Canarian bowls is the most popular Canarian traditional sport. So last month the Gazette’s Shaun Addison and Sabrina Suppers enjoyed the atmosphere at one of the island’s biggest bowling events.
Every Wednesday afternoon, the Albergue de Tegoyo near Tías is invaded by coaches from every corner of the island. Hundreds of older Canarians descend on the well-kept grounds wearing specially-designed uniforms, and soon the clacking and clunking of wooden balls colliding or hitting the wooden walls can be heard over the buzzing hubbub of contented, social conversation.
This is the Torneo de Abuelos Conejeros, which roughly translates as the Lanzarote Grandparents Tournament, and it’s a hugely popular and well-established event. In fact, after football Canarian bowls is the second most popular sport on the Canary islands in terms of federated participants.
It’s also a proud Lanzarote tradition. This island is widely regarded as the originator of the current bowling tradition, which has since spread to all the other islands. You can sense a little of that pride at Tegoyo, as players over the age of 60 compete in dozens of simultaneous games. Little dramas unfold on every pitch, as bowlers carefully roll their bowls or hurl them in an attempt to knock opponents bowls out of the way.
This is the 20th year of the tournament, which involves teams from every municipality on the island, as well as the isle of La Graciosa. Over 800 players will participate in the tournament, and the Tegoyo pitch has been busy every almost every Wednesday afternoon from November until the finals at the end of this month.
A different municipality hosts the event each year – last year, for example was Yaiza’s turn, and the southern town saw their women’s team, La Huerta Vieja de Yaiza, lift the trophy alongside the male champions, Los Picachos de Haría. Both teams won trophies and a fully-paid-for weekend trip to Tenerife.
Although there’s a keen sense of competition at the tournament, and it’s taken seriously by everyone concerned, this is still primarily a social event. The real competition started at the end of March as the Federation of Canarian Bowls began its league, which culminates in July.
The federated games are where you’ll find the really decent players, the ones who can hit an opponents bowl unerringly at a distance of twenty metres, and the ones who’ll travel between all seven islands competing.
But at Tegoyo, as the games come to an end and the pensioners walk into the marquee for a snack and a drink, you understand that the real heart of this sport is social, a warm, glowing slice of Lanzarote tradition.
Canarian Bowls is played on a cancha (pitch) formed of picón and sand. There are usually wooden back walls, while the playing area is marked with string. The bowls weigh around a kilogramme each and are made of jatoba wood or a composite material. Older players prefer wood while competitive bowlers opt for the more uniform composite bowls.
A coin is tossed and the winning team chooses either to throw the small ball called the boliche or gets to pick the colour of bowls. Once the boliche is thrown the team that threw it then cast a bowl as close as possible to it. The other team then attempts to get closer. Turns are not alternate, but instead go to whichever team whose bowls are not closest.
Each side throws 12 bowls, usually three each for four players, and at the end of the game the team with the bowl or bowls closest to the boliche wins. If they have two or more bowls closest they’ll win two or more points. Games continue until one team reaches 15 points (women) or 18 points (men).
Bowling isn’t just popular among Canarians. Every Wednesday lunchtime, groups of British expats gather at the Teleclub de Mácher to play a few informal rounds on the covered cancha there.
The restaurant provides the bowls, and serves up plenty of snacks and drinks to the bowlers, who are observed by their dogs. The rules here are slightly different, with turns being taken strictly alternately, but the standard of bowling is no worse than several teams we observed at the Tegoyo tournament. And the underlying reason is exactly the same – a social session of sport, food and drink in the shade while the glorious Lanzarote sunshine bathes the island. What could be more agreeable?
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