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
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.