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Little to my surprise, I’m not going home today with a pound of free Pennsylvanian fudge.
Not with a best throw of only 15 skips in the amateur competition at the Pennsylvania Qualifying Stone Skipping Tournament. Even if I had doubled my score, it wouldn’t have been enough. If I was smarter, I probably should have entered the rock painting contest, instead.
Later this weekend, I’ll post some video and give a more detailed update. For now, I’m going to watch the pros skip stones.
And then I’m going to go buy some fudge.
Congratulations and thanks to Brad Wann for submitting the winning entry in my call for stone skipping nicknames. Brad actually submitted two names that caught my eye, but Jon “Ripple Maker” Page is the winner.
Thanks to everyone’s participation, it wasn’t an easy decision. Between comments on the blog, Facebook, and a few last-minute entries via text message and phone calls, I had about 30 nicknames from which to choose. Other possible winners included Pebble Pusher, Rock It Man, Rock Steady, and Low Stones.
For picking my nickname, I have promised to split any potential winnings (in this case, fudge) with Brad. Unfortunately for Brad, two things are working against this sweet payday.
No. 1: How am I supposed to ship fudge to Colorado?
And perhaps more important, No. 2: I haven’t exactly been practicing much for this. Part of the problem is a lack of superior rocks in my hometown of Raleigh, N.C. In my past few practice sessions, the best skipping stones I could find were landscaping rocks, and there was a limited supply. Meanwhile, champion skippers like Russ Byars and Kurt Steiner have been practicing with hundreds of pounds of perfectly flat, smooth rocks from the shores of Lake Erie. Fortunately, both champs have offered to give me some stones today.
Even if I don’t stand much of a chance, I’m excited to skip a proper stone and even more excited to have my skips counted. On my best throws, even with crummy rocks, I can’t tell the difference between 10 skips and 15. I have a hard time believing that the contest judges can do any better without a high-speed camera, but maybe this is an acquired skill.
The important thing is that I’ve got a great nickname.
The great ones all have nicknames.
Yes, in the sport of stone skipping, you’re only as good as your nickname. At least, you better show up with a good one.
“If you don’t, someone will dub you with something you don’t like,” Kurt “Mountain Man” Steiner recently told me. “You’ve got to be careful.”
Choosing a nickname was easy for Steiner. As a self-described “professional backpacker” with long hair and a nearly equally long beard, Mountain Man was a perfect fit.
As a writer, I could certainly create my own stone-skipping moniker, but I’d rather share the fun. That’s why I’m asking you to help me come up with a nickname. To share your ideas, simply leave a comment on this post by this Saturday morning. Feel free to leave as many ideas as you want.
Here’s the best part: if I choose your nickname and if I actually place in the Pennsylvania Qualifying Stone Skipping Tournament, I’ll split my winnings with you. That’s right, you’ll have a half-pound of fudge coming your way. Sweet, delicious fudge.
Now, let’s create me a nickname!
Given the chance, Kurt Steiner will lecture endlessly on the physics of stone skipping. He’ll mention mathematical equations he’s calculated pertaining to the stream at the Pennsylvania Qualifying Stone Skipping Tournament. He’ll describe the perfect stone in fantastic detail. He’ll wonder aloud why he hasn’t written a book on the subject.
It’s enough to make one think that the Pennsylvania native takes stone skipping too seriously. Way too seriously.
And then, Steiner mentions that he skipped last year’s national championship in Michigan to compete in a pinball tournament in Maine, instead.
“I came in fourth place,” Steiner said. “It’s a lot easier on the schedule. Stone skipping is really difficult for me where I live. I don’t have rocks or a place to practice.”
So maybe he doesn’t take stone skipping too seriously, after all.
But that doesn’t mean the former world record holder is any less passionate. In fact, he’s considering a shot at reclaiming the Guinness world record from stone skipping rival and friend Russ Byars. It’s an effort that would require hiring a camera crew and picking the perfect place to attempt to break Byars’ record of 51 skips.
For now, Steiner is preparing for the tournament in his home state. As a novice, I was eager to ask the five-time champion a few questions about the event.
Anyone Can Enter: Can you take me through the process on the day of the competition?
Kurt Steiner: They run it a little different for the amateurs, but for the pros they like to build the suspense by having each person throw once and then repeat that. You throw, sit down. Throw, sit down. As this goes on, the judges score you on the number of skips. The way they do it is a combination of counting and guestimation. Once you get to the end of a throw it’s just impossible to count without a camera, so the numbers you get in a tournament aren’t going to be accurate. Part of it is ranking throws compared to the other throws.
Anyone Can Enter: Can you count them yourself?
Steiner: No. I’ve taken some video and that helps. You can count some, but it’s hard to count on video, too. I can tell if one was over 40, but not beyond that.
Anyone Can Enter: I would think this format lends itself to a lot of controversy. Have you ever seen a fight because of a bad call?
Steiner: First of all, you have to back up a second. This is not that serious of an event. Russ takes it serious and I take it pretty serous, but nobody’s going to complain. I’ve seen some bad calls and I’ve been on the end of some bad calls, but the winner is pretty much always deserving. Somebody’s always going to be on.
Anyone Can Enter: You haven’t won in a few years. What are your chances this year?
Steiner: The last couple of years, I have bombed so bad. I just love skipping rocks, so as soon as I get there I want to throw and I can’t stop. By the time it starts, I feel like I’ve been through a long practice. At the start of last year’s tourney, I was dehydrated and could barely talk because my mouth was so dry. This year, I’m going to back off my power and pump up my accuracy. In the tournament, everybody’s got a couple of nerves, so if you can be consistent you’re in good shape.
Anyone Can Enter: Do you ever fantasize about throwing rocks in other places?
