect to play.

Interestingly enough, my native soil is probably closest to the most common surfaces that I encountered in tournaments! All I really needed to do was to remove the rocks, and weeds, and add some sand. This is what I did prior to going to any tournaments. That surface put me in good shape for my first tournament - at Oakhurst - which I won. Encouraged by that experience I immediately went to work modifying the surface of my practice piste by adding decomposed granite with wild abandon... and my performance suffered! I was training on a rough, random surface and my throwing style shifted to accommodate that. But the tournaments were still on fast smooth surfaces! I over-threw over and over again, much to my frustration. It was apparent that I needed a smoother surface.

So I brought in tons of rock dust (such was my zeal!) and spread it over an area (foreground above) and managed to produce what was essentially a beach... not the surface I had hoped for! So I had to scrape off about 2 inches of the rock dust in an effort to firm up the surface. The winter of 2008 rainy season is the first for the rock dust terrain. Rainy seasons are important for settling materials and I am hoping for this terrain to serve well for practicing for smooth fast surfaces in the future.

I have also created a practice piste using the native soil surface (back where I started!) on which to practice fast slopes. Weed control is going to be a problem for that surface. It is absolutely critical however to have a smooth fast surface like the native soil to practice on - it is closest to the surfaces at Oakhurst for their river silt and sand terrains, LA's dirt terrain, and Furlan's fast smooth dirt terrains. I am designing it to have slopes, and maybe even some simulated root swells as are found at LA.



Rock Dust

Rock Dust

Decomposed Granite

Decomposed Granite

Materials to improve your practice terrain

I have used sand, rock dust, and decomposed granite (DG) to improve the surfaces of my practice terrains.

Sand is good for softening the surface and adding "tooth" or grab to the surface. Be careful not to add too much sand however or the surface will be like playing at the beach.

Rock dust is like a cross between sand and a very fine decomposed granite. Rather fine, and as the name implies, lots of dust. If the layer of rock dust is too deep, it does not solidify and you once again have the beach play situation. This is the stuff that I ended up scraping a couple of inches back off. It is my hope that the rock dust will integrate into the upper layer of native soil and add a tooth and firmness that would not otherwise be there. And also to inhibit weed growth. I hope that over time this surface will be excellent for practicing pointing throws.

Decomposed Granite (DG) is very popular in California for walkways, parking areas, and other uses where firmness and durablity is important. My early research indicated that DG was the material of choice for petanque surfaces. However, I found that after a rainy season it became too hard to be a really practical playing surface, and that the larger granite gravel made the surface too random. It was hard to practice on the surface because the sharp stones might toss your boule in any direction. How were you to know whether it was the position of your hand that caused it or the surface??? Even using the surface as practice for the gravel terrain at Oakhurst and LA didn't work as well as it should because they use a rounded pea gravel as opposed to the sharp angular DG. I have been able to moderate the problem of the sharp stones somewhat by hand sifting out a percent of the stones (and used that gravel on nearby walkways) and adding some rock dust to soften the surface. Now the DG terrain is a close enough simulator of the gravel terrains to be useful for high lob and gravel terrain practice.


Helpful Hints

Less is better than too much! Add materials a bit at a time and play the surface for a while before you add more. I have had to scrape off literally tons of material when I found it too deep.

Study the terrain materials on which you will be competing before you design your practice surface. If possible, grab a handful of the material and try to match it at home as closely as is possible with locally available materials.

A 36 inch landscape rake is very handy for smoothing the surface of your practice terrain. Use the straight edge side. If you can pick up an old roller that is good too for firming up the surface after it has been fluffed by the rake.

Don't level your practice terrain too much! All petanque terrains have some slope to them. You will want to be practicing on a slope, if even just a slight one.

Clubs' surfaces

LA has two surfaces - very smooth fast silty/sandy surface with tree roots forming slopes, and pea gravel. Native soil with rocks removed and smoothed will simulate the fast smooth surface. 1/2 to 1 inch gravel of any sort, preferably rounded, and about 1 inch deep on a firm undersurface will simulate their gravel terrain.

Oakhurst has three surfaces - river silt, sandy, and pea gravel. Again, native soil with some sand added will simulate the smooth, fast surfaces, and 1/2 inch pea gravel, 1 inch deep over firm undersurface will simulate the gravel terrain.

Lamorinda plays on a DG surface with a few larger sharp rocks added.

Furlan has a fine, smooth, fast surface and supplementary pistes between the walnut tree rows. The row surface is dusty and bouncy.

Rock Dust Piste

Rock Dust surface. Easy to keep smooth. Harder to keep weeds out. Note the shade formed by the shadows of nearby trees. Try to locate your practice area such that it has some shade.

DG Piste

Decomposed Granite surface. Coarse to play on but resistant to weeds. Note the landscape rake ready to smooth the surface! The raised viewing area is nice too, as is the retaining wall for sitting on.

copyright 2007-2011 Nathan G. Doster