When I think of skipping stones, I think of spending quiet hours with my dad, and, more recently, my oldest son.
I've always enjoyed it - picking out that perfect flat, smooth, round rock and seeing it glide across the water. Or, picking out the wrong rock to see if I can coax even one skip out of it.
When I heard about the Pennsylvania Qualifying Stone Skipping Tournament - part of the Rock In River Festival at the confluence of French Creek and the Allegheny River in Franklin - I was intrigued.
It seems some people take their stone skipping pretty seriously.
The Mountain Man, Kurt Steiner, for example, studies the physics of stone skipping to maximize his skip count.
When I showed my son, Alex, a video of the world record skip - a 51 by Russ Byars - he was pretty excited.
We've been skipping stones in grandpa's pond for years. I told him about the tournament and he immediately wanted to go.
I figured it wouldn't hurt me to join in. I can skip a stone, if I may say so myself.
There are three divisions in the Rock In River - youth (12 and under), amateur, and professional.
Alex was one of 33 youngsters in the event.
We sat on the hillside, waiting our turn. He walked confidently up to the judges with his score sheet and was ready to throw. Each competitor chucked six stones. Alex skipped 16s on each of his first two throws. At least he wouldn't plunk six stones and go away disappointed.
There were more than 100 people watching and they were impressed with Alex. There were oohs and aahs and some polite applause.
On his third stone Alex managed a 23. Now he had people's attention. And, he was enjoying it.
He finished out in very consistent fashion, with a 15, 17, and 15 on his final three throws.
We took his score sheet up the hill to the purple tent. Announcer Brian Spaid took a look at the sheet and interviewed Alex over the public address system. He told us that Alex's high skip of 23 had qualified him to join the ranks of the professionals. The cut-off is 20.
Alex definitely wanted to do that. We signed him up.
Then, the pressure turned to me.
I was near the end of the field of 39 amateurs.
As I got closer to the water, I noticed that the best results were coming from larger rocks. I had a supply of medium-sized stones.
My first skip was a respectable 22. I felt confident that I wouldn't lose to the 8-year-old I had to ride home with.
I bettered that with a 23 on my next throw.
With the pressure off, I went for it with my final four throws. As I threw harder, my skip counts dropped. I didn't approach 23 again.
When Spaid asked me if I wanted to join the professional ranks, I said, "Absolutely not." I wanted to watch my boy - and not compete with him any more.
We had an hour until the professional division. We played in the creek, visited the petting zoo, and went to the face-painting.
In the pro division, each competitor skips one stone at a time. There were 41 entrants. Many of them were from Venango County, but Ohio, New York, Virginia, Michigan, Massachusetts and Ontario were all represented. There was only one entrant from Warren County.
There was now a very family-friendly crowd of several hundred people watching.
Alex was up fourth. He threw a 17 - the best throw to that point. People were cheering. I was among them.
The next thrower put up a 29, so Alex's high-score didn't last long. Later in the round there was a 31 and two 30s.
Steiner, after waiting most of his allotted minute for the perfect wind conditions, managed a five. Record-holder Byars, wearing his "Skips Stones For Fudge" T-shirt, whirled a 19. The top three places in the competition receive fudge as part of their winnings. That's what attracted Byars to the event in the first place.
Many of the competitors had nicknames - or were given them by Spaid. The 'Stone Whisperer' or, as I called him, the 'Rock Talker', was listening to a rock. When someone from the peanut gallery hollered, "What's it saying?", he responded, "It doesn't want to go." It didn't. He only got a handful of skips out of that rock.
Alex was the youngest competitor in the pro division - only one other youth entrant joined. People were cheering him on.
In round four, Alex scored 22 skips. He ran up the hill, getting high-fives from many of the participants along the way.
Then, he felt the pressure. "What if I don't beat 40?" he asked.
I was surprised that he thought he had to win. I told him we were already very proud of him and how he'd handled himself.
He got a four in round five. "I don't think the rock was ready," he explained, echoing the Rock Talker.
Then he only managed one skip with his final stone.
But, he ran up the hill as fast as he had after any other round.
Steiner won the contest with a high skip of 40 and a second best of 39. Two other competitors skipped 40s. How the panel of judges counts past about 15 skips is a mystery to me.
We stayed for the awards. Alex finished second in the youth division. He and champion 11-year-old Jared Oliver, with 27 skips, received ribbons from High Commissioner Brian Barnett. Eric Elwell finished third with 15.
Byars was not one of the top three skippers and finished out of the fudge.
Alex has informed us that he'll be competing again next year and is shooting for at least a 25.
My friend Ronnie Beith, one of the organizers of the event, called Monday to tell me Alex had come in 26th out of the 41 professional entrants.
I'd say that's pretty good for an eight-year-old.
Papa is mighty proud.