Steiner: If I ever could just break free and be all over the place, I’d make a nuisance of myself. I’d go skip stones in Central Park. I have a fantasy about skipping a stone at the reflecting pool in Washington, DC. I have all these things that I’d like to do and I’m sure I’d end up paying fines, but it would be worth if it. If I got the record again, I think I would have earned the right to make that splash.
As a wacky sports enthusiast and frequent participant in seemingly pointless contests, I was saddened to learn of the tragic end to the World Sauna Competition in Finland.
The contest came down to two men: Russian contestant Vladimir Ladyzhenskiy and five-time champion Timo Kaukonen. For more than six minutes, neither man would budge from the sauna. Finally, contest referees pulled them out of the 230-degree heat. Ladyzhenskiy collapsed. Both men were rushed to the hospital, but Ladyzhenskiy later died.
Organizers said the contest, which started in 1999, will never be held again. After seeing the pictures of Ladyzhenskiy’s burnt, scorched skin, it’s easy to see why.
I don’t mean to minimize Ladyzhenskiy’s death, but canceling the contest might be the wrong decision.
That’s because calling off an event that goes tragically awry probably won’t stop others’ desire to compete. If that were the case, people would have stopped climbing mountains years ago and the annual Running of the Bulls would be ancient history. Likewise, I find it hard to believe that this death will stop the phenomenon of competitive sauna sitting, especially in a country well known for its alcohol consumption and sauna use. Other contests may pop up between friends. They may push the limits well beyond 230 degrees. More deaths may result.
Instead, the contest organizers should assume leadership roles and revise the rules. By maintaining the contest, they can set the standard for any rogue contests that may take place. Naturally, they can start by decreasing the maximum temperature somewhere below the point at which water boils.
In doing so, they may even save some lives in the future.
On my continuing mission to seek out new challenges, I occasionally stumble upon some pretty sweet sweepstakes and events I just can’t make. This week, I’ve found two nifty online contests and one video game contest that might be fun if you’re in California.
Enter this contest for your chance to win a Cheerwine-branded, 1977 Volkswagen Bus. The bus comes fully tricked out with a sofa, flat screen TV, XBOX 360, and fridge.
Leave a comment on this thread on Onlineshoes.com and you could find yourself in $500 worth of Merrell shoes and clothing.
If you’re going to be in Los Angeles on Saturday, $10 is all you need to enter the first Tetris World Championship. If you can’t make it, enjoy this promotional video instead.
Other aspiring stone skippers might have been greedier. Prior to competing in their first competition, the promise of local celebrity status and occasional international notoriety may have flooded their thoughts.
But not Russell Byars. Back in 2001, he had a much better reason for entering the Pennsylvania Qualifying Stone Skipping Tournament.
When Byars learned that the winners of his hometown tournament took home a few pounds of the sweet confectionary, he entered the amateur division and won. A year later and after another victory, he was asked to compete in the professional division. Only problem? He would have to renounce his amateur title. And give back the fudge.
“I said no way,” Byars said.
Nearly a decade later, Byars is still skipping for fudge, but he’s doing it as a professional. And he’s the current Guinness World Record holder with 51 skips.
A five-time winner in Franklin, Byars lost the Pennsylvania contest last year to newcomer Grant Mitchell, a Kansas native and medical school student at Pennsylvania. But Byars recently won the his sixth title at Michigan’s Mackinac Island Stone Skipping Tournament, and he’s determined to reclaim his title in Franklin this month.
I recently spoke to Byars about skipping stones, fudge, and boxing kangaroos.
Anyone Can Enter: Was it humbling to lose to a first timer last year?
Russell Byars: I’m the king of a country with 8 people. I always said that some 19-year-old kid with a great arm is going to come in and kick all our butts, and that’s what happened. Grant threw 44. That will win every time. After the throw, people asked me, ‘What are you thinking?’ I was like, ‘That will win anywhere.’
Anyone Can Enter: When I watch video of you skipping a stone 50 times, it seems to defy nature. How is it possible to do that?
Byars: People always ask me what’s my secret and I say don’t worry about it. Figure out how hard you can throw it and put a decent amount of spin on it. You basically grip it and rip it. People also e-mail me with physics questions. I don’t know if this is true, but I believe a lopsided stone goes a lot better. With flat stones you end up like a glider going across the water. It doesn’t take much to upset them. They’re just perfect and then it hits a little wave and it’s gone. You get a lopsided stone spinning real fast; it’s always trying to correct itself.
Anyone Can Enter: What can you tell me about your training regimen?
Byars: I would like to get in two to three practices a week for three weeks before the tournament. I’ll spend all day throwing. I’ll throw 60 pounds of stones. I think I throw better after I’ve thrown a lot.
Anyone Can Enter: What’s one important piece of advice for a first timer?
Byars: If the stone is not spinning good and it’s just a good throw, it’s going to flutter away. Try to concentrate on keeping your finger across the stone and follow through with your finger. That’s the biggest tip I can give people. Now, after that, you can have all the physicists do whatever they want. That’s fine. There’s some point where the speed, the spin, the angle and weight all come into play. Every stone is different. You have to make them all meet at the same time.
Anyone Can Enter: Is there anything else you’d try in the name of fudge?
Byars: I don’t know, but I can tell you something I won’t do. I boxed a kangaroo [when I was a teenager]. I won’t do that again. There was a $500 prize to beat the kangaroo and my buddy said if you hit it in the nose it will never box again. A kangaroo can lean back on its tail and take its head back about 9 feet out of the way and then they hit you so fast you can’t even keep your gloves up. After I got in there, all I remember was putting my hands up like I was going to box and hearing a lot of people go ‘ewwww.’