During a "Séjour Bouliste" in Nice, UK boules retailer and keen player Ray Ager, who runs Brighton & Hove's French shop "A Lot of Gaul", met M. COUBLE, Director of "La Boule Intégrale" at the famous Place des Lices in St Tropez. Afterwards, M. COUBLE kindly agreed to an interview with Ray, which we are pleased to present at petanque.org:
(M. COULBE prefaced the interview by very modestly saying that it was the mark INTEGRALE that was the most important, he was merely a servant.)
1. What is your title and position with Intégrale?
Director General, with global responsibility for the company.
2. When did you originally start working for Intégrale?
3. When did Intégrale start making boules?
4. How has the manufacturing of boules developed over the years?
In 1925, there were no other factories of metal boules, and so the beginning was excellent. Intégrale didn't, at that time, respond to the quantities demanded by the market, nor to any competition (JB was the first).
5. Nowadays, are Intégrale boules made by machine or by hand?
Both - there's both heavy machinery (foundry, presses, thermal treatement of the surface) but adaptable, hand processes when we make small quantities according to the variety of the range produced.
6. What is the key characteristic offered by Intégrale boules?
Quality - throughout the whole manufacturing process.
7. There are now 7 different boules in your range. Is it really necessary to have such a diversity of different boules?
Yes because of the variations in price and quality: each product suits a particular customer (in France or abroad) depending on their choice of technical and financial requirements.
8. We know that stainless steel offers the great advantage of not rusting and hard boules are longer lasting. But for the player, is there really much difference in the performance?
· For the pointer: is there a performance difference between, for example, the carbon boule CZ and the stainless boule I?
· For the shooter: is there a difference between the CZN boule, IT, AC and ITR3?
Yes, independantly of the price. Stainless is a steel alloyed with nickel and chrome, two metals which are slippery. Therefore, a stainless boule is more slippery and polished than a soft steel boule which will be more aggressive in the hand, therefore more or less suitable according to the player's wishes.
The boules are classified in order of increasing hardness: AC then CZN and IT, then ITR3. The softer the boule, the more the force of shooting is absorbed, but the boule deforms (surface markings).
9. From time to time, UK pointers ask for a boule with a lot of deep stripes, that they've nicknamed 'Pineapples'. Why does Integrale only offer this stripe pattern on the AC boule, a shooter's boule?
Heavily striped boules were a gimmick started by a new manufacturer, convinced they were onto a good thing. In fact, in competitions in France, hardly anybody uses them, they're unsuitable, there's very little interest, apart maybe from being a bit of a novelty on the terrain.
10. It says in Marco Foyot?s book 'La Pétanque' that he had the CZN boule manufactured to his specifiication. Could you tell us a little more about this?
At the time Marco Foyot wore the Intégrale colours, he asked us to make some soft boules, which we did, with his name. They were very similar to the CZN (same black surface) which enabled us to develop the CZN.
11. Will it still be possible to see a development in the performance of boules in the future or have they already reached their limits?
Evolution is certainly possible (new material, internal structure, etc) but within the very restricted shape of the sphere and the 'rulebook' (of the French Federation). Being able to have coloured boules is always under research.
12. What effects has the manufacture of leisure boules by the Chinese had on the French market? How has Intégrale reacted?
The Chinese boules are cheap, but you only get what you pay for (poor quality steel, filled with waste, light weight, badly balanced, uneven weights, etc). True, the Chinese model is progressing - and the price as well. We?ve reacted by offering for the leisure range of boules a sophisticated product (matt finish, thermal treatement to make them hard) for a price that?s hardly varied.
13. Is the market in France continuing to develop? And in the UK?
France understands pétanque really well and our market is more one of repeat sales: increased sales of top-of-the-range boules. The UK market is expanding nicely and the game or sport should fit in well with your customs.
14. What are your predicitions for the development of pétanque?
I'm not psychic but pétanque, synonm of 'conviviality' and 'sport', will develop wherever you find peace and exchange rather than conflicts. Humankind has its destiny and it's for everyone to choose according to economic and political evolution.
15. Have you any story that you?d like to tell about pétanque? What ?greats? have you seen play and what were their best shots?
One of the best bets offered was that of ?BERBERT de CAGNES? who would place a coin on a boule, and with a single shot, the coin had to stay on the shooter's boule. He won plenty of bets!!
16. For players on holdiday in Provence is there any particular well-known terrain that you'd recommend visiting?
Provence is, of course, an ideal region to play. The sun, the high standard of play, beautiful surroundings, all allow it. But be careful of offers to play for money with certain players: they're never so innocent.
petanque.org wishes to extend a big thank you to Ray for his contribution!
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