While a few of our members had watched Petanque being played while on holiday in Europe, because of our isolation we in Christchurch were mainly self taught and had developed a style of play best described as outside indoor bowls.
The first doubles team to venture overseas (Auckland) were Diane Findlay and Neville Mines who with great temerity entered the Air NZ Open Doubles. Both struggled on the hard uneven unforgiving Auckland terrain. When Diane did manage to point close to the cochonnet and her boule was shot away by the opposition she exclaimed 'Are they allowed to do that ?' When this was confirmed as an acceptable and lawful tactic and an integral part of the game ... she was hooked ! On their return to Christchurch few would listen to her describe this new tactic. Most members were happy to indulge her as she missed more than she hit and even when she did connect there was a 50/50 chance she would hit something else and give away the point anyway.
So, when Frank, a young man from Sweden applied to finish his degree at Canterbury University and we learned he was an experienced club player and a good shooter, we arranged shooting lessons. The session was held on 11 May 1997 and we traded a a kiwi roast dinner for 2 shooting lessons.
The sound of Petanque in Christchurch changed forever after the arrival of Karel Los who had played and coached Petanque at an international level in Europe. Karel was attracted to the sound of Petanque being played while wandering through Hagley Park and joined in a friendly game.
It was obvious he had been a good player so he was persuaded to provide some demonstrations and not only did he agree but he returned early from his touring holiday to practise. We held two open days and cashing in on the international player and coach status we managed TV, Radio and newspaper coverage. Over 100 people attended and watched the sessions.
By now Karel was back to a high skill level, shooting out most of his targets, sometimes with a carreau and opening the eyes of our competitive players. We were introduced to tactics and shooting and moved from playing 'marbles' to playing Petanque.
A year later Karel returned for a longer stay and agreed to provide further coaching. He also played on a regular basis and after playing with and against Karel, the experienced Club players all started practicing shooting and became more aware of tactical decisions and the mental attitude needed to improve. Nowadays most competitive teams include a shooter and the style of play has changed from boules clustered around the cochonnet to boules scattered all over with quite a few in the ditch !
Thomas and Gudrun appeared about a year later and they were on a year's sabbatical leave from Germany. They were very popular members who played most Sundays. Thomas was another shooter and more our level. They played in Dunedin and we learned the phrase 'out from the cold kitchen' which denoted a team coming back from 0-12 down to win 13-12. When they left New Zealand we had a farewell lunch and they generously donated 3 sets of boule to the club.
Reinhardt who was also from Germany arrived during a corporate evening event joining in and helping. He played on a regular basis during his short stay and also provided coaching for members. His specialty was high pointing although he did possess a unique but deadly accurate whirlwind shooting action. He traveled throughout NZ in a hand painted Lada that, to be kind, had seen better days and played in NZPA tournaments in Wellington and Rotorua.
Bob Irvine from Berwick England was a qualified British Petanque Association arbite. As well as playing sessions he gave coaching sessions on the international rules of Petanque and their interpretations. He had a rather dog eared copy of the British Petanque Association rules which he gave to Malcolm Williams who was our Club arbite. We traded a Footrot Flats calendar for his rule book and on his return to Christchurch the following year he brought a new copy plus a booklet on procedures for the running of tournaments.
Another visitor from Sweden was Vicky. 'My name is Vicky, I am from Sweden and I want to play Petanque'. Andrew was the only one available to collect her ... once. From then on there were plenty of volunteers to take Vicky home or collect her for another game. Vicky enjoyed the sunshine, the settings and displayed a high skill level in both shooting and pointing. She played for 2-3 months and returned to Sweden hoping to play in the Swedish National Championship.
Another visitor from the Isle of Wight who was a good pointer played for 2-3 weeks. It was interesting to hear about interclub competitions where all the games were played on one piste and a match could last until midnight.
During the 2000 NZ Open Doubles in Auckland, Steve and Andrew marvelled at the skill level of the champion Tahitian teams. The Club obtained a grant and was able to offer as a prize at the 2001 NZ Open, a trip to Christchurch in return for some coaching and the chance to play with them in a 'pro am' type event as well as in a tournament.
While rain interrupted the 'pro am' event the Tahitian players played socially with some of our members fully explaining their tactics and reasons for the options ... their comments ... we shoot too much ! Even though they were more accurate at shooting, they preferred to point into an opposition boule. However, with boule in hand towards the finish they were devastatingly accurate and would turn 1 winning boule into 3 or 4.
They were very vocal in their disapproval of any boule which travelled past the cochonnet. Short is good ... long is bad was their motto. They also had a very high lob as a point style. This was so accurate it would drop down by the cochonnet and hardly roll. Another tactic they employed was to point onto an opposition boule to prevent their boule being shot away.
In competitive play they played the local Christchurch teams in the semifinals but the final was between the two Tahitian teams who gave quite an insight into Petanque at an international level.
Who knows who will next come in through the park gates to further add to the international friendship of Petanque players.