How to … Play Tejo (aka Gunpowder Bowling)

We heard about Tejo, Colombia’s second national sport (after football, obvs) during our stay in San Gil. The only way to describe this game is to call it gunpowder bowling – yes, you heard that right: bowling, with explosives (and booze).

To find out more we joined forces with some guys from our hostel and went to check out the weekly gringo night. You see, normally, we foreigners aren’t allowed anywhere near a tejo arena, and for good reason. The game itself involves hurling large leaden pellets at a target laced with parcels of gunpowder. And if that wasn’t dangerous enough, each team has to buy a crate of 16 beers to secure a lane in the first place. As you can imagine, locals have every reason to be worried about the combination of over-enthusiastic foreigners throwing rocks in an enclosed space, so most nights are strictly for the pros only.

San Gil's tejo courts, the only place to be on a Tuesday night

San Gil’s Tejo courts: the only place to be on a Tuesday night

So the stage is set: you and your new-found friends are in possession of a large amount of cerveza, are standing in the middle of a campo de tejo, and you´re thinking to youself, what’s this game all about then? Luckily, the basic concept of the sport is relatively simple to master, it’s just being any good at it that’s a tough nut to crack…

1: Choose your weapon

There are two sizes of pellet: heavier ones for the boys, and slightly lighter ones for the ladies. To be honest, we couldn’t really tell the difference and armed with either weapon we seemed to be perform equally badly.

Tejo discs, can you tell the difference?

Tejo discs – can you tell the difference?

2. Take your position

Officially, players are meant to throw their disc at the target from 15 metres away but this is a virtually impossible task. There is also a secondary line a metre in for boys, and a completely unfair halfway line (Jovian maintains) for girls. As beginners, we decided to take a few liberties with the rules and moved our respective starting lines a few metres forward in the vain hope that it would enable us to set some gunpowder off. It didn´t.

Our tejo field of dreams

Our field of explosive dreams

3. Take aim

The correct way to hold a tejo disc is to place it in the palm of your hand, with your hand upturned and your thumb resting on the top to the pellet, then throw it at the target using an underhand motion. If this fails to ignite any gunpowder, try switching to an overhand throw. And make sure your fellow players (or opposing team members) are standing well back.

Perfecting my tejo-nique

Perfecting my tejo-nique

4. Watch as your pellet goes nowhere near the target and disappears off somewhere to the side, narrowly missing people in the next lane

Points are awarded for hitting the ring in the centre of the clay pit, where those little pink envelopes of fun are positioned. So it should be pretty simple to keep score: if it goes bang, you´re winning. But however hard you try to aim at the target, let’s be realistic: unless you’re a professional cricketer, there’s very little chance that you’re going to hit it. At best, you’ll land your pellet in the soft clay that surrounds it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t score any points in the official Tejo rulebook, but we think it should.

This is the target we were trying in vain to hit

The target we were trying in vain to hit

5. Repeat ad nauseum

Tejo takes a lot of practice, but we weren’t there in the hope of finding an undiscovered talent for the game. We just wanted to set off some explosions. After about an hour of nonchalantly throwing our discs badly at the target from the approximately designated position, we decided to take matters in to our own hands and moved our starting line even further forward. Eventually something went bang, and we were very happy indeed. But by this point in the evening, we were unable to deduce who actually won the game in our team of four. The moral of the game appears to be: it matters not who won or lost, but whether you are able to neck four bottles of beer in two hours and still throw rocks in a straight line.

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