Jai Alai

Jai alai is a sport involving a ball bounced off a walled space. It is a variety of Basque Pelota. The term, coined by Serafin Baroja in 1875, is also often loosely applied to the fronton (the open-walled playing area) where the sport is played. The game is called “zesta-punta” (basket tip) in Basque.

The Basque Government promotes jai alai as “the fastest sport in the world because of the balls” and once held the world record for ball speed with a 125g–140g ball covered with goatskin that traveled at 302 km/h (188 mph), performed by José Ramón Areitio at the Newport Jai Alai, Rhode Island, until it was broken by Canadian long drive champion Jason Zuback on an episode of Sport Science in July 2009 with a golf ball speed of 328 km/h (204 mph). The record for a badminton shuttle during gameplay is set by Fu Haifeng with a recorded smash of 332 km/h (206 mph).

Rules and customs of play

The court (or cancha) for jai alai consists of walls (front, back, and left), and the floor between them in play. If the ball (called a “pelota,” Spanish for ball) touches the floor outside these walls, it is considered out of bounds. Similarly, there is also a border on the lower 3 ft (about 1 m) of the front wall that is also out of bounds. The ceiling on the court is usually very high, so the ball has a more predictable path. The court is divided by 14 parallel lines going horizontally across the court, with line 1 closest to the front wall and line 14 the back wall. In doubles, each team consists of a frontcourt player and a backcourt player. The game begins when the frontcourt player of the first team serves the ball to the second team. The winner of each point stays on the court to meet the next team in rotation. Losers go to the end of the line to await another turn on the court. The first team to score 7 points (or 9 in Superfecta games) wins. The next highest scores are awarded “place” (second) and “show” (third) positions, respectively. Playoffs decide tied scores.

Long xistera.

A jai alai game is played in round robin format, usually between eight teams of two players each or eight single players. The first team to score 7 or 9 points wins the game. Two of the eight teams are in the court for each point. The server on one team must bounce the ball behind the serving line, then with the cesta “basket” hurl it towards the front wall so it bounces from there to between lines 4 and 7 on the floor. The ball is then in play. The ball used in Jai Alai consists of metal strands tightly wound together and then wrapped in goat skin. Teams alternate catching the ball in their cesta and throwing it “in one fluid motion” without holding or juggling it. The ball must be caught either on the fly or after bouncing once on the floor. A team scores a point if an opposing player:

  • fails to serve the ball directly to the front wall so that upon rebound it will bounce between lines No. 4 and 7. If it does not, it is an under or over serve and the other team will receive the point.
  • fails to catch the ball on the fly or after one bounce
  • holds or juggles the ball
  • hurls the ball out of bounds
  • interferes with a player attempting to catch and hurl the ball

The team scoring a point remains in the court and the opposing team rotates off the court to the end of the list of opponents. Points usually double after the first round of play, once each team has played at least one point.

The players frequently attempt a “chula” shot, where the ball is played off the front wall very high, then reaches the bottom of the back wall by the end of its arc. The bounce off the bottom of the back wall can be very low, and the ball is very difficult to return in this situation.

Since there is no wall on the right side, all jai alai players must play right-handed (wear the cesta on their right hand).

Reference: Wikipedia Jai Alai