Stone skipping champions are made in Pennsylvania, on the banks of the award-winning French Creek.
Every year a cavalcade of top-tier “rock stars” from this state and beyond descends on Riverfront Park in Franklin, Venango County, to whip it good — like, really good.
Past competitors include Dave “Spiderman” Ohmer of Erie, who handpicks his stones from his local Great Lake, Kurt “Mountain Man” Steiner of Emporium, who set a world record with a jaw-dropping 88 skips nearly a decade ago, Melissa McLaughlin from Boston, and Keisuke Hashimoto, an office worker and prodigious thrower all the way from Japan.
This year’s contest is a go, Ronnie Beith, Franklin’s events and marketing coordinator, confirms, with Ohmer and Steiner, who’s reportedly recovering from shoulder surgery, set to attend.
They’ll be joined by roughly two dozen other professionals from Illinois, Indiana, Vermont, New York, and Canada — not to mention 15 youth and 30 amateurs competing separately.
Registration kicks off at 10 a.m. on Aug. 20. The professionals skip at 2:30 p.m.
Beith said this all started 22 years ago, adding, “It originally was part of an event called the Oil Region River Romp.” Inspired by a stone skipping competition in Mackinac Island, Michigan — the oldest in the U.S. — organizers launched their own. It draws hundreds of spectators a year.
“Prizes are plaques and fudge,” Beith added of the winners.
So what makes for a fudge-worthy stone’s throw?
Dave “Spiderman” Ohmer shared his tricks of the trade with Erie Times-News in 2019.
The right stone is key and the smoother the bottom, the better.
Spin is your friend and that means a stone with no good edges to grip isn’t.
Sometimes less is more, power being the enemy of consistency.
Posture is pivotal: Find a way to throw flat-footed and minimize your movement.
(Editor’s note: Methods vary. Steiner, for example, has a violent-looking windup reminiscent of Mets reliever Jeff Innis, so not very flat-footed at all.)
If those tips have you feeling ready to join the big leagues, entry fees for this year's PA Stone Skipping Championship in Franklin are $1 for youth, $5 for amateurs, and $10 for the pros.
For more motivation, there’s an award-winning 2016 documentary about the sport called (what else?) Skips Stones for Fudge.
It probably goes without saying, but the physics behind all of this, especially at the professional level, are astounding. Take Steiner’s 88-skips record, set on a lake in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest in 2013: It’s the upper limit, or maybe not.
Fluid dynamicist Tadd Truscott told Wired that the physics suggest hundreds of skips could be possible, at least in theory.
The outlet elaborates: “Someone with the power of a Major League Baseball pitcher could sidearm a stone as fast as 93 mph, with a spin rate upwards of 3,000 revolutions per minute. ‘And if you can get there, you're going to probably get close to 300, 350 skips,’ Truscott said.”
If it’s going to happen, it might as well be at French Creek on Aug. 20.
—Colin Deppen, PA Local editor