What is Pelota? The Basque Sport

06/07/2021

In Basque Country there are these large walls in pretty much every town. They appear to be part of a construction project that was started but never completed. Obviously, these are not abandoned construction projects but are actually frontons. So, what is a fronton and what is it used for? Let's find out!

A fronton is the name of the court where the Basque sport Pelota or Jai Ajai is played. It's the Basque national sport and is a staple of Basque athletics. Pelota is a sport that has similarities to squash and racquetball but it's history is much older.

History

The history of the origins is somewhat unknown. There are theories that it started in Greece while others believe that it started in France. It is known that there was a similar game played in France called jeu de paume. It is believed that je de paume split into two factions, pelota and tennis.

Basque pelota differentiated itself from the other games of similar vintage by the inclusion of a glove. The first documentation of this glove being in use dates back to the early 19th century. This means that the existence of pelota in a form close to today's version dates back a little over 200 years.

Early versions of pelota were called Laxoa and used a whole court like in tennis. There was no wall where the ball bounced off. The game was played with teams of two that hit the ball back and forth over a net using leather gloves. Over time the game transitioned away from the direct game and into an indirect game where the ball has to be bounced off the wall.

Pelota was an official Olympic sport during the 1900 Paris Games. The final was between France and Spain, with Spain being victorious. It was also included in the Pan American in Argentina, 1995 and the Dominican Republic, 2003.

Court

There are a few different types of courts that pelota can be played on. The most common one is the left walled fronton. It is a court that has a front wall known as a frontis as well as a wall to the left, when facing the frontis. The left wall and ground have lines painted on them to mark service and fault lines as well as distances in numbered squares. There is usually a third wall at the back of the court or a line painted to mark the end of the court. The right, fourth wall does not exist. Instead, there is a painted line that marks out of bounds.

Courts are typically 10 meters (33 feet) wide. The inbound part of the front wall begins at one meter (3 feet) above the ground until the height of 10 meters (33 feet). There are two main variations of this type of fronton called the long and short court. The short court is 36 meters (118 feet) and the long court is 54 meters (177 feet).

The other most common type of court follows the same dimensions however, it does not have the left wall.

Rules

The rules of Basque pelota vary depending on the court and whether you are playing singles or doubles. The rules may also vary slightly depending on the racquet you are using or if you are playing hand pelota. The objective is always to get more points than your opponent.

To start a match, one team serves the ball to the other team. This is done by bouncing the ball once before the service line, which is marked with a number four, and then hitting it against the frontis. The ball must not land it's first bounce past the line marked with the letter "P" for "pasa." If it lands past the "P" line then it's an illegal serve on the service team.

If the service meets the parameters of a quality service, then the ball must be returned by the opposing team immediately or bounce no more than one time before hitting the frontis. If the ball hits the floor twice then the opponent wins a point. The opponent also wins a point if the serve is illegal, the ball goes out of bounds, and/or when returning the ball to the front wall it fails to make it.

The team that wins the previous point also begins the next rally by serving the next point. The strategy is to make it difficult for the other team to return your volley or make it so that they cannot reach the ball before it bounces twice.

A game is played to either 15 or 21 points. The first to get to the allotted point total wins the set. The match consists of a best of three sets. First to win two sets is the victor.

Jai Alai

There are many different variations of pelota which can change the look and feel of the game. Some games are played bare handed, while others are played with a variety of rackets. In some games, the ball size can change along with the size of racket, or even the amount of walls that make up the fronton. The most unique and exhilarating of the contests is called Jai Alai.

Jai Alai is usually played on a long court with a left and back wall. What especially stands out in this version of the game is that instead of using your bare hand or a racket you use a wicker basket. The ball is served like in other versions of the game, however, in Jai Alai the ball is caught in the basket and then quickly returned out of the basket back towards the wall it came from.

This version of the sport is played on the long court due to the high velocity the ball travels. It is known as the sport with the quickest ball speed in the world. Jai Alai ball speed has been clocked at over 240km (150 miles) per hour. If you ever have the opportunity to watch professionals play Jai Alai live, check it out, it is something special.

Pelota is a wonderful sport that developed in a way that only the Basques would. It is competed at a high pace; there are lots of different forms; and it is not for those lacking spirit. Sport is a great way of projecting cultural identity and promoting one's culture. In Basque Country one of these vehicles is Basque Pelota.


Keep Exploring...



If you have any questions, comments or would like to add to the conversation please shoot us an email at hello@authenticbasquecountry.com or on our Facebook page.