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.

Fudge.

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.’

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