Water jousting in southern France
During the Festival of St Louis, the best water jousters compete in the prestigious Gold Cup championship in Sète.
In southern France, would-be jousters can leave their horses at home.
Instead, the famous lanced competition takes place on a wooden boat, a sport officially known as water jousting (la joute nautique). The tradition dates back as far as Egyptian times, where relief paintings on tomb walls depict the activity as far back as 2300 BC, and continued throughout the Middle Ages, primarily in France, where tournaments were staged for kings and queens and at local festivals.
Today, water jousters still take the sport seriously in rivers and canals throughout France. The long wooden boats that are used to propel the jousters are powered by eight to 10 rowers, along with a helmsman. The jouster, wearing only white clothing (like the rest of the crew), stands on a wooden platform (called a tintaine) that extends off the boat about 3m above the water, carrying a 70cm tall shield and a 2.8m lance with which to knock the opponent into the river or canal below. Whoever manages to stay atop the tintaine after an engagement is declared the winner, and each competitor has just one chance.
During the Festival of St Louis, this year 23 August through 28 August, the best water jousters compete in the prestigious Gold Cup championship in Sète, a French town on the Mediterranean about halfway between Toulouse and Marseille. Each tournament is broken down into different weight and age classes, from the junior competition (those under 21) to the highly-anticipated heavyweight class (any weight above 88kg). The winner of the heavyweight event not only wins glory, but also has his or her name engraved on a shield displayed in Sète’s Paul Valléry art museum named after a French poet andphilosopher who was a Sète native.
Spectators are welcome to watch from the bleachers set along the docks and enjoy the street shows and concerts held throughout the festival. This year, festival organisers are giving away two free VIP seats to the heavyweight championships, but the winners will have to know their jousting trivia -- participants must answer eight questions correctly in order to be entered into the final draw this Wednesday, 22 August.