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Skips and Giggles: Professional stone skipping through the eyes of its least talented pro


It’s been said that people, for the most part, are a herd species. We have a need to belong, to be part of something. We often seek out others for a one-on-one connection, or it could be something on a larger scale. The approach may be different but the end result is the same. That being the need to connect with someone or something. I know that rings true for me.

For some, it can be something as simple as a daily gathering at a local coffee shop. Or it can be a bi-weekly bull session at the barber shop. For me, it’s an annual thing where I can just pick up where I left off. For me, it’s stone skipping.

I started skipping stones in 2010. I was in my early 20s, wandering around a man-made reservoir with some friends and nothing but time on my hands. We were so bored we just picked up some stones and started skipping them. Most people skipped their stones 3, 4, maybe 5 skips across the water. But I remember my friend Cory and I reaching upwards of ten skips per throw.

When everyone had left, the two of us kept on skipping. And when we finally called it a day the camaraderie we had built on the edge of that reservoir, flinging rocks across the shimmering water, remained. We were hooked.

Skips and Giggles: A Podcast Pipedream

We found stone skipping videos on YouTube. We also researched who the players were and what kinds of rules were in place for people who had the stones to skip stones. And perhaps most importantly, we found out when the next sanctioned competition was going to take place. We were laser-focused on getting there.

The site was Franklin, Pennsylvania. A rural-as-shit town that sits right where the French Creek spills into the Allegheny River. The event was none other than the “Rock-In-River Festival.” One of just two sanctioned stone skipping competitions in America.

It takes place every August and competitors come from far and wide to skip for the grand prize. That honor comes in the form of a pound of fudge. Yes, I said fudge.

In 2011, I was lucky enough to skip my way into competing for that all-elusive fudge. The odds were stacked against me. My place in the lineup was directly after Russ “Rock Bottom” Byers, the current world record holder.

In 2007, he skipped a rock 51 times, at that time setting a new record. That feat got some coverage in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. But it didn’t stop there.

“It went out on the AP {Associated Press},” Russ said. “It was like the day it went out on the AP my phone started ringing from all over the world.”

You won’t find a hint of ego in Russ, though. He was modest enough to even invite a skipping noob like me over to his house. Sitting in his backyard, we threw back a few drinks as we looked through piles of stones that he picked up from Franklin PA., Eerie MI., and everywhere in-between. I was geeking-out. Russ is known for wearing homemade shirts that read “Skips Stones for Fudge,” because he knows that, friendly competition aside, the fudge is the real prize.

And it was there, in Russ’s backyard, that I realized skipping stones isn’t just a pastime - it’s a community. I remember Russ was pretty excited about new people coming to compete. Each year, the same crew of a dozen or more skippers travel from across America to any competition they can find. Whenever there is new blood, they welcome them in with open arms.

“You can’t not have respect for another freak that does this,” Paul Fero says in a very thick New York accent. “Ya know, it’s like, what grown man would waste their time doing this?”

Paul and I were both getting some practice skips in before the competition. Paul organizes his own stone skipping competition in Vermont. He’s been skipping professionally since 2010, and has only missed one year since he started skipping at Franklin.

Before we departed to a campground, Dave “Spiderman” Ohmer (2013 Franklin winner) asked Paul if he still had the tent he lent him a few years ago. Paul forgot it. “Don’t worry – I’ll get it to you next time I see you,” he told him. That’s what I mean when I say it’s a brotherhood of sorts. As far as I know, there aren’t any professional female stone skippers out there. But if there are any out there they are more than welcome.

“The goal is to have a self-sustaining stone skip community,” Says Kurt “Mountain Man” Steiner. “If I can do something to feed that than that is more important, because historically good natural stone skippers will come along. But then if there’s not a network, or a feeder system of any kind….”

Insane Stone Skipping! 2014 World Record - Kurt Steiner 88 Skips [with Count Overlay]

Kurt set a new world record in 2014 (88 skips) that still holds today. We’re all now just sitting at a campground drinking beer, Paul is grilling brats and veggies a few feet away. Even after Kurt and I finished our scheduled interview, I stayed with them for two more hours, just eating and talking.

We all feel a sense of fulfillment and purpose in spending the weekend with old and new friends, watching something that is so near and dear to our hearts keep growing and growing – one ripple at a time.

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