Tag: pilota

March 24, 1980: Death of Pierre Etchebaster, greatest real tennis player in history

If you haven’t heard of real tennis or court tennis, then check it out . Not only is it the forerunner of modern or “lawn” tennis, but it has a long and important history. Evolving out of hand ball games not unlike the Basques’ very own pelota, it was the sport of the royal houses of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the famous 1789 Tennis Court Oath in the French Revolution was taken in a real tennis court. And real tennis reputedly has the longest line of consecutive word champions in any sport, dating back to 1760.

Pierre Etchebaster in 1928, wearing his customary txapela. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Pierre Etchebaster in 1928, wearing his customary txapela. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Arguably the greatest real tennis player of all time, at least in the modern age, was a Basque, Pierre Etchebaster. Born in Donibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz) on the coast of Lapurdi, in 1893, he naturally grew up playing several of the different types of pelota. Aged eighteen, he was already champion of France in the chistera/xistera variety, the equivalent of what we know today as jai alai or zesta punta. After serving in the French army in World War I he returned to the Basque Country where he continued to excel at pelota.

In 1922 he took up real tennis and became head professional at the Paris court club after auditioning for the post the first time he picked up a racquet! In 1928, already in this thirties, he won his first world championship, wearing his customary blue txapela or beret as a sign of his strong Basque identity. This began a remarkable run of world championship victories, winning his last title in 1954 aged sixty years old! In the meantime, he also spent the 1930s in the United States, where he was a resident professional at the prestigious Racquet and Tennis Club in New York City, where he resided until his retirement in the 1950s.

An excellent athlete, he enjoyed a full and active retirement. He was awarded France’s highest award, the Legion of Honor, in 1955, and went on to publish a coaching manual about the game in 1971. In 1978 he was inducted into the tennis hall of fame. Etchebaster died in the town of his birth, Donibane Lohizune, aged eighty-seven.

Check out this fascinating article on Etcebaster by the New Yorker in 1953.

See also the fascinating book by Olatz González Abrisketa, Basque Pelota: A Ritual, An Aesthetic.

July 13, 1955: Birth of pilotari Panpi Ladutxe

On July 13, 1955, one of the great characters in the modern age of pilota (also spelled pelota) was born in Azkaine, Lapurdi: Panpi Ladutxe (also spelled Pampi Laduche). The son of another famous pilotari or Basque handball player, Joseph Ladutxe, he began his career in the four-walled trinkete (closed court) version of the sport more common in Iparralde or the Northern Basque Country, where he was from, becoming world champion in this version at the tender age of 19. He later switched to the three-walled (open court) fronton variety more common in Hegoalde or the Southern Basque Country in his mid-20s, winning two doubles titles in 1987 and 1989, partnered by Joxean Tolosa.

Ladutxe stood out in many ways, being the first player from Iparralde to gain success in Hegoalde in the modern age. After retirement he went on to promote and develop the sport in and train fellow players from Iparralde, two of whom in particular–Sebastien Gonzalez and Yves Salaberri or “Xala”–went on to enjoy great success, following in his footsteps. He has also been a great showman away from the court, enjoying some success as a singer of traditional Basque songs both live and in the release of two records: Aitari (1995) and Chansons du Pays Basque (2002).

Legendary pelota player bids farewell to game

On June 24, in the Labrit fronton or pelota court in Pamplona-Iruñea, Navarre, one of the greatest pelota players of all time, Juan Martinez de Irujo, made an emotional farewell to the sport. Born in 1981 in Ibero, Navarre, he debuted in the professional game in 2003 and went on to win five individual championships in the handball variety, the blue ribbon event in modern pelota. In 2016, however, he announced his temporary retirement from the sport (a decision later confirmed as permanent) due to heart issues.

On Saturday, Irujo was only in attendance, not taking part in a game, but following the completion of the games taking place, he went down to the court dressed in his archetypal pelotari uniform and accompanied by his daughter to receive the warm applause of all those gathered, spectators that included Uxue Barkos (President of the Navarrese Government) and Joseba Asiron (mayor of Pamplona-Iruñea).

Check out this report (in Spanish) and accompanying video of the afternoon’s events.

*Image by bedaio3000, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

Premiere of Aberne, a short movie about women in pelota, on Sunday

Sunday will see the premiere of the movie Aberne, a short film that was the result of a Master’s thesis by Irati Santiago, from Villabona (Gipuzkoa), at Columbia College Chicago. It was produced by Santiago and written and directed by Emma Johnson. From the movie website:  “Aberne tells the story of a young, Basque woman struggling to be accepted amongst external societal pressures in a region where friends, family and co-workers all come together under one sport, pelota. Aberne seeks the opportunity to break free from the culture’s limitation and prove herself worthy of not only playing pelota, but of the general public’s respect.”


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/165637744″>Aberne Interview H264</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user19210914″>Irati Santiago</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>

The film was shot in the Tolosa district of Gipuzkoa, in Basque, and with English subtitles.  It tells the story of a young woman who aspires to be a professional pelotari or Basque handball player in the face of much resistance, including on the part of her mother, who attempts to convince her to stick to the family bread-making business.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/165733435″>Aberne Teaser English H264</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user19210914″>Irati Santiago</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>

See a report on the movie premiere by the Noticias de Gipuzkoa (in Spanish) here.

Check out Basque Pelota: A Ritual, An Aesthetic, by Olatz González Abrisketa, which seeks to contextualize this sport within Basque culture more generally.

Women’s Pelota Championship Reaches Conclusion

Yesterday, March 5, the finals of the Laboral Kutxa Emakume Master Cup–the principal women’s pelota championship–was held in Zornotza (Amorebieta), Bizkaia.

In total, 80 women took part in the event. They hailed from all over the Basque Country as well as Andalusia, Catalonia, Valencia, and Zaragoza,  and even Cuba and Mexico. They included well-known bertsolari (improvising verse singer) Iratxe Ibarra, from Markina-Xemein, Bizkaia; and Daniela Vargas, from Amecameca, Mexico, who gave up her job as an architect to train for and compete in the competition.

Check out the short promotional video for the tournament here:

The event, involving doubles or pairs, took place over two months and culminated yesterday in two different finals. In the elite category, Olatz Arrizabalaga (from Gautegiz-Arteaga, Bizkaia) and Leire Etxaniz (Etxebarria, Bizkaia) beat Nagore Arozena (Lizartza, Gipuzkoa) and Maider Mendizabal (Anoeta, Gipuzkoa) 22-14, while in the first division final Alba Martinez (Baños de Río Tobía, La Rioja) and Arrate Bergara (Tutera, Nafarroa), both fourteen-years-old incidentally, beat Nagore Aramendi (Azpeitia, Gipuzkoa)–replacing the injured Jaione Zulaika (Getaria, Gipuzkoa)–and Nagore Bilbao (Laukiz, Bizkaia) 22-18.

For more information on the event, see the official website here.

If you’re interested in learning more about this great Basque sport, check out Basque Pelota: A Ritual, An Aesthetic by Olatz González Abrisketa, which sets out to explain what pelota reveals about Basque culture more generally.