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Only a stone’s throw away

Brian Ferry

So, there I was, sitting at my desk, minding my own business (for once, I usually mind other people’s business when I’m at work) when I got an email from an unexpected source.

The stone skipping World Record Holder reached out to me.

I’ve heard from some pretty esteemed personages over the years. But this is the first time I can recall a World Record Holder touching base. (The stylebook says nothing about me having to not capitalize World Record Holder, so I’m doing it.)

I have met this gentleman before. Kurt ‘Mountain Man’ Steiner was a celebrity at the Pennsylvania State Stone Skipping Championships held every August in Franklin even before 2013 when he set the record with 88 skips. He set that record within the Allegheny National Forest. He’s basically a Warren County hero.

I’ve competed in the Franklin event, with one or both of my sons, for something like eight years now.

I’m pretty good at skipping stones. I came in second at the event once. But I have never, to my knowledge, skipped a stone half as many times as the record. And, I consider it pretty likely that I never will.

So, we — the WRH and I — have crossed paths.

Steiner reached out to congratulate my elder son who has been competing with the pros since he was eight or nine years old and is a serious contender. (My younger just started competing this year. He got a shout out, too.) I promised that we would get together and chat next year. (I also performed my Warren County civic duty to ensure the only World Record Holder I know that he was welcome to skip stones in our neck of the woods any time.)

After hearing from the WRH, I, of course, had to do some critical, work-related research. No, I didn’t run home, grab our bucket of rocks, and head for the river. (The bucket’s empty, we used them in August.)

No, I went to YouTube. There are a lot of rabbit trails there. But, I persevered.

Steiner, as master of all things stone skipping, gets some pretty good treatment. Better, even, than being invited as a special guest to skip stones with the press in Warren County.

It seems he (and a couple of boxes of high-end skipping stones) were flown by WIRED to Utah for some testing.

While on that visit, he spoke with folks at the Splash Lab at Utah State University. They study high-tech water stuff there. And, they wanted to dissect Steiner’s brain… or at least get lots of pictures of how his skipping stones interact with water. (I have requested any public documents that Splash Lab has related to that event.)

They calculated things like velocity and rotations per minute along the way, according to WIRED.

For the World Record cast, Steiner’s estimated speed was 43 miles per hour.

Splash Lab modeling predicted that a throw of 43 miles per hour spinning at 2,200 RPM would get 75 to 85 skips. That’s pretty well dead on.

Splash Lab predicts a maximum skip for someone that throws a baseball at 100 miles per hour and skips stones at 93 to be in the range of… wait for it… you thought 88 was ridiculous… 300 to 350.

I do wonder if someone who throws a baseball 100 could really throw an appropriate skipping stone in the low 90s. I can throw a baseball in the 70s (I think), but I’m not skipping in the 60s and I’m sure not knocking out 60 skips — which shouldn’t be that hard with decent technique and 50 miles per hour.

Next time I’m at Splash Lab, I’ll just have to offer to let them dissect my brain.

Brian Ferry is a reporter with the Times Observer. He likes playing volleyball, baseball, softball, bowling, soccer — probably in that order, and skipping stones. All in the name of fun.

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