Spain Explained

Pelota – fast and furious

Last updated on September 13th, 2019 at 09:10 am.

Most Spanish sports and recreational activities are not much different from what you would find anywhere in the world. The Spanish love of football needs no coverage and Spaniards continue to excel in many sports such as tennis, golf and motor racing.

However, there are one or two more unusual Spanish sports that you may not have heard of. One of these is Pelota or Pilota. This game is often linked to the Basque country but its popularity is wide spread. There are tournaments held throughout the year and the game carries with it a sense of culture and history.  It’s also incredibly fast. It is reputed to be the fastest ball game in the world with the ball travelling at up to 200 kmh.

Pelota is played on a three-sided court (frontón) by two or five players. The players throw the ball against the end wall with a woven basket called a chistera which is strapped to an arm. Although the chistera is often used so are other forms of throwing the ball such as a leather glove or, in some cases, bare hands.

The chistera acts a little like a catapult, catching the ball and then hurling it back against the wall at speed. Sometimes the players will wear crash helmets to protect their heads, just like modern day cricket. Pelota is a very popular game to gamble on and large sums of money can exchange hands. 

There are different versions of the game.  Pelota Vasca is practised in north Spain but is popular in many other parts of the country and in other nations too. In this version the aim is to force the opponent to fail to launch the ball correctly against the wall either because they can’t reach the specified zone or because the ball bounces more than once.

In Valencian ‘Pilota’ the ball is made of leather and is also only allowed to bounce once. The game is supported by a ‘trinqueter’ who seeks bets on both teams and encourages them to make the game more exciting. You can see games of Pilota in Benidorm, Alcoi and Villareal.  

The ball itself is harder than a baseball and comprises of triangles made from cow-hide with a rubber interior. The making of the ball is a very traditional skill that runs in families and tradition dictates that it is made from the inside with the stitching hidden from view. The ball can be painstaking to produce and expensive to purchase with some costing more than 100€ each. The nature of the game means that they frequently need replacing.

Perhaps the best way to get a real feel for the sport, other than watching an actual game, is to see videos of it being played on the YouTube site. This Lonely Planet video gives a real taste of the speed and excitement of the pelota game.

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