How To Skip Stones

The science behind nature's coolest toy

We asked world champion stone skipper Jerdone Coleman-McGhee (yes, it's a sport) to tell us how to maximize a stone's skipping potential. His answer: perfect the selection, spin, and speed of your stone, and you can get a dozen skips out of every throw.

Spin turns your stone into a gyroscope to stabilize its flight. Enough rotation can even straighten out a poor toss. And once your stone hits the water, spin keeps it sitting back on its trailing edge, which pushes a crest of water ahead of the rock, creating the perfect launch ramp for another skip.

Speed means rpms as much as mph. The trick is to snap your wrist hard as you release, as if you were throwing a big, breaking curveball. As for the stone, it's easier to select than you think (see page 98).

After hours of practice, when fishermen no longer fear for their safety, small children ask for your autograph, and members of the opposite sex suddenly find you desirable, you're ready for the big time: the Wilmer T. Rabe International Stone Skipping Competition, held every Fourth of July on Michigan's Mackinac Island. But first, a few expert tips.

The stone The best rocks are smooth, uniformly thin, and fit in your palm. Round is optional; the world record was set with a rock shaped like a puzzle piece. Triangular stones are best for choppy waters. And don't shy away from a rock that feels a bit heavy.

The stance Warm up like a pitcher with a few practice tosses. Then place your feet shoulder width apart. Turn so the shoulder of your nonthrowing arm faces the water. Angle your front foot toward the water at about 30 degrees. Hold a few rocks in your nonthrowing hand as a counterweight and grip your throwing stone in the crook of your index finger.

The throw Stretch your throwing arm high above your head, cock your wrist, and shift your weight onto your back foot. Draw your other arm back across your body, then swing it rapidly toward the water to jumpstart the delivery. In one motion, bring your throwing arm down and forward, open your shoulders to the water, and shift your weight onto your front foot.

The release When your throwing arm reaches its full extension, snap your wrist hard and set the stone spinning parallel to the water with as much speed and spin as possible. If you're at the water's edge, your first skip should start about 5 yards away.