Traditional Water Jousting in the South of France

Yes, water jousting! I learned of it when I first visited Sete  in 1999. Of course, I was captivated! Sete is an important fishing port on the Etang du Thau (Thau Lagoon) in the Hereault region of the Langue D’Oc. During  July and August, Sete is packed with cruise ship passengers and French citizens on summer holiday. Come September, it returns to being just a fishing town, but a lovely one. On September 1, I easily found parking and a seat at a canal-side cafe. Both would’ve been nearly impossible a week ago 

Sete has its own very strong cultural identity, cuisine and dialect. Sete is also known as the Venice of the Langue D’Oc due to its many canals, and none is more lovely than the Canal Royal. It is here that Water Jousting takes place


Water Jousting  was probably introduced by the Romans but it is impossible to know for certain. Sete is the capital of the sport. The competitions are hotly contested amongst several jousting clubs throughout the Langue D’Oc, and the participants are true athletes. Most come from generations of jousters. Jousting is celebrated throughout the region. Check out this video of these guys in action!


The earliest written reference to  jousting in Sete dates to the beginning of the 17th century. Jousting boats resemble a cross between a gondolas and a rowboat. 


They are propelled by 10 oarsmen, all experienced fishermen, with a captain at the helm. Jousters, four on each team, mount the tintaine (boat platform) single file with the jousters first in line doing battle with iron tipped wooden spears and protecting themselves with shields.


 The aim is to knock your opponent into the water. If a jouster falls, the next one of the four moves up to take his place. I am fairly certain I couldn’t even stand on that platform for more than two seconds let alone joust! All this is accompanied by a play-by-play announcer and LOTS of crowd participation. Traditional tunes of the Langue D’Oc are played between passes.


Whatever it’s origins, it’s an fantastic spectacle and a cultural treasure of which the citizens of Sete are rightly proud. I hope you get a chance to see it some day!

Bon appétit!

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