Watching a stone dance across still water may be one of life’s greatest simple pleasures. What better way to enjoy a lazy, late summer afternoon than combing the beach for the perfect rock—flat, round, light enough to fly, heavy enough to go the distance. Snap it just so, and watch it leap across the surface—once, twice, three times, more? You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy this adventure!
In Greece, people call stone skipping “little frogs.” English skippers: “ducks and drakes.” In Russia, it’s “baking pancakes.” Whatever you call it, sending stones flying across the water is fun. Pro organizations even hold major competitions for the sport. Record holders have been known to exceed 50 skips on a single throw!
Chances are, if you are old enough to stand on your own, you’ve skipped stones a time or two. But if you never have, or you’re just a little rusty, here are tips to get you started.
Well … something like that. Skipping stones is fun for the whole family. Photo by Tanya Little
Pick the right water
Experienced (or lucky) skippers can bounce stones off creeks. But it’s best to start with a still body of water, such as a lake, bay or even a slow stretch of river.
Pick the right rock
A skipped stone works more or less in the same way as a Frisbee™. Look for a round, flat stone that is fairly smooth. A little weight is good but too much is an automatic dud. A rock roughly the size and shape of a silver dollar is a good place to start.
Assume the position!
Stand at an angle to the water as if you were going to flip a disc to someone out in the water. Grip the stone with your pointer finger and thumb in a ‘C’ shape around it. You want to hold it so that there is as little arc to your stone’s trajectory as possible.
Whip it good
The idea here is to create spin and generate lift. The surface tension of the water actually has little to do with how far and how many times a stone skips—it’s all about the spin and the speed. Pull your arm back as if you were going to throw a discus, then bring it down fast at a tight angle (experts agree 20 degrees is ideal) and snap your wrist, flicking the stone off the tip of your pointer finger.
Revel in your awesomeness! Repeat!
A happy dance may be in order, as your rock catches air again and again, and you experience the stone skipper’s equivalent of the skateboarders’ gleaming the cube. Or watch your stone plummet into the deep, tell your friends you “meant to do that,” then try, try again!
The trick? Stones need to wake on the water, similar to a boat. Illustration by Rainer Zenz.
Check out this Wall Street Journal how-to video for stone skipping featuring Joe Crain, the 2012 West Coast Stone Skipping Champion. Improve your skill by trying out one of these winning techniques.
Where to go skipping? Your Washington state parks, of course! With some of the best water access in the state, state parks naturally have the best places to spend the day tossing rocks. So gather a crew for a skip-off challenge! Here are just a few great spots to start your adventure planning.
Saint Edward State Park
Known for its gorgeous buildings and peaceful grotto, this park on the former Catholic seminary grounds in Kenmore, near Seattle, also has some splendid waterfront on Lake Washington. Follow one of several hiking trails down to the shore, where you can search among the stones for the perfect skipper.
Lake Sylvia State Park
Placid and picturesque, Lake Sylvia is not only a perfect skipping spot, but a must for photography. Skip a while, then let the water settle and enjoy the reflection of forest and sky on the mirror-like waters of this lake near Montesano. There’s even a cool playground with a view of the water for little ones.
Fort Townsend Historical State Park
Sure it’s saltwater, but as long as the weather cooperates on Port Townsend Bay, you can take advantage of the calm to sling a few rocks. This is a big park, so plot your course along the trails to the beach. While you are there, keep an eye out for the eagles and osprey that call the park home.
Cama Beach Historical State Park
A seasonal native food-gathering area, Cama Beach became a fishing resort in the 1930s. On the shores of Saratoga Passage, this is a popular—and gorgeous—place to stay the night. Imagine bunking in one of the rustic-but-comfy cabins or bungalows on the shore by night and waking up in the morning to a day of skipping and beachcombing right outside your front door. If the passage waters are too choppy for your skills, hike out to Cranberry Lake at the other end of the park.
Lake Wenatchee State Park
If you can pull your eyes away from the surrounding scenery, skip a few stones across the pristine glacier-fed lake. The waters may be a little too fast for skipping where the Wenatchee River enters the lake. Take a short hike to the glassy waters at either side of of the river’s mouth. Bring your camera! This park is gorgeous year-round!
Lewis & Clark Trail State Park
On the banks of the Touchet River near Dayton, Lewis & Clark Trail is a skipper’s proving ground! The river is small and mostly shallow with no end of stones to choose from on the shore. It’s not so fast it’s impossible to skip a rock but challenging enough to be an accomplishment if you do get a few bounces. Take a break in the park’s ample picnic ground on the opposite side of Hwy. 12, from the river and campground, or drive into Dayton to celebrate your wins (or salve your losses) with a sundae at the drugstore soda fountain.
Yakima Sportsman State Park
Still waters galore! In a low and marshy area on the path of the Yakima River, this park is a great spot to meander through the multitude of paths crossing small islands and ponds. Don’t forget to be kind to your web-footed friends, however. This is a major habitat for ducks and other migratory birds, none of which take kindly to a rock hurtled in their direction. Luckily there’s enough water to share. Bring a picnic lunch, and enjoy watching the birds do their own “skipping” on the water when your arm gets tired.
What’s your ultimate stone-skipping locale?
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