A Brief Introduction to Pelota, Bilbao's Sport You've Never Heard Of

Basque Pelota
Basque Pelota | ©Pierre-Yves Beaudouin / Wikimedia Commons
Esme Fox

Pelota is one of the most popular sports in the Basque Country, it’s the common name for a variety of ball games played against a wall, called a fronton. Similar to a combination of squash and handball, it can be played using your hand, racket or wooden bat. Pelota is a fast-moving game that you can play one-on-one, in partners or in a team.

Types of Pelota

Some of the main types of pelota include hand, pala, zesta punta and remote. Each involves a different number of people, size of court or piece of equipment to hit the ball with.
Zesta punta means ‘edged or pointed basket’, and in this version of the game, rubber balls are caught inside the basket and then hurled back into the court at the wall. The Basques apparently claim that this version is ‘the fastest game on Earth’.

Pelota racquets

Hand Pelota, like the name suggests, is played with bare hands and balls are made from wool covered in leather. The rules are similar to squash in that balls are hit against the wall, whilst trying to get them out of your opponent’s reach.
Pala on the other hand, refers to the pelota games played with a racket. They can vary from long bats to short ones, ones made from rubber and others made from leather.
Remote is played with a short, flat basket glove, like in zesta punta, and can be played one-on-one or by teams of two.

Pelota player

Origins of Pelota

Pelota sports are thought to have originated in Ancient Greece, and while it is most popular today in the Basque Country, it is also played in other parts of Spain and France, much of South America, the Philippines and some places in the United States.
Basque pelota was an official Olympic sport for the 1900 Paris Games. During these Olympics there were only two teams competing in the pelota competition – France and Spain. Spain eventually won and this may have increased its popularity in the region.

Pelota sport

Pelota Courts

Most Basque villages have a pelota court or fronton, where locals can practice and play, it is often attached to the village church. The largest fronton is located in the city of Bilbao, called the Bizkaia Frontoia. It was opened in 2011 and holds around 3,000 spectators.

